Published: Tuesday, December 20, 2011, 10:23 PM By Lindsay Schnell, The Oregonian
EUGENE — The first time Boseko Lokombo saw snow, the linebacker for the Oregon football team had no idea what was going on.
Who could blame him? Lokombo wasn’t like some of the California kids who come to the Northwest and see the white powder for the first time knowing full well what it was. At the time, Lokombo was 6 and had just landed in Quebec, Canada. His origin of takeoff: The Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“I had never seen snow before, I had no idea what was happening,” recalled Lokombo, laughing. “I was amazed, I was fascinated. And I remember an hour or two later I couldn’t feel anything. I was frozen. Just seeing snow for the first time was big for me. That memory comes back a lot.”
Eventually, Lokombo got used to the cold, and the snow — in Quebec, where the 6-foot-3, 232-pound sophomore grew into one of the best high school players in Canada, he didn’t have much of a choice.
Almost every player on the Oregon roster has talked about how special it will be to line up against Wisconsin on Jan. 2 when the Ducks and Badgers square off in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. But for Lokombo, it means a little more. Fifteen years ago, his family left the Congo, a country ravaged by civil war.
“I think we left because of both — some because of the violence but also because my dad had connections in Canada,” Lokombo said. “The future didn’t look too bright. I think my dad had a plan the whole time to get us out.”
Boseko Lokombo doesn’t remember much about living in the Congo. He recalls having a pet monkey named Kiki — “We had lots of adventures,” he said — and knows that he asked repeatedly where his dad was. Leon Lokombo had a good job as a banker in Kinshasa, Congo, but knew he would have more opportunities if he left. So he applied and was accepted into a master’s program at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, leaving his wife and five children for two years.
With a depleted income, it got so bad Anne-Marie Lokombo had to start selling furniture and clothes from her house. But eventually, they were all reunited in Canada.
It took time for Lokombo to learn English, and he picked it up mostly from TV. In the Lokombo household, a guest is likely to hear French and Lingala, an African language spoken throughout the northwestern part of the DRC.
A natural athlete, Boseko Lokombo played soccer growing up before switching to football in eighth grade. He first caught the eye of Oregon coaches when he transferred to South Eugene High School his junior year. At the time, they had no idea about his background.
“When he first got here (to Eugene), he was just a kid who had transferred from Canada who was a wide receiver and running back and projected to be a linebacker,” said Ducks recruiting coordinator Don Pellum. “Then we saw him and he’s got some pretty good size. Suddenly, we’re taking trips to Canada and finding everything out.
“It’s just interesting how everyone has a story, but his is unique. It’s fascinating to sit down and talk with his parents.”
Though he wouldn’t mind a shot at professional football — his older brother, Boloy, was a defensive back at Minnesota and passed on a chance to play in the Canadian Football League — Boseko has other plans when his time at Oregon is over.
“I haven’t been back (to the Congo), but I want to go,” he said. “I want to go back and start a community service organization raising money for kids. I want to go back and help as much as I can.”