Green Bay's 'Mighty Warrior'
In the fourth quarter of last Friday night’s game between the Peoria Pirates and Green Bay Blizzard at the Resch Center the score was 45-33. Green Bay was in the middle of a scoring drive that ultimately put the game out of reach.
The game within the game was still going on, however, between Green Bay guard Aqua Etefia and Peoria defensive end Odell Willis.
It was a battle Etefia won by a landslide, and before the Blizzard sealed the game with its last touchdown, Etefia flexed his left bicep on the way back to the huddle.
The gesture, however, represented so much more than his personal strength and dominance.
Etefia grew up in Nigeria. He said he learned discipline and the importance of hard work from his childhood there, and is very proud of his African heritage.
Etefia’s first name, Aqua, means ‘Mighty Warrior’, which foreshadowed what he would become on the football field, as he has had to battle the critics and scouts who didn’t believe in his talent.
He moved to Miami, Fla. as a young adolescent and began playing football along with his cousin, Blizzard defensive back Edward Kwaku.
The two both spent their early childhood in Africa, but never got to know one another until both moved to southern Florida, according to Kwaku.
“He is like a big brother to me,” Kwaku said. “Kids used to tease me and say things like, ‘Weird African kid,’ but Aqua would make sure that wouldn’t happen.”
The two share their heritage, love for football and a common philosophy – hungry and humble.
“You have to be humble to wait for your blessings and your chance,” Etefia said. “But at the same time you have to be hungry, because you never know who is watching you.”
College recruits were always watching Etefia’s games in high school because the region produced so many talented players.
He recalls playing against Vernon Carey, Willis McGahee and the late-Sean Taylor. All went on to play at the University of Miami and all were first round NFL draft picks.
Etefia was recruited by a number of Division I-A schools, but recruiters looked at his height, 6’2, and decided to pass in favor of taller linemen, even though he was more talented and skilled from playing against elite talent.
He decided to go to Grambling, an all-black Division I-AA College, because he was wanted there and was personally recruited by head coach Doug Williams.
“He told me, ‘I don’t care how tall you are as long as you have heart and can play’,” Etefia said.
Playing at Grambling still allowed him to be noticed by NFL scouts because the school has a history of producing NFL talent, even though it doesn’t compete in Division I-A.
The football program was built by legendary coach Eddie Robinson, and garnered further attention when Williams, also a Grambling alum, became the first black quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl for the Washington Redskins.
“Wearing that black and gold at Grambling, there’s just something about it,” Etefia said.
NFL scouts worked out Etefia in the spring of 2005, but like many of the college recruiters, they measured his height and not his heart.
In 2006, he played in four games for the Manchester Wolves, and thought his playing days were over after leaving the team.
His cousin, however, wasn’t about to let that happen.
Kwaku played for the Blizzard in 2006, and before he went to NFL Europe for the 2007 season, he told the coaching staff in Green Bay about his cousin.
“I’m riding on his name, and I can’t make him look bad,” Etefia said as he recalls training camp last year with the Blizzard.
Etefia signed with the team as a defensive tackle, but moved to guard because of a shortage of offensive linemen on the team and excelled to earn a spot with the AFL’s Georgia Force earlier this year.
Georgia has a number of former Blizzard players on its roster, and again, Etefia wanted to represent where he came from.
“I was representing Green Bay, it goes back to the ‘G’ at Grambling, because the ‘G’ stands for greatness,” Etefia said. “I represent that wherever I go.”
The Force, however, released him after a few games into the season, and Etefia found himself back in Green Bay, playing with his cousin, Kwaku, for the first time since high school.
The Blizzard offense has taken great strides since his return this season.
In four games without Etefia, the offense averaged 2.6 yards per rush and 21.5 rushing yards per game. With him it’s averaged 4.6 and 51.4.
He also hasn’t allowed a sack this year or a defensive lineman to bully his quarterback.
In the first quarter against the Pirates last Friday, quarterback Collin Drafts rolled his leg under a diving Pirate defender after throwing a pass.
The lineman was quickly greeted by Etefia after the play, and probably got the same type of warning like Etefia used to give to those who picked on his cousin when they were kids.
“I play offensive line with a defensive lineman’s mentality,” Etefia said.
Yes, Etefia represents so much more than himself.
He represents his African heritage, the Miami swagger, the greatness of Grambling and Green Bay, his cousin and a dream.
He is hungry and humble because you never know who is watching.
It would be wise for the team that plays across the street from the Resch Center to watch the ‘Mighty Warrior’ of the Blizzard.