‘Manifesting a dream’: Family played a big role in Kosi Onyeka’s road to the CFL

Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive back Kosi Onyeka (31) runs a drill during practice at Mosaic Stadium on Thursday, August 3, 2023 in Regina. PHOTO BY KAYLE NEIS /Regina Leader-Post

by Taylor Shire

Regina Leader-Post

It all started with a big backyard, a football and a dream.   

And it came around full circle on Sunday at Mosaic Stadium, as cousins Kosi and Kene Onyeka faced off against each other for the first time in their CFL careers as Kosi’s Saskatchewan Roughriders hosted Kene’s Ottawa Redblacks.   

“It’s actually a dream come true,” said Kosi, a defensive back for the Riders. “We’ve been doing this for a long time, ever since we were kids playing in the backyard.”  

And that backyard was in Brampton, Ont., where Kosi, 23, grew up alongside older brother Nakas, a linebacker who played in the CFL for four seasons, and younger brother Ife, a defensive lineman at Carleton University, who is eligible for the CFL Draft in 2024.   

Brampton is also where Kene, 26, and his older brother Godfrey, 29, a defensive back for the Riders who is currently on the injured list, first moved to 18 years ago from Nigeria, as parents Godfrey Sr. and Jane, followed in the path of Kosi’s parents, Vin and Nwando.   

“My parents moved to Canada when they were in their early 20s,” said Kosi. “My parents kind of took a risk early. It was kind of unheard of for people to move to Canada in the 90s.   

“But everyone understood. Canada is a big economy, big country with lots of opportunity to grow.”   

After Vin and Nwando proved it could be done, Godfrey Sr. and Jane, along with their two sons moved to Canada 10 years later.   

“I literally didn’t know them as all,” recalled Kosi. “When I heard my cousins are moving to Canada, I didn’t really know what to think. They didn’t really speak English at the time, they were speaking Igbo, a dialect of Nigeria.”   

But as it turned out, the cousins had lots in common including sports and video games.   

From there, a deep bond was formed.   

“It kind of just happened naturally,” said Kosi. “I’m so happy for it.   

“Our dads are brothers and we kind of see each other like brothers as well.”   

The cousins would spend many summers growing up together at each other’s houses and oftentimes, football would be the chosen activity.   

However, it wasn’t necessarily the first sport of choice for Kosi, who grew up playing basketball for many years, even playing against current NBA star RJ Barrett.   

But then when Kosi was around 11, the focus switched to football, a sport he and his cousins would play for hours on end.   

“We got to a point where we weren’t that good at basketball and weren’t that tall, so we were like ‘OK, let’s collectively try something else,’ and it was football,” said Kosi. “All we really had was a big backyard and a football. So, it was easy to just make teams and play catch with each other and do two-on-two or three-on-three with friends.   

“Out of that, we kind of just manifested a dream and just followed it.”   

Nakas was the first one to live the dream, as the linebacker out of Wilfred Laurier University was drafted by the Toronto Argonauts in 2017 and went on to win a Grey Cup in his rookie season. He also had stint with the Riders in 2021. And while he’s now retired from playing the game, Kosi credits his older brother for showing the others that playing professional football can be a reality.  

“He kind of paved the road for us and we just followed the way,” said Kosi.   

Next up was Godfrey, a defensive back who also played at Wilfred Lauier and was drafted in 2018 by Edmonton, and Kene, a defensive lineman out of Carleton University, who was selected that same year by Ottawa.   

Kosi’s path to the CFL came a little harder as he didn’t hear his name called in the CFL Draft after playing football at the University of Guelph.  

“I went through a lot, tore my ACL twice,” said Kosi. “Went through the COVID years, so I lost a year of eligibility.   

“So, I kind of got pushed into the draft without being ready. It wasn’t really the best situation for me to come out just because I was coming off an injury and COVID and I didn’t really have much film.”   

Prior to the 2021 draft, the Riders interviewed Kosi but did not select him. Instead, he went back to school to play for the Gryphons before being signed as a free agent by the Riders in 2022.    

“I’m so thankful for Saskatchewan for giving me the opportunity,” said Kosi. “I’m just trying to relish in the moment and just trying to carve my own path.”   

A path that started with nothing but a big backyard and a football.    

And a dream fuelled by family.   

“Hopefully one day I can do the same with my brothers,” said Kosi. “We can have kids and they can kind of grow up together.”