by Rob Grubbs
The Super Bowl has become the biggest spectacle in American sports. It is no longer a game, but a week-long experience. With the game here in our hometown, we are even closer to the pageantry. Much has been made of Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay, who grew up in Atlanta and played quarterback at Marist, and the two starting running backs who both played collegiately at Georgia, but the game has an even more local flavor. The first player from a Fayette County high school is a participant in New England Patriot Ufomba Kamalu who played at Starr’s Mill High School under Coach Chad Phillips.
Kamalu, who is a defensive tackle for the New England Patriots, was a 2011 Panther graduate and a member of the 2010 team that finished 14-1 and lost in the state championship, but his story is much different than you would anticipate for a football player at the highest level. He was not a five-star prospect that every power five school recruited throughout high school.
He accidentally showed up for his first practice.
“He thought he was coming to soccer practice,” Coach Phillips quipped when asked about his former star.
Kamalu spent the first 13 years of his life in Nigeria, where the term football would be soccer.
“We taught him day-one type stuff from the beginning, and by the time he was a senior, he started to become a playmaker on the defensive front,” said Phillips.
His progress at Starr’s Mill earned him his next opportunity at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas and then on to big time college football at The U, the University of Miami where he played his final two seasons and was voted their defensive player of the year as a senior.
Just like his unceremonious start to football in the 9th grade, his professional career began much the same way. After going undrafted by the NFL, he signed with Houston Texans as a free agent, where he fought daily for his dream. The sweat and perseverance paid off and he made his NFL debut in November 2016. After there and a stop in Arizona, Kamalu ended up with the perennial Super Bowl contender Patriots.
On Sunday he will take the field at Mercedes Benz Stadium, just a few yards from where he played his last high school game against Chattahoochee in the state championship at the Georgia Dome. He got his elementary football education from Coach Phillips on the Starr’s Mill practice fields, and now he is getting his masters in football knowledge from Patriot Head Coach Bill Belichick.
Coach Phillips summed up the feelings of the Panther faithful.
“He was just a great kid, and you love to see a guy like that make it.”