Kwity Paye lifted the wallet out of his pocket and held it up to the Zoom camera. Most people, he observed, have slim wallets with card-holders. This one is bulky, sticking out of his pocket. He’s had it since sixth grade.
Back then, as a kid in Rhode Island who dreamed of playing in the NFL, Paye wrote down some quotes on paper. Nothing comes easy. Nothing will get in the way of achieving my dreams. Work hard to take care of my family. God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers. Remember when you wanted what you currently have.
He put that paper in his wallet, right next to one on which a teacher asked him to write down what he’s grateful for. “My mom, my brothers, my coaches, my teammates, my athletic ability,” Paye said, “my education, my close friends and the things I have and then life.”
The former Michigan defensive end is back in Ann Arbor for his Pro Day. He’ll work out in front of scouts and executives on Friday — he’s been projected as a high first-round pick — and when he meets with teams, they’ll ask him about his motivations. Why he’s playing and who he’s doing it for. The answer comes in his mom.
Paye’s mother, Agnes, fled Liberia at the onset of a civil war, immigrating to Rhode Island and working to put Kwity and his brother through school. When Paye signs an NFL contract, he’ll be able to pay it forward.
“At times when I start thinking about it, my heart starts to beat faster,” Paye said.
That’s why, amid the myriad of questions that usually accompany an event like Pro Day, