Newly inked Toronto Argonaut and former X-Men football player fondly remembers Xaverian roots
By Corey LeBlanc
Henoc Muamba tackles life with the same ferocity that made him a fan-favourite – and feared opponent – during an All-Canadian career as a linebacker with the StFX X-Men football program.
Although it has been a decade since he donned the White and Blue, the time spent at his alma mater is never far from his heart.
"It helped mold who I am," the 2010 President's Trophy recipient as top defensive player in the then-CIS says of his time on the Antigonish campus.
Not only did Muamba meet countless friends – including many lifelong ones – he continues to hold dear, he adds his Xaverian experience gave him "an opportunity to explore myself."
He remembers learning about the importance of "giving back," including through mentorship.
"I continue to focus on impacting as many people as possible," Muamba says.
Although the veteran Canadian Football League (CFL) linebacker didn't play in 2020 – the season was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic – the way in which the global tragedy truly gripped his family had nothing to do with the gridiron.
"It was a devastating loss," Muamba says of the death of his mother-in-law Elizabeth Tweneboah in June.
"She was a pillar – such a strong woman."
On the day the vibrant 66-year-old was admitted to hospital with the virus, Muamba and his wife – Jessica – found out that they were expecting their second child.
"It happened really fast," he remembers, noting her condition deteriorated rapidly after being put on a ventilator.
Although she had an underlying condition – diabetes – Tweneboah was in "good health."
"She was always super welcoming [to me] – so loving and caring," Muamba says.
He notes her "motherly love" extended beyond her family, including the support she provided to members of the Ghanaian community in the Toronto area.
"She helped so many people fulfill their dreams," Muamba adds.
He notes there are "countless stories" of the effect she had on people's lives, including everything from giving people rent money to helping them find a job.
Jessica and her sister – Joyce – also contracted COVID-19, while Henoc did not. Both women recovered.
With the death of their family matriarch, the couple became primary caregivers for his sister-in-law – a 27-year-old university student.
"She has had so many challenges stacked against her," Muamba says of Joyce, who has battled countless health issues since her premature birth.
He has been helping her write a book on perseverance.
In late February, Jessica and Henoc welcomed Adah, a sister for three-year-old Thea.
"She is a sweet, sweet bundle of joy for us," he says of his newborn.
A family of deep faith, he explains God has allowed them "to see some light in the midst of darkness."
During the "grieving process," Muamba says they have "reassessed ourselves," while focusing on improving as a way in which to honour his mother-in-law.
"It is a process – we are making our journey day-by-day," he added.
Describing it as an "ultimate sign of strength," Muamba praises his wife for – while "pregnant and grieving" – turning her attention to medical school studies, a way to honour her beloved mother.
"She is working towards fulfilling that passion with full force," he says.
On the field
After his stellar four years with the X-Men, Muamba has enjoyed an award-winning professional career, including stints in both the NFL and CFL.
In 2019, the most recent season for the iconic football league north of the border, while playing for his hometown Montreal Alouettes, he garnered the CFL's Top Canadian Award. He had 93 tackles in 17 games and was also a CFL all-star.
"I am still extremely passionate [about the sport]," the native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who grew up in Mississauga, Ontario, says.
As for the result of that last campaign, Muamba offers that he was "at the top of my craft."
Just this week, the veteran linebacker signed with the Toronto Argonauts.
Muamba was the first player taken in the 2011 CFL draft by Winnipeg. After three seasons with the Blue Bombers, Muamba joined the NFL's Indianapolis Colts before returning to Canada with Montreal (2015).
Muamba was released by the Alouettes in February 2016 to pursue NFL interests, eventually signing with the Dallas Cowboys that July. He was released by the squad before the season and returned to the CFL with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Muamba was released by Saskatchewan after the 2017 season and signed with Montreal in April 2018. A free agent last month, he will now be off to his fourth CFL team with the Argos for the upcoming season.
Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he launched Muamba Moments, a podcast that focuses on sharing stories that are "inspiring and motivating."
"We talk about their successful moments," he explains, and how they contributed to them "accomplishing greatness."
His guest list, thus far, has included not only high-calibre athletes – from CFL Hall-of-Famer Michael "Pinball" Clemons to UFC legend Georges St. Pierre – but also entrepreneurs and even a super model.
With so many years spent around accomplished people, including in football locker rooms and other venues, Muamba says he wanted to help people get to know something about them and their experiences.
In his non-stop effort to "give back," the proud Xaverian has also established the Muamba Foundation, which has started work on bringing football to the people of his native Congo.
"Again, it is all about impacting as many people as possible," he says.
For more information on Muamba – and everything else the proud Xaverian is involved with – visit henocmuamba.com