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.
The 2022 CFL season was an extremely special one for you. Can you touch on just how thrilled you were with the end result?
“It’s almost full-circle. It’s one of those things, that after 11 years I’ve learned to focus on the process and not so much the destination. I would enter the last few seasons as much more of a leader. My focus was more so on being the best leader I can be and to help as many people as I can. I wouldn’t necessarily say, “Hey I want to be a Grey Cup champion”. That’s always the goal in the CFL, as you begin every year that’s what you aspire to be as a team, but I didn’t necessarily lock into that as my goal as that’s the lone thing I want to do. I fell in love with the process and I committed to the process. Year after year it was a lot of different disappointment, and I often talk about it. Maybe the last two-to-three years, I’ve come to terms that maybe I’ll have a great career with recognitions and everything but maybe I’ll finish my career not necessarily a Grey Cup champion. Again, I was focusing on the journey and the process. I saw the benefit that I’ve experienced. I’m a completely different person today than I was my first year here in Winnipeg. I am forever grateful for the game of football. It took some time to get to that place. Lorne challenging me to get to different places, and my teammates challenging me to speak up in meetings, and my coaches challenging me to step up in the media. All of that developed me into the person I am today. Each year I would think of what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown. So, if I would have ended my career without a Grey Cup, I would have been okay knowing how much I grew and knew that there was purpose in playing the game of football and that God had a plan for me.”
So, it’s pretty clear to me that you look at the career as more of an ongoing learning experience rather than just a start and end.
“Yes, but I would have to say this as well, Carter. I remember one of my lowest times when I was back in Indianapolis. This was one of the best moments but really, I was in a deep, deep dark hole, mentally, physiologically and even spiritually. I remember being at my lowest, in my hotel room, I was by myself. It was the same prayer I prayed when I got to Winnipeg. I did end up finding that person in Indianapolis – man does God ever answer prayers. But I remember being in that deep, dark hole. I had those pieces of paper up on the wall, but I’m still doubting myself. I just remember praying and meditating, but I remember it was one of the clearest times I had heard God in my life. What I heard God say was, “Henoc, you’ve accomplished so much already.” You’ve got to realize, I was born in Africa and didn’t’ know anything about football. I started playing in Grade 10, drafted first overall, had a great university career, did so well in the CFL that I got a shot in the NFL. So to me it’s already amazing. But I remember hearing clearly, and I don’t know if you’ve heard God in this way, as God speaks in multiple ways, but this was the clearest I ever heard him.”
The message was, “Henoc, as much as you’ve accomplished in the game of football, and as much as you’re going to accomplish, man, what I will do with you once you are done playing is going to be mind-blowing.”
Wow. That is something. God was clearly onto something there…
“It was one of the best encouragements that I ever remember hearing. It calmed me down right away and gave me a sense of peace, gratitude and excitement. That would have been my fourth year in professional football. I was ready for retirement. All the setbacks that you experience in football, those things you can’t control. If you followed my career, you will have seen how many times I became a free agent because of decisions that general managers wanted to make. I stood my ground sometimes and after all these setbacks, one of the things I relied on and remembered all this time was that promise that was so, so clear to me. And once again I was ready to retire two years ago, right before I joined the Argonauts when I left Montreal. My mother-in-law passed, and I remember telling myself that I couldn’t be away from my family anymore. She had previously helped out my wife at home when I was away on road trips with the team anywhere across the country. It kind of gave me that peace that we could make everything work. So, when she passed in the pandemic, it was heart wrenching for myself and my family as a whole. But I decided that I was coming home. I left Montreal and was contemplating retirement. It came with joy because I knew what was coming. One of the things that my wife and I always say is that we want to live our lives to grow and help others grow. But you have to understand the concept of timing. You’re in places that God brings you, and if anybody needs to understand that it’s me. God brings you these things in different seasons and places and times in your life and sometimes we tend to overstay our welcome. We inspire to be in a specific place or season when God is calling us to something more. So that was my prayer: “God I need guidance,” But timing was never a fear of mine because of that promise I heard clearly in 2014.”
What made you decide to sign in Toronto anyways?
“Long story short, I get a call from Pinball, who has been a mentor of mine for years, and he made things work. So, I get a two-year deal with Toronto, and two years later I am a Grey Cup champion. It was exhilarating to be in that game, to play the role that I did in that game. I would have been fine to just step on that field and contribute to the Grey Cup winning team. That would have been a dream for me. So, for that game to go the way that it did and to make one of the biggest plays in the game and get the awards that I was given, I think back and man, God has a way of doing things. If I were the author of my own life, I would have won the Grey Cup years ago – maybe even in my rookie year. But I don’t think I would have cherished that moment. I wouldn’t have become the person I am today and wouldn’t’ have grown the way I have. He is the perfect author, so that’s the way that I see this Cup.”
And it doesn’t just end there either.
“You’re right. It’s really exciting, even for the things that have come after the Grey Cup, all the opportunities. You see that it really was God’s plan and his way. This offseason, literally just a month after the Grey Cup, the amount of calls from CEOs and presidents that have been reaching out to me, opportunities to speak at different places, impacting lives…. One of my goals in the new year is to open up my foundation. We are starting to do work already with that. Some of the stuff we are trying to do locally from a leadership perspective as well as a confidence perspective. The youth are amazing and I can’t wait to kind of get that off the ground. As well as the things that I want to do internationally, especially in the Congo, the country I was born in is super exciting. I have done a lot of the mentoring as my career went on. But after this Grey Cup, it has blown up to a whole new level. It has really been a blessing and I can’t not believe that this is actually what God had intended to happen. Just like what the word says, from the time I was in the womb.”