Class of 2020: Football star balances education with athletics to achieve dream of helping low-income students

Jeshrun Antwi credits mentors, parent, coaches and teachers with invaluable support

Physical poise is a hallmark of the best football players. While running back Jeshrun Antwi is acknowledged as one of the best emerging talents in Canada, balancing Dino teamwork with his education practicum requirements has demanded a different kind of grace.

The Montreal Alouettes drafted Antwi last year in the sixth round, elevating him from the university stage to compete with the best of the best in the pro Canadian Football League (CFL). Spring training was cancelled this past spring due to COVID-19, with the potential to restart in the fall, but he’s keeping in shape with his eye on the prize.

“In junior high school and high school, my coaches boosted my confidence and helped me to believe in myself,” says Antwi, who graduates this year with a Bachelor of Education from the Werklund School of Education and the Faculty of Arts. He holds a double major in Sociology (Criminal Deviance) and Education. “Every year, I would learn to do better. I became determined to just move everything out of my way.”

  • Photo above: Dinos running back Jeshrun Antwi has learned to balance sports and academic excellence. Photo by David Moll

Antwi’s career as a powerhouse running back with the Dinos started in 2015. When the team won the 2019 Vanier Cup in Quebec City, he was sidelined with an injury, but he views it as a highlight of his athletic career and a tremendous example of team effort.

Video, above: In a game with a position for everyone, the Dinos football team has become a second family for a group of first-generation Canadians.

His story is a triumph of grit over odds that appeared to be stacked against him since he came to Canada from Ghana.

Growing up in the Calgary neighbourhood of Forest Lawn, Antwi at times found himself struggling to keep up academically and on the field. In Ghana, football meant soccer. He’d never seen the Canadian style played until he came to Canada with his mother, Ama Kesewaa, and he entered junior high.

“My mother worked her butt off to become a contributing member of society and she brought me here because she believed I would have better opportunities,” says Antwi.

Antwi’s football coach at Father Lacombe High School, Ian Couture, was particularly helpful at this stage of his game, he says. His high school principal, Kate Miller and her husband Kevin, helped him academically and took him into their home. They became such trusted mentors that he refers to them as his Canadian parents.

Extending helping hand leads to desire to aid others

When the Millers took him under their wing, they provided important guidance that included shaping his organizational skills, ensuring that he could balance his schoolwork with athletics, he says.

I didn’t like school, but I loved sports. They’ve guided me throughout high school and university, showing how I needed to focus and put effort into both of these areas of my life if I really wanted to succeed.

Kate Miller says she and her husband saw that Antwi had immense potential to accomplish some great things.

“He would need a lot of support and guidance in order to achieve both academic and athletic success,” she says. “That’s all we did. We put him on the right path. It goes without saying that these Canadian parents are incredibly proud of their Ghanaian son and what he has accomplished.”

Gavin Peat, an instructor at the Werklund School of Education, says Antwi has been a diligent and caring student who managed to fulfill his demanding athletic and academic requirements without faltering.

“He’s a very engaged, collaborative and active participant in the program who is always organized,” says Peat. “It has been a privilege to work with him. He was instrumental in making the class a success.”

Video, above: Highlights of a Dinos football game in 2018 that included running back Jeshrun Antwi.

Seeks to improve diversity in classrooms

Aside from Antwi’s dream of playing in the CFL and winning a Grey Cup championship, he aims to become a teacher who can provide guidance to students who may feel that they don’t have a voice in society.

“I’ve always wanted to help people and I did not see a lot of Black teachers out there when I was going to school and when I did my practicum teaching,” says Antwi. “I came from a high-immigrant area and I want to be the first Black teacher who can really help and inspire someone in the same ways that Kate and Kevin have done for me.”

Playing on the Dinos provided him with many lessons, he says, among them the understanding that “teamwork is everything.” His university coaches, Wayne Harris Jr., Matthew Berry, Gino DiVicentis and Ryan Sheahan have helped him to hone his drive and motivation on the field, he says.

The concept of teamwork is important not just for football but for life, especially when we consider what is going on with Black Lives Matter. If we can understand one another and find a way to come together, then we will be able to move forward. The only race that exists is the human race.

Meanwhile, Antwi, who has volunteered as a Dino by visiting children in Calgary hospitals, and has donated his time at a dog shelter, is itching to earn his short-term goal of making the roster in Montreal.

“Most people don’t know that I was born in Israel and my first name in Hebrew means someone who stands up for what’s right,” says Antwi. “Later in my life, I want to help low-income kids do good things for themselves and others, and football can help me to do it.”

Jeshrun Antwi

Jeshrun Antwi stands proudly with some of the trophies he helped earn as a Dinos running back. Aside from his dream of playing in the CFL and winning a Grey Cup championship, he aims to become a teacher who can provide guidance to students who may feel that they don’t have a voice in society.

David Moll