Family and football are closely linked for Riders’ Nelson Lokombo

Family and football go hand in hand for Nelson Lokombo.

The older brother of Saskatchewan Roughriders defenseman Boseko Lokombo is a seven-year CFL veteran who was named the league’s most outstanding Canadian in 2021 while playing for the BC Lions.

“It’s cool to have someone I can talk to about football and help me and learn a lot about the game (and) about being a professional,” Nelson said. “It’s nice to see him play and now it’s really cool that he can watch me play too.

“I’m sure my mother is very proud and so is my father. I am glad that I can represent the family together with them.

“You learn a lot, how to behave as a player, how to behave as a professional, how to work in the off-season, how to watch movies and prepare for games and stuff like that.”

While Bo has had a great career on the field — including 2017 looks from the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers — Nelson is just taking the first steps in his own professional career.

He will start his third straight game for the Riders of the 2022 season on Thursday during a showdown in Montreal against the Alouettes. The game is scheduled to kick off at 5:30 p.m. The audition show in the Green Zone starts at 3:00 p.m

The journey to the pro ranks on the gridiron began early for Lokombo watching Bo and another brother – Boloy, who played at Minnesota-Duluth – play sports.

“We just watched football. Seeing my brothers play and wanting to grow up in their position and being motivated to be like them was cool. My whole life has been just football – playing and watching and just learning as much as I can,” said Lokombo.

While growing up in Abbotsford, BC, Lokombo wanted to create his own path in life, which eventually led to him leaving the provinces to play soccer at the University of Saskatchewan.

“Growing up in BC, I kind of wanted to get away and learn how to live on my own, so I thought the U of S was perfect,” he said. “The coaches there really helped me to develop as a player and also as a person. They helped me just learn how to play ball and also carry me as a pro. It was really nice and a good experience to be out there.

“Fan engagement is always huge in Saskatchewan, even at the university level. In Saskatoon they don’t have a professional team out there and everyone comes out to support the huskies.”

While Lokombo was there, the coaching staff decided to use his natural talents, moving him from field corner to halfback.

“A lot of work has gone into it in the off-season. Coaches wanted to involve me more in games as a halfback, involve me in strobes and all that. Having to play the wobble was one of the biggest things,” Lokombo said of the receivers’ pre-snap motion.

“It has helped my perception overall, figuring out how to play different positions and learning how to play different spots at different times in games. It was good and really shaped me.”

He recorded 115 total tackles, six tackles for loss, 10 interceptions, three sacks and two forced fumbles in 30 games with the Huskies. Lokombo received the Presidents’ Trophy for Best Defensive Player in U-Sports Football after the 2019 season.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellation of the 2020 season, he was unable to continue the great campaign.

“A lot came in there. It was an unfortunate thing for everyone; Everyone has been through different things. This year has been tough mentally and there has been a lot going on. I tried to play in the south, I talked to a few teams in the south, but they didn’t play in the end,” Lokombo said.

But it gave him an opportunity to reconnect with Bo as both stayed in shape when football returned in Canada.

“He took me under his wing. He also went through it because he didn’t have a season in the CFL, so we just trained together, learned and did different things together,” Lokombo said.

In 2021, Lokombo was poised to make the leap to the pros in the CFL Draft. He didn’t have to wait long as the drivers took him on with their second overall win that year.

“Going in, I wasn’t sure where I was going to end up. The family was there and I had everyone come to watch. It was cool to get that call from Saskatchewan and knowing that I play pro ball in the same province where I played in varsity was great,” Lokombo said.

But as he prepared for his first pro season, disaster struck; Lokombo was one of four players to suffer a torn Achilles tendon the day before the training camp began.

“I just took one bad step behind me and it just went. I knew right away – it was loud and it sounded like a gunshot,” Lokombo said. “I was able to stay here with the team, learn a little bit about the game and our system and do rehab with the other guys who also tore their Achilles tendon.

“Mentally it was a lot and we all went through it and talked about it. I learned a lot about myself during this time.”

After a lengthy rehab process, Lokombo returned to the field in 2022 and secured a starting spot on the Riders’ defense.

And it means a lot to him to get back to the sport he loves.

“I’m really glad I was able to recover from that. I’m really thankful to finally be able to play. I’m really proud and really happy to be here now,” said Lokombo.

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