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Lokombo’s long road leads to BCS national final with Oregon Ducks

Boseko Lokombo (#25) in action vs Stanford. Photo: Ducks

By Howard Tsumura Sun, Jan 9 2011 The Province Howie’s High School Hamper

Boseko Lokombo will be the first to admit that the football game he’s going to be playing in on Monday is a little bit bigger than, say, a Friday night contest on the turf at his old high school in Abbotsford.

“Personally, I’m excited to be playing in the Super Bowl of college football,” the 6-foot-3, 220-pound outside linebacker with the Oregon Ducks (12-0) said Friday from Glendale, Arizona, site of Monday’s BCS National Championship game against the Auburn Tigers (13-0). “It’s been a great journey.”

Reaching the pinnacle of major college football in his redshirt freshman season has surely added to the incredible nature of his journey, one which started when his family left the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo in 1996, seeking a better life in Canada.

Yet if emerging from the B.C. high school football ranks to earn a place on an NCAA Div. 1 program is an accomplishment unto itself, then doing it as a member of a national title-contending program has to be considered something even more remarkable.

In fact, it’s no stretch to say that when former W.J. Mouat Hawks star Lokombo lines up Monday with Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton in his sights, he will have made one of the most significant accomplishments in all of provincial high school sports history.

Boseko Lokombo (Univ. of Oregon)

“I think it’s got to be right up there with anything that anybody in this province has done football wise,” says longtime Mouat head coach Denis Kelly, whose 2008 team went 11-2 with Lokombo starring as both a running back and linebacker. “The level of competition is incredible. I don’t think a lot of people realize how good you have to be to play at that level.”

Adds Vancouver College head coach Todd Bernett, who won’t soon forget just how dominant Lokombo was as Mouat’s acknowledged leader on both sides of the ball: “As far as the player himself, this is the position where I thought he would play, and I am not surprised at all that he has become the player he has. He was just plain better than everyone else up here.”

Anyone who happened to see Lokombo over his magical 2008 campaign, knows precisely what both Kelly and Bernett are speaking of.

Although he is now gaining the respect of the best offences in college football for his ability to make defensive plays in space, it was on the offensive side of the ball where Lokombo was simply impossible to miss as a prep, rushing for 1,558 yards and 22 touchdowns and leading the Hawks into the Subway Bowl championship final where it lost to Port Coquitlam’s Terry Fox Ravens.

Yet the most amazing part of Lokombo’s high school rushing totals are the fact that in most of his games, he was standing on the sidelines by early in the second half, largely due to his own effectiveness in putting the Hawks ahead by large margins. Lokombo averaged a ridiculous 15.2 yards per carry that season.

Yet he was opening eyes as early as his Grade 8 year as an Abbotsford middle school student.

“I saw him playing some rugby then,” remembers Mouat junior varsity football coach Jim Mitchell. “Watching that, without the pads on, it was pretty scary. It was like a man playing against little kids.”

By the end of his Grade 12 season, an all-out recruiting battle had broken out, highlighted by the day that coaches from both Oregon and rival Washington showed up in the W.J. Mouat gym at the same time to watch Lokombo playing with the Hawks’ senior boys basketball team.

In the end, Lokombo chose Oregon, the school located in the city of Eugene. To him, it was familiar territory.

Following his Grade 10 season at Mouat, Lokombo decided to test both himself and his abilities as a player by moving south to U.S. He chose South Eugene high school, and proceeded to make a name for himself that was only enhanced when he later moved back home to Abbotsford to finish his high school career (2008-09) and graduate with his longtime friends.

Heading into that senior season of 2008, the top U.S. scouting services, under the belief that he would be back at South Eugene, ranked him the No. 8 middle linebacker in all of U.S. high school football and the No. 1 overall player in the entire state of Oregon.

That one season in the U.S. kept him on the radar of the best programs in the NCAA, and when he was ready to move on to the next level, he had honed a level of skill and athleticism that seemed to mesh perfectly with the evolving nature of the game south of the line.

“The way U.S. college football is played these days, where it seems everybody is running a spread offence, you need to have great athletes out there,” says Kelly of defensive players. “Very seldom do teams run traditional power or off-tackle plays at you. In space, Bo can cover people. He can run down the quarterbacks. So athletically, he is tailor-made for the way U.S. college football is being played because he can rush and play in coverage.”

Lokombo in action against Stanford (Univ. of Oregon)

Lokombo had no qualms about handing over the ball and focussing on defence.

“It was more the fact of I am an athlete, so it didn’t matter what position I played at the next level,” he explains. “I just wanted to show the flexibility that I had and the athleticism to adjust to other positions and I feel that is what counted the most.”

In fact Oregon senior inside linebacker Spencer Paysinger, in an article in The Portland Tribune, called both Lokombo and fellow outside ‘backer Josh Kaddu “the best true athletes” on the team’s defence.

It’s all added up to a perfect fit on a defensive unit that carries the same aggressive nature of its much-ballyhooed offence, one which led all of major college football in scoring this season.

The Oregon offence prides itself in its ability to wear down opponents by running plays as quickly as possible.

“And that’s how we practice,” says Lokombo of the defence. “It really keeps us in shape. I feel like if I would have gone to another college, I would have been a little bit slower. But now that we practice with speed, it makes everything seem slower in the games.”

Yet if Lokombo looks in his rearview mirror too long, he’s apt to get a nosebleed from the rise his career has taken.

He started his 2008 season lugging his own equipment out of the meeting rooms at Mouat and onto the practice field. On Monday, he’ll be running out of the tunnel at the University of Phoenix Stadium with his teammates to play in what will be one of the highest-rated events of the U.S. sports calendar.

“The preparation for the BCS title game has been exceptional,” said Lokombo on Friday. “The team looks focussed and excited to play. It’s been a while since we’ve played and it’s finally winding down. I’m blessed to be a part of this team. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

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