Seahawks Insider Blog

Michigan WR Amara Darboh: From orphaned in warring Sierra Leone to Seahawks’ 3rd-round pick

Michigan's Amara Darboh, here making the game-winning catch against Wisconsin's Derrick Tindal in October in Ann Arbor, Mich., was Seattle’s choice at the end of Friday’s third round of the NFL draft. But he is so much more than that.
Michigan's Amara Darboh, here making the game-winning catch against Wisconsin's Derrick Tindal in October in Ann Arbor, Mich., was Seattle’s choice at the end of Friday’s third round of the NFL draft. But he is so much more than that. Detroit Free Press/TNS

Rookie minicamps starting next month? His first NFL training camp this summer? Making a Seahawks roster that needs a big wide receiver that he is, but is loaded with veterans he is not?

Daunting for most 23-year-olds straight out of college.

For Amara Darboh, it will seem like a breeze off Lake Washington. That is, compared to what he’s already lived.

“A grit kid,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said late Friday night, “that’s been through a ton in his life.”

When the last of the Seahawks’ four third-round draft choices on Friday was 2 years old, his parents Solimon and Kadita were murdered.

They were two of more than 35,000 people killed during civil war over the first five years of Darboh’s life in Sierra Leone. He jumped from safe haven to safe haven there, through his country’s sadly ironically named capital city of Freetown, "just moving around – a lot," he said.

Get this: When I asked him Friday night over the phone what he remembers about that horror, he talked about the joy.

“Fortunately for me, I remember the good parts right before we left,” he said. “I remember playing soccer with my older brothers. I remember the food. I remember family members. I remember going to the market with my brothers and sisters.”

Asked how many of those he has, Darboh said: “I have a lot. About 13.”

At age 7, he fled his west Africa nation as an orphan, one of 2.5 million people the 11-year war displaced. And not via a train, bus, boat or plane. Some of Darboh’s many relatives escaped with the him -- reportedly on foot - to Gambia and neighboring Senegal. That was across the countries of Guinea and Guines-Bissau in between.

The distance from the center of Sierra Leone to the center of tiny Gambia is 420 miles.

On foot.

“I had a big family so I had to move around a lot,” he said. “So sometimes I’d be with all my brothers and sisters, and moving a lot is what I remember. Moving to different countries, at times.”

In 2001, he jumped at the chance to move to another one: the United States. A Christian group from Des Moines, Iowa, sponsored what was left of Darboh’s family and gave them a home in which to live. His older sister by 12 years, Lovetta, basically raised him there.

Soccer was his favorite sport, but not such a huge hit in Des Moines. He played basketball at the local YMCA. Without money, he got a scholarship there to play in the city’s Little League Baseball program, when he was 8. A father of one of Little League teammates, Dan Schaefer, coached him for years. By sixth grade, Darboh had moved in with the Schaefer family. The Schaefers eventually adopted him, when he was 17. By then he had grown into a tall, superstar wide receiver at Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moints. Michigan signed him from there.

In 2015, he did something better than catching 58 passes as a junior, with five touchdown receptions for coach Jim Harbaugh’s first Michigan team. Better than reaching the Citrus Bowl that season and trouncing Florida.

He gained United States citizenship.

“It was great. It was something that I always wanted to do,” he said. “It was something I wanted to do in high school, but unfortunately I didn’t get it done. I felt like it was a final step (for) me (in the) U.S. ... I grew up here, and then for me to become a citizen and to be able to participate in all the rights of citizens, like voting and all that, was important to me.

“When I got that done it was a weight lifted off my shoulder.”

His senior season, playing outside and in the slot, he had 57 catches and seven TDs for a Michigan team that rose into the top 5 of national rankings. He beat No. 8 Wisconsin with a 46-yard catch and run late before 111,000 people and a national-television audience, before losing in overtime at national-playoff participant Ohio State and 33-32 to Florida State in a wild Orange Bowl Dec. 30.

Then he ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash, zooming for a man 6-1 and 216 pounds. Friday, the orphan of a horrific war became the 106th pick of the 82nd NFL draft. He’s in line for a four-year rookie contract potentially worth about $3 million if he sticks with the team. That’s based off the deal slotted to Seattle’s third pick of the third round last year, offensive lineman Rees Odhiambo.

"I feel very blessed," Darboh said, the last word heavy with meaning and memory.

The Seahawks knew all this when they became interested in Darboh. Seattle general manager John Schneider and his scouts also saw at Michigan that Darboh had athleticism and smoothless that belied his relative inexperience.

“He’s young in football and looks like a professional wide receiver,” Schneider said.

On plays such as this one last season:

The Seahawks fretted they wouldn’t be able to draft him, that he was too good for other teams to pass up in the first rounds of the draft. Schneider said he didn’t ask Darboh personally about his back story. He didn’t even talk to him. He didn’t want other NFL teams to learn the Seahawks had met or even called him.

“We were kind of laying in the weeds,” Schneider said.

That sandbagging worked.

“He’s really a good route runner,” Schneider said. “He’s got good ball skills. He’ll block. He’ll play on (special) teams. He’s one of those kids that checks off all the boxes.

“When you watch him run routes you are like, ‘Whooo! Thank God!’ (that someone in college football can still run precise routes).

“There’s still a lot out there in front of him.”

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll called Darboh “such an amazing kid.”

His amazing life isn’t lost on Darboh.

“Yeah, man. I feel very blessed,” he said. “I feel like I’ve gone through some difficult times in my life. I think God has also blessed me and I’ve had some great people that have helped me throughout my life.

“It’s all part of God’s plan. I’m going to keep following the path that he set out for me.”

In two weeks, May 11, that path will lead him to reporting to Seahawks headquarters. And an unlikely, absolutely earned place in the NFL.

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