May 23, 2023

“This game has brought me so much”

It’s a story that begins in Sierra Leone with a mother fleeing the civil war there in 2001 with her youngest son alongside, but her oldest left behind.

It features stops in Ohio, in Germany and now in Winnipeg. And surely there’s a movie or a Netflix series just waiting to be made about Abu Daramy-Swaray one day, even as he hopes to add another chapter by making an impression with the Blue Bombers during training camp.

Most of all, this is a story about perseverance and about drive, and how surviving and fighting through so much adversity can provide a 26-year-old defensive back an all-star perspective.

“This game has brought me so much,” began Daramy-Swaray in a chat with this week. “I’ve been in three different countries now to play football. I played American football, played football in Germany and now I’m trying out in the CFL.

“I’m extremely blessed with this opportunity and to be around this winning organization. I just want to keep it going.”

Those are two words Daramy-Swaray uses constantly – ‘blessed’ and ‘opportunity’ – and given what he’s had to overcome just to get to Blue Bombers camp, they say so much about his outlook on life. Let’s try to do this justice with some background here…

Daramy-Swaray was born without his father. A diamond dealer in Sierra Leone, he was killed in the war when his mother was six months pregnant with him. When his mother fled five years later, she had to leave her oldest son behind with her extended family to care for him. Nine years later they were reunited.

“It was one of those things where my mom did what she had to do,” said Daramy-Swaray. “I know if she could have had it differently, she would have brought us both. Those nine years of her life… I watched it eat her alive. She would go back and visit him from time to time while he stayed with her brothers and sisters.

“It was difficult because I love my brother so much and we didn’t really get the chance to have a childhood together and grow up together. We had to start late with that, but I’m glad in the last few years we’ve both become a lot closer with him now in Ohio.

“All that has been difficult, but I’ve accepted it and understand now it’s for the best because of everything my mom taught me from a woman’s perspective. And being in the world without a father has allowed me to see the world through a completely different lens.”

Incredibly, there are even more layers to his story. A star during his days at Colgate University as a defensive back, returner and part-time contributor on offence, Daramy-Swaray was hoping for an NFL mini-camp opportunity in 2020. And then, as we all well know, the global pandemic turned so many lives upside down.

He battled just to make ends meet during that period, working at an Amazon factory, as a server at a restaurant and then at Best Buy. He worked for Door Dash and he delivered pizzas.

“COVID was really bad for everyone,” he said. “I’m grateful I have my health and my life because it wasn’t that way for everyone. I had my own trials and tribulations.”

“I tried to look at it positively. I learned a lot about myself. I learned how tough I can be and how much of a hole I can dig myself out of. I was going from job to job. But at the end of the day, I kept my head up knowing that it was eventually going to get better. There was no way I was going to put in all this work and it was going to get worse, so I kept my positive attitude.

“It was one of those moments that when you’re at your lowest you really figure out who you are and what you’re made of. I’m grateful for those moments because I’ve grown so much from them. I know that life can throw me almost anything and I’ll be ready for it.”

Daramy-Swaray played in Germany for the Potsdam Royals in 2021 and then had a shot with the Cincinnati Bengals and, most recently, with the Arlington Renegades of the XFL.

And now he’s in Canada trying to adjust to the longer and wider field, the ‘Waggle’ and all the other intricacies of the three-down game that can make for a tough learning curve for defensive backs.

“It’s definitely been an adjustment,” he said. “It’s very, very new because the game is very different to me. Luckily with a coach like JY (Blue Bombers defensive backs coach Jordan Younger) he’s helped me adjust quickly and see the field differently. It’s something that I’ve been able to piece together and luckily, we have great vets around that are holding us accountable and helping us understand what this new system is.”

Critical now for Daramy-Swaray will be to try and separate himself from the pack in the two preseason games, beginning this Saturday in Edmonton against the Elks. Whatever happens, the maturity and perspective he’s shown – especially over the last three-four years – will be massive for his days in the game and beyond.

“Honestly, all the credit goes to my mom,” he said. “She’s been through the worst. She’s seen the worst and, somehow, she always keeps a positive attitude about it. That’s what she’s always ingrained in me – have a positive outlook and believe today is going to be better than yesterday and go out there and be the best version of yourself.

“Every day I wake up it’s another blessing, especially knowing and seeing what she had to do to get me here. Every day I get to step on this field I thank God because I love it. I know there are thousands of players in the U.S. and across the world who wish they were in the position I am. I’d be selfish and ungrateful for taking it for granted and not trying to make the most out of it.”