Upstate Hamilton is about 200 miles from Harlem, but the uptown neighborhood is never far from Abdoul Kouyate’s mind.
The proud “city kid” hopes to put his Big Apple attitude on display when his Colgate Red Raiders host James Madison on Saturday in the FCS playoffs. The sophomore defensive lineman is part of a defensive unit that, by far, led the FCS in total defense and surrendered only seven touchdowns this season — four of which came in their final game against nationally-ranked FBS opponent Army). At one point, they went seven straight games without allowing a TD.
“Toward the end of the season, it started to settle in how effective we’ve been as a unit, and that we’ve had people around the country talking about us,” said Kouyate, whose parents, Gaoussou and Fatoumata, and four siblings still live in Harlem. “Going into the playoffs, that gives us momentum and confidence.”
In his second season at Colgate, Kouyate played in all 10 games for the Red Raiders, registering nine tackles and 1.5 sacks. Notably, he was able to step in for star defensive end Caleb Fell when the senior missed four games with appendicitis. Not bad for a late-bloomer who, like most city kids, played mostly basketball (as well as tennis) before taking to the gridiron for the first time at 17. By then, his size and strength — he’s 6-3 and 250 pounds — seemed tailor-made for the sport.
“Abdoul is still a bit raw as a football player, but he’s got all the physical tools,” said first-year Red Raiders defensive line coach Josh Ison. “Plus, he’s so coachable. His potential is huge.”
Kouyate, 20, played one year at Cardinal Hayes before finishing out his high school career at Blair Academy in New Jersey. A number of programs at the FCS level as well as others from the American Athletic Conference at the higher FBS level (he declined to name specific schools out of respect for Colgate) recruited him, but his sights were set on Hamilton after visiting the campus.
“I decided to see where football could take me, and it brought me to Colgate,” Kouyate said. “I knew it was the best place to prepare me for the future.”
That future, if it doesn’t include football, will likely involve going back to his roots. Kouyate plans to major in psychology and return to Harlem to work with kids in need.
“I really want to help young people where I’m from get the same opportunities I’ve had,” he said.
For now, though, the focus is on James Madison and, hopefully, leading his school to a national championship. Kouyate said, “With our defense, I definitely feel good about our chances.”