Kwity Paye: Escapes a Civil War to First-Round Draft in the NFL


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Kwity Paye was drafted to the Indianapolis Colts as the 21st overall pick.

Heather Suraci and Evan Suraci

Kwity Paye is an American football player who was drafted to the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League (NFL). Paye is of Liberian heritage and was born in a refugee camp in Guinea during the aftermath of the First Liberian Civil War before emigrating to the United States as a baby.

When the Indianapolis Colts decided to select the defensive end with their first-round (21st-overall) pick last Thursday night, they surfaced the undisputed feel-good story of the entire draft: a player in Paye whose mother, Agnes, escaped sure death in war-torn Liberia at 12 years old, gave birth to Kwity — who was named after his grandfather, who unfortunately wasn’t able to escape those horrific conditions in Liberia — in New Guinea and then emigrated to the United States when he was just 6 months old.

The Paye family scrapped and clawed while on welfare in a rough neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island, as Agnes at times worked three jobs at a time to take care of Kwity and his older brother, Komotay Koffie. And if people thought that was the end of Kwity Paye’s mother’s sacrifice it was far from it. Paye was keen on going to Bishop Hendricken, a top football school, but Agnes did not have the money to pay for college. To fund his education, she took on multiple jobs at a time.

Eventually, Kwity overcame several challenges to flourish on the field once he hit high school, turning into the state’s best player and earning a scholarship to the University of Michigan, where he continued his ascent.

And on draft night, after getting that life-changing call from Colts general manager Chris Ballard, Paye turned around and was embraced by his family — and in particular by his mother, Agnes.

The 6-foot-4, 272-pound Paye also had the production to match at the University of Michigan, where he appeared in 38 games with 20 starts and tallied 100 tackles (23.5 for a loss) with 11.5 sacks and one pass defense, forced fumble and fumble recovery apiece. Voted a team captain by his teammates in 2020, Paye was a Second-Team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches in 2019 and the media in 2020.

 Paye explained to ESPN how his being drafted into the NFL will change his and his family’s lives. “For my family, she’s done working and she’s retired,” said Paye.