By Matt Baker, @BAKESTAKES84

Hamilton, ONT- Bo Lokombo’s status as the 2021 CFL Most Outstanding Canadian would not have come to fruition if not for the vision and courage of his parents, Leon and Anne-Marie. Flashback to the mid-1990s while the Lokombo family was living in the Congo amidst a brutal Civil War in which Bo recalls regularly hearing gunshots outside the family home.

“When you’re three, four years old you don’t really understand what that’s all about,” said Lokombo on those scary childhood memories.

As is always the case, the reasons for the Civil War in the Congo were mostly political. And serious enough for the family to seek a way out.

“The President, Mobutu, he did not want to leave power; he was in for like 20 years. People in the Congo were pissed off because he wasn’t doing anything. With the Civil War, there was murder happening left, right and centre. My father was smart because he applied to go to the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec. He got in and started his Business Major.”

It was while he was studying that Leon did all the paperwork in hopes of getting Anne-Marie, Bo and their five other children into Canada. They joined him in 1996 in Sherbrooke before re-locating to Abbotsford one year later. Youngest brother Nelson, a Saskatchewan Roughriders 2021 draft pick, was born there in 1999. Anne-Marie now teaches French in Mission while Leon is back living in the Congo and putting his Business degree to use.

Bo’s journey to CFL top Canadian began in the Fraser Valley and parlayed his success at Abbotsford’s WJ Mouat High School into a solid career with the Oregon Ducks. Highlights there included battling Cam Newton and Auburn in what was then known as the BCS National Championship in 2011.

One year later, he racked up five tackles in the Ducks’ Rose Bowl win over Oregon. Needless to say, the big stage never scared him. Now that he is back with the Lions for a third tour of duty and has the Most Outstanding Canadian included on his resume, it has allowed Lokombo to take even more pride in playing for his hometown squad.

“A lot of pride. I grew up here and it’s where all my family and friends are,” he said.

“The BC Lions were the team that drafted me back in 2014. They always showed me respect and recognition. I want to do the team and city proud because of that, along with all my family and friends. To come back here for the third time and be recognized as one of the league’s award winners is quite special. There is nothing better than that.”

Linebacker Bo Lokombo on his journey from unrest in Congo to being awarded the CFL Most Outstanding Canadian as part of Grey Cup week.

Young Family Provides More Motivation

Life outside of football has certainly changed for Lokombo since he debuted with the club in 2014. He and his partner Terin have two young sons: two-year-old Maleek and four-month-old Makai who was born just after the regular season began.

Lokombo proudly gave the ball from his interception return touchdown in week six, the first defensive major of his career, to Maleek. He hopes it’s the start of a special bond with his kids when it comes to his football profession.

“Having a young family gives me tonnes of motivation. That was one of the things coming into this year, Maleek was born during COVID and he hadn’t seen me play. He’s still too young to remember but to start those traditions, that’s pretty cool,” explained Lokombo.

Linebacker Bo Lokombo on his journey from unrest in Congo to being awarded the CFL Most Outstanding Canadian as part of Grey Cup week.

Sharing his joy with the young son also brought back memories of early in his career and observing some of his Lion mentors with their own loved ones.

“I remember being a rookie and the older guys like Dante Marsh and Ryan Phillips brought their kids into the room. I was young but I thought that was so cool to see their kids’ eyes glow with excitement. Growing up, my father played soccer and I used to love watching him play. You ask anybody who has kids. They do it for their kids, do it for their family. That’s who I do it for.”

Lokombo Takes Pride In Team Mentorship

Now seven seasons into his CFL career, Lokombo has learned to play the mentor role to a tee. It helped that he got to learn from a few of the legendary Lions he mentioned above. Along with helping this Lions team get to the next level, Lokombo looks forward to helping some of his young teammates learn the ropes. Included in that group is Jordan Williams who won the league’s Most Outstanding Rookie on Friday night,

“Being an award winner along with Jordan is excellent. I didn’t know too much about him when we got to camp. And even with COVID, not being able to see many teammates face to face for a while, it was tough,” recalled Lokombo.

“But I learned quickly he’s a great player, a great dude. The guy is awesome. He’s very mature for a guy supposed to be a rookie. Very mature, ahead of the game. We played well together and gelled really well. Unfortunately, the season was up and down but we were a solid duo. I’m very happy for him to have won Outstanding Rookie.”

And now that he is leaving Steeltown with some hardware, Lokombo will be no doubt motivated after soaking in some of the Grey Cup week activities.

“This is pretty exciting for me to be part of this Grey Cup experience, being at the awards and seeing all of the fans. I wish we were playing in it because it seems like such a special experience,” he said.

It’s going to give me more motivation to work hard in the offseason and when 2022 begins it’s going to allow me to really instill to my teammates that at the end of the hard work there is something special waiting. So, let’s start day one, right now. That’s going to be a big motivation for me. It will be a good experience to share.”

From Congo to Abbotsford, Lokombo has carved a pretty nice career and life for himself. Terin will be on hand with him throughout the weekend to help him celebrate. Back in the Congo, you can bet Leon is also smiling.

Matt Baker: [email protected]

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