A child of Nigerian immigrants, former Minnesota pass rusher Boye Mafe is close to realizing every football player’s dream.
Mafe’s mother, Bola, and father, Wale, were born in Nigeria. His father came to the United States in the late ’70s and his mother soon followed. They wanted to pursue a new life and give their future family an opportunity to make it in the States. Mafe has certainly made the most of the opportunity provided by his parents, and he is currently preparing for the NFL Draft, which takes place later this month. Mafe is expected to be an early-round pick.
But family has come before football. Mafe’s parents wanted their children to understand what it is like in Nigeria, so when he and his siblings made it to middle school, they were sent to a boarding school in Nigeria to spend a year abroad in their family’s native country. The Golden Valley, Minn., native not only learned positive qualities like hard work and determination, but most importantly, he matured.
“I think the biggest thing is that I matured a lot,” Mafe said on Glenn Clark Radio April 7. “At a young age, I was 13 years old in another country by myself at boarding school. You have to grow up really fast to be able to [withstand] and be able to keep up with everything. You don’t have your parents there to hold your hand and take care of you through everything, and I really had to grow up really fast and mature and learn how to take care of things on my own. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Despite it being a long trip for a 13-year-old, Mafe is glad he got to develop a connection to his family’s homeland.
“It was a fun year,” Mafe said. “I learned a lot about myself and I learned a lot from the people there. I made some really good friends who I still stay in touch with today. It’s one of those experiences that not a lot people can say they’ve done, and I’m grateful that my dad was able to do that for me.”
As Mafe looks to make the jump from college football to the NFL, his heritage and his Nigerian background is extremely important to him. He hopes to represent Nigeria and make the people of Nigeria proud every time he wears an NFL jersey.
“[Representing Nigeria] means the world to me,” Mafe said. “For me, I’ve always wanted to embrace my culture and be able to show that Nigerian players are able to play in the NFL, have a stature and have a place in the NFL. For me growing up, my compass, how I direct my life is through the culture. Everything that I was taught from my parents to my relatives [and] everybody in the community, it really shaped and molded me into who I am today.”
Mafe had a productive career at Minnesota, posting 87 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and 15 sacks in 42 games. He was voted a second-team All-Big Ten pick by the media and third-team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches at Minnesota as a senior in 2021. He started in nine of the Gophers’ 13 games and led the team in tackles for loss (10) and sacks (7.0).
Seven sacks from the 6-foot-4, 265-pound pass rusher might seem light for a first-round pick, but Mafe thinks his best football is ahead of him.
“Yeah, people talk about the production from last year, but I honestly feel as if I’m yet to play my best football,” Mafe said. “I feel as if I still am tapping into the next level of what I can be as a player. For a fan, or somebody who likes my game now, I feel as if it’s only going to get better from here moving forward.”
Additionally, Mafe is not just a pass rusher. He’s also an elite run defender, and his versatility makes him a valuable pick up in this upcoming draft. Mafe credited his teammates and coaches for helping him become a more versatile player. He also mentioned that he learned from current NFL linebackers Blake Cashman, Carter Coughlin and Kamal Martin, all of whom played at Minnesota.
“Honestly, I really just took what they taught me and what my coaches taught me and I really just ran with it and used that to my advantage and used the things that they all taught me through my years there and throughout my time there and became that type of player,” Mafe said.
According to the NFL Mock Draft Database, Mafe is projected to be selected early in the second round, so the Ravens would likely need to use their 14th overall pick on him or trade back in the first round.
Is Mafe worth that first-round pick? Why should the Ravens be looking at him? What makes him stand out from the other edge rushers in this draft class? Mafe believes the way he plays the game allows for him to be a special player compared to the other talented pass rushers in this draft class.
“I have speed, power,” Mafe said “There’s a lot of fast guys in this draft class, there’s a lot of great players in this draft class. I think the thing that separates me is just the way I play, my energy, my pursuit and how I just play the game is a little bit different.”
For more from Mafe, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kelly Hagenson