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.
Now, didn’t you spend some time playing in the United States within the NFL?
“I sure did, and there have been lots of lessons for me along the way. That’s what I value the most about my career and encourage all the young guys not to just play football to play football, but to gain as much as you can along the way. I’m like an old guy in the locker room now. But I tell the guys in the locker room that the game is going to take so much from you now. Time that you sacrificed alone is so much. Injuries, blood, pieces of bone, teeth on the field. The game is going to take so much from you, but you’ve got to take something from it. One of my goals every year is to grow beyond the game of football, and it wasn’t any different than when I went ground south to the NFL. I had an amazing time and met some great friends I still have to this day. Some of the things I often talk about when I think of my time in the USA is resilience and persistence. I learned a lot of that when I went down south.”
Was that experience a test to your faith?
“Remember that very first injury that happened to me in Winnipeg? Well, it came back and showed up in my physical when I committed to Indianapolis. They wanted to do a little procedure and a scope on my knee to help me for the long term, they said. There were many lessons learned down there, but I remember a time where I was in the CFL. Again, I was drafted first overall and it comes with a few benefits. One of those is having a bit of comfort and being more stable as they invested in you big-time. Things could happen and they would probably still keep you around to try to prove them right. But I remember my second year in Winnipeg, I had this guy Terrell Parker, a rookie in my second year. Terrell worked his way to being a starter and he started doing extremely well, helping lead the team in tackles, but in Game 6 he ended up getting hurt. I remember encouraging him and telling him things I knew I would appreciate if I was in his shoes. Evidently to him, it went in one ear and out the other year. The reason for that he’d say was, “Hey look, Henoc, it’s easy for you to say because you were drafted first overall. If you were injured you’d be fine, but I don’t really know what’s going on with my career, there isn’t any real certainty.” It is a business and it is like that for a lot of people, but I told him, “No Terrell, what I’m telling you in keeping your faith and staying strong mentally, that’s what I would do if I were in your shoes.” Sure enough, he kind of listened, but not really. I remember wishing, man I wish I were in his shoes so I could be in a situation where I could show him that what I’m telling him is exactly what I could do.”
This is back in Winnipeg, before you left, correct?
“Yes, yes. So now fast-forward to me being in Indy, Carter, and I had just gotten my surgery done, and OTAs had started. I’m a rookie, I’m a free agent, I’m not drafted, so I don’t have that security that I had in the CFL. This is a whole new game that I’ve gotta learn, I had never played four down football before. The biggest thing that I had developed in Winnipeg before leaving for the States was that instinct, but it’s gone down there. With the surgery that I had just done, I didn’t feel like myself at all. I was rehabbing and my GM was asking literally daily how I was feeling and pushing me. I didn’t feel as fast or quick or as explosive as I knew I could be.
I remember being in my hotel room and Terrell would check up on me, because we were good friends. I remember telling people that doubt is not a sin, but it’s what you do after the doubt. I remember telling myself I’m not going to believe these thoughts that are coming into my mind, these things that are going through my mind right now. As hard as it is to believe these simple things that I know aren’t true about me, I’m going to fight really strong and pray about it and I’m going to believe the truth that I know God says about me. I started writing things down, and that ended up being one of the biggest lessons I learned in the NFL. I talk about mental toughness all the time. But that was one of the most challenging times in my life as well.”
How did you deal with those challenges?
“I remember being in that hotel room and these thoughts were coming in my mind again, the doubts, the uncertainty, the “am I even supposed to be here?” All these questions would come up in my head. What I did was took a piece of paper and wrote a bunch of things down that I knew were true of me but I just had a tough time believing. ‘I can run fast’, because it was hard and difficult for me to learn a new game. Even a simple thing like that. ‘I belong here’. ‘I am a fast learner’. ‘I am a great leader’. Etc. There were about five or six and I wrote them down. I stuck it right by my bed, I made a few more copies of it and put it in the kitchen, I put another in the living room, and another in the bathroom, and finally I did another one and put it by the door. The principle behind that, often times we talk about faith comes by hearing the word. It’s the same principle I tried to apply here, things that I knew were true but I didn’t necessarily believe at the time. The more I would read it, the more I would believe those things. That’s another biblical principle, what you think about, you become, things that are true and noble, think on those things. Paul said that. That’s what I was trying to kind of get my mind around. It’s a mental battle, but it helped me tremendously.”
“Now let me take you to the conversation when Terrell calls on me to check in. I’m in my room going through all these things and battles, socially. My family members and friends are calling me and not understanding the magnitude of the things I’m going through and the challenges I’m experiencing, but they’re all excited. It’s hard to even explain to someone who doesn’t understand the business of football, so I didn’t even bother. I’d get calls from siblings and cousins, messages, emails, phone calls. Lots of encouragement but no understanding of what’s actually going on down there. So Terrell called me one day just to check in and he says, “Henoc, what’s going on?”. I remember just wanting to be surface level and say I’m doing well, and things are progressing, but I thought to myself and I remembered conversations that we had when I was in Winnipeg and he was the one going through the uncertainty, the doubt and the challenges that I was experiencing. I told myself that I had to share with him that what I told him two or three years ago was in fact coming true and I was experiencing that with no security blanket by being a first overall pick. So, I was in his shoes and doing what I told him I’d be doing. We were on the phone for like an hour and I shared with him everything that was going on. I shared the conversations I had with the GMs who were either consciously or subconsciously pressuring me to get back faster than maybe my health would want me to. All those challenges, the injuries and the change of the pace of the game, all those things I would share with him. Then at the end of the conversation he said, “Man, Henoc, I remember when I was in your shoes and you would encourage me. It’s so good to see that even while you are experiencing these things that you are still keeping a positive attitude exactly how you were telling me to do when I was going through it.” Terrell and I are still friends to this day. We have grown to respect and love one another. That experience was extremely foundational for developing the mental toughness and strength, spiritually, as well to overcome these things that sometimes you don’t have control over.”