Linebacker Andy Mulumba
Over the course of our lives, we encounter some form of adversity at one point or another, with some obstacles proving to be more difficult than others.
For Oakland Raiders linebacker Andy Mulumba, his family encountered what some would consider extreme adversity while he was a young man, but that adversity has helped him develop into the person he is today.
Mulumba was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and lived there for seven years with his family until civil war broke out in the countryside, forcing them to move to the city. Both of Andy's parents worked for the United Nations, but his father, Martin, wanted to provide his wife and six children with a better opportunity for sustainable life than the one afforded to them in the Congo.
In order to accomplish this goal, Martin quit his job, and decided to pursue a PhD., across the Atlantic Ocean at Auburn University. While this decision would ultimately benefit his family, it would come at a cost.
"He couldn't really afford to have all the six kids and [my] mother, while he was studying," Mulumba said. "So, he sent us to Canada because life was supposedly easier there."
Moving across the world would be terrifying for most people, but Mulumba didn't complain. Fortunately for his family, they were moving to Montreal, one of the largest bilingual cities in the region, which proved beneficial for the predominantly French-speaking household.
As Mulumba said, his father anticipated life in Montreal to be easier than life in the Congo, but the family continued to struggle.
"It was a grind, we were living in a two bedroom apartment with six kids plus my mom," Mulumba said as he reflected on his childhood. "I shared a bedroom with my brothers, I've got three brothers and two sisters, so I shared a bed with my brothers until the age of 15 [or] 16."
Although the initial move to Canada was tumultuous, Montreal would end up becoming the birthplace of Mulumba's love for football.
"I picked up football a few summers later," Mulumba said. "I met a couple kids from the neighborhood who were playing football. They kind of introduced me to football, I didn't know much about it."
Football became a means of escape for him, and presented an opportunity to enjoy doing something he loved. His incentive to play football became that much more significant when he learned he could continue his education as a result of a college scholarship.
Considering his upbringing, he understood the value of an education, and knew he could use football as a platform to ascend. After excelling on the field at his JUCO in Montreal, Mulumba started gaining recognition for his talents, and received a call from one of the football coaches at Eastern Michigan University.
"My name got turned on to him [EMU coach] and he gave me call, 'Put a highlight together, send it to me, and we'll see what we can do.'" Mulumba continued. "I did that, sent it to him, posted it on YouTube, and when I went to Eastern they offered me a [scholarship], but the problem was I had to take my SAT and I didn't know a word of English."
At every stage of Mulumba's life, time and time again he would receive a morsel of good news that was immediately followed by another hurdle. He could've given up at any point and called it quits, but that's just not who he is.
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"I knew I had to do the SAT, and I did it four times, just to be eligible," Mulumba shared with a laugh. "My last semester in JUCO I took nine classes just to be eligible to be able to go for that fall semester at Eastern."
While the journey to America to play football was challenging, Mulumba battled through and eventually joined the EMU football team in 2009. In his first two seasons, he played a few different positions on defense before eventually settling in on the defensive line. Mulumba didn't truly break out though until his junior season when he totaled 51 tackles (7.5 for loss), and 3.5 sacks. He followed up his junior campaign with 73 total tackles (7 for loss), and one sack.
The question then became, could he compete in the NFL?
In the eyes of the Green Bay Packers, Mulumba had the tangibles to be an NFL player.
"After my senior year, I guess in my pro day I did pretty good, and Green Bay really had an eye on me, so they picked me up as a free agent," Mulumba said. "That 2013 year was a special year, we had a bunch of injuries and that's kind of why I was able to be on the active roster. But a lot of people got hurt in the summer, so I was able to take a lot of reps in the summer, get my football IQ up, and see a lot of football. I was able to crack the roster, play a lot of games, and my second year I tore my ACL during our second game against the Jets."
Going undrafted and making a team's 53-man roster is a lot easier said than done, it's definitely not impossible, but it obviously requires a lot of work. Making it to the NFL is a huge accomplishment in itself, then to go and play amongst the best talent in the world, just to tear an ACL in your second season?
Once again, Mulumba refused to let his injury keep him from accomplishing his goal.
"I had to come back from that in my third year, which was a challenge, but I was still able to make the team," he said. "Was active a couple games, inactive a couple other games, but it was part of the process coming back from an injury and cracking the team again was one of the biggest accomplishments I could've done."
Following that season, Mulumba's contract with the Packers expired, making him a free agent. He enjoyed a brief stint with the Kansas City Chiefs, before ultimately landing with the Silver and Black.
"I think I have to come back for training camp with a chip on my shoulder. I've got a lot to prove and I love the challenge," Mulumba said. "I'm really obsessive with taking notes, knowing my stuff, if I can be practicing I've got to make sure at least I'm on my stuff, so when I come back I don't make mental mistakes and I can show what I'm able to do on the field."
It remains to be seen what Mulumba's future will hold, but with Mulumba, one thing is clear; he thinks big picture and understands that life is much greater than just football. He is clearly hopeful and driven to make the team, but he's also focused on making sure all the information he learns now can help him touch someone else's life now, or down the road.
Towards the end of our conversation, Mulumba couldn't help but think about his father and the values he instilled within him. There's no denying that he's experienced far more than many people have or ever will in this lifetime, but he looks at his past - and in particular the impact of his father - as a way to stay driven and continue working hard.
"I looked at him when he came back to Canada to join us, I watched him wake up every day at 5 a.m.," Mulumba recounted. "He was already on the computer applying for jobs because he wanted to make sure he would support his family. I got that education and discipline from looking at what he's done, and I'm trying to implement it into my life."