The 2023 Canadian Football League season is now fully upon us, and with it brings many storylines. But none will be greater than the Toronto Argonauts’ continued pursuit of dominance stemming back to their 2022 Grey Cup championship.
Once again leading the charge for the Argos is 6-foot, 235-pound linebacker Henoc Muamba. Long serving as a CFL mainstay, the former 2011 first overall pick made the championship game-changing interception last winter, but it took 11 full years for the now 34-year-old to earn his first Grey Cup ring.
Impactus’ Resident Sports Writer, Carter Brooks was granted an exclusive hour-long, one-on-one interview with the reigning Grey Cup MVP and Most Outstanding Canadian, and the conversation did not disappoint. That interview has become the backbone of this piece. Muamba’s story is broken up into four parts, which will be released over the next two months as the CFL season kicks into high gear.
How did your faith play a role in that process?
“I really relied on my faith. My thought process at the time was, hey, I’m so used to having people with the same mindset, same values and faith to help strengthen me and push me to be better, but because they were all older by me in university, by the time I got to my senior year, they were all gone. So before getting drafted to Winnipeg, I had never even been to Manitoba. I wasn’t nervous about my abilities, but my prayer at the time was, “Hey God, I just want you to place someone there who will have the same mindset as me, or have the same values as me, spiritually speaking, so that I can have someone in Winnipeg as well.” The Bible says iron sharpens iron. That was my thought process. As strong as I can be, I just need that help all along. That absolutely was my prayer. I wasn’t worried about anything else. I just didn’t want to be in a city and a place where God’s presence himself was not there. Sometimes in life you make decisions where you’re wondering, okay, is this what God would want me to do? So that was my prayer, I was just praying for his presence to be in Winnipeg, and hopefully precede me there. By the time I got there, my prayer was consistent.”
So, did you find that person?
“Getting there, initially, I kept my eyes open to try to find this guy, because I know that God answers prayers. So, my eyes were open to, okay, who is it going to be? Who is going to be the Jonathan to my David, who is going to be that man to help me out as the person that God sent?
“So, I get there, and it can be a little challenging, let me tell you. I am drafted first overall, so practically everybody knows me. I don’t really know them. I need to learn these new people in a new environment and a new city. I’ve had a prayer that I’ve prayed and know that God is going to answer, so now I’ve got to keep my eyes open. They say that every time God has a promise for you or you’ve prayed something, there is always a little bit of work that you need to do yourself. And looking for that person was the part that I needed to do. So, I kept my eyes open, and sure enough the first week would come by and I didn’t necessarily see anyone who I felt, yes, this is it. I would meet people and have different conversations with my teammates and I’d think, oh maybe it is this person, and then I’d think, oh, no it’s not. Maybe it’s this guy, no actually it’s not. That would continue on for about a week-and-a-half or so, and sure enough, after finishing practice and doing a bunch of media interviews in what would have probably been the second week, I’m walking towards my locker and someone taps me on my shoulder. I turn around and he says, “Hey, Henoc, it’s good to see you, nice to meet you. I read the article that they wrote about you the other day, and I’m just so proud and happy that you’re willing to stand on your faith so strongly in that piece. I’m just glad for all of that, and if ever you need any help or anyone to help you out in anything, I’ll always be around. I’m the chaplain of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and my name is Lorne Korol.”
Wow. I personally know Lorne quite well. That sounds word-for-word verbatim something he would say. How did that hit you?
“Well, he says all that and then just walks away, so now I’m at my locker and I just can’t help but think that sometimes when you pray, the answer to your prayer doesn’t exactly look like what you thought it would be. I remember saying, “Really God? This is the person that you sent? The chaplain? I was thinking more like one of my teammates, you know, someone I can really relate to, someone younger like me. But instead you send me this person!” So I kept my mind open to it, but Lorne ended up playing a huge role in the foundation of my career. He was there all the time and literally supported me in every way, shape and form. But the amazing thing is when you pray, God answers and gives you even more than you could ever ask for. So, I met Lorne first, but then met a couple other men along the way that God sent to help me day-to-day. One of them, Marcellus Bowman, was even in my wedding party, my wife and his wife are close, we are actually godparents to their first child. This is the relationship that God sent me that I was praying for, and then Lorne was just an extra cherry on top.”
