PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — If you would’ve told West Linn starting running back Koffi Kouame six years ago that he would end up winning a football state championship in Oregon, he would’ve been a bit puzzled.
For starters, that would’ve meant soccer to him.
“When I got here, I didn’t know English still, so I had to learn it really quick,” recalled Kouame, who grew up speaking French. “I just went to school and would sit in the class while everyone was speaking English, and I had no idea what everyone was talking about.”
For the first 12 years of his life, Kouame and his three siblings were raised in Ivory Coast, Africa by their grandmother with the financial support of their aunt and uncle in Portland.
Then he received the surprise of a lifetime.
“One day she came up and she said she wanted to bring us to America,” said Kouame of his aunt, Sopie. “I couldn’t really believe it. It was the most exciting news I ever heard in my life.”
Understandably, the transition from Africa to Oregon wasn’t always the smoothest.
“My first winter here was terrible,” said Kouame. “I was freezing. I’d wear like five layers to go to soccer practice. People would look at me like I was crazy.”
“I first tasted a burger in New York. I was just threw it in the garbage. I didn’t really like it,” said Kouame with a big laugh.
Overall though, he was able to shift over to American life. Then, two years in, came football.
“My freshman year in Beaverton, I decided to go tryout. I had no idea what was going on. There were so many stations. I had to move from here to here and I had no idea where to go,” said Kouame.
Kouame took an interest in the sport after watching his younger brother play, and with the help of some famous faces.
“I wanted to play running back because I’d been watching Alvin Kamara and Saquon Barkley. I was like, ‘Oh, I really, really want to be like them,’” said Koffi.
Koffi’s vision was spot on.
“I had no idea where I was going. They’d just give me the ball, and I’d just run because I was mostly faster than everybody else, so I’d just get the ball and run,” said Koffi.
He went from never playing the sport at the beginning of his freshman year to the varsity starting running back his sophomore year at Beaverton High.
His junior year brought another change, as he transferred to West Linn. The competition was much stiffer, but once again, Kouame prevailed.
“I started to outwork everyone because I really wanted to get better at it,” said Kouame. “During the offseason, all I would do every day is just wake up, eat, work on my craft, footwork, go back home, watch film, watch highlights of running backs that I really like to inspire me to work harder because compared to other running backs. They’ve been playing since second grade, so competing against them, I had to give everything I had.”
This season he was named a first-team All-Three Rivers League running back and last Friday, his high school career wrapped up with a state championship.
However, the lessons Kouame has learned along the way are way more valuable than the trophy he held up at the end of it all.
“It was tough, but I worked hard for it. That’s why they call it dedication and passion. If you really like something, you try to give your best to give all you have,” said Kouame.
Those are certainly words to live, and run, by.