How did things end up playing out in Winnipeg your first season?
“In my very first preseason game – not even regular season, but preseason – we go to Montreal and I get tripped up and I land on my knee awkwardly and I walk off. The doctors told me I might end up being out 4-6 weeks. I’ve had injuries in the past and I knew how to deal with that process. Typically, when I’d be told I’d be out three weeks, well I’d try to come back in a week or a week and a half. But this time, I ended up missing nine weeks. That’s half a season, in my rookie year as a first overall draft pick. It was very challenging. But having that person with me, Marcellus, and having Lorne with me, it was extremely important for me in helping me build a foundation and remain in good spirits.”
Speaking of Lorne, after your Grey Cup win, you mentioned a bracelet you were wearing that you received a long time ago from a team chaplain. Was that from Lorne?
“Yes, as a matter of fact, Lorne gave it to me probably in my second year in the league, so maybe 2012 or so. I was around Lorne for quite some time. During down time or off days, whether it was some activities like speaking at hockey camps or church events or things like that, I would typically go along with Lorne. One of the times he said, “Henoc, I got these bracelets done. I think that it would be great if you shared it with the kids at Athletes in Action and Hockey Ministries International. If you share these with them, I think they’ll really appreciate it.” I just said, “Whoa, these are amazing, Lorne, I love them.” So we went out and spoke and encouraged a bunch of the youth there. Lorne noticed that I liked the bracelets so much that he came back and gave me a whole bag full of them.”
What did the bracelet say again, ‘Measured by Character’? Is that right?
“Working with AIA, we’d go to homeless shelters, women’s shelters, schools, you name it. One of the most challenging things that I had to do even after getting accustomed to speaking to people was going to speak through AIA at prisons. It was an amazing experience to me. I remember one of the Grey Cups, I think it would have been my second year. So Lorne brings another huge bag of these wristbands that I’m still wearing to this day, and he gives it again to me. I literally kept the bag and Carter, the crazy thing is, I just randomly found the remainder of one of those bags that I was sharing with so many different people along my path. So, about a decade later I find this bag in one of my cupboards here at home midway during the season here. It had like 10 or 12 bracelets remaining in the bag and I gave them to some of the guys on the team. I kept one for myself and it’s such a real saying and means so much to me. A lot of times people want to look at others and judge them by what they’ve achieved or what they possess, what they look like or who they know. But the truth is people are really measured by character, not by possessions or achievements. The true measure of a man or woman comes from character. That is such a real statement to me that I wear really proudly, and I love to share that statement with others. Whenever I stumble upon one of these bracelets – they just seem to come out at the perfect time – I love to share with the people that are in my life.”
Where does that mentality of sharing come from? Was it something you learned at home or maybe at church?
“I grew up in the church. To me, really, it was growing up, hey look, Sundays you’re at church, Wednesdays you’re at church. Every day the church was open, we were there with my siblings, whether we really liked it or not. It wasn’t much of a choice, but I personally enjoyed it. To me, the biggest time for growth in my faith started to happen in university. I was far away from home, so now it wasn’t mom and dad telling me to pick up my Bible and get into the word, or go attend this Bible study, or go watch this online sermon. I had to do that myself internally, and it was a conscious decision, as opposed to being quote-on-quote ‘forced’ by my parents back home. So that certainly challenged me in all aspects of my life. It was a blessing for me to be in that environment. I grew a lot in my faith as well as the athletics and academics. My faith played a huge role and that kept me really sane. I’m reiterating here, but the pressure that comes with being drafted first overall and the expectations that are put on you, it’s a lot. I really relied on my faith. I would pray much more, meditate, lean on the people around me, like Marcellus and Lorne. Dealing with injuries and uncertainty in my career at times, my faith really provided me with a backbone in order to overcome those obstacles.”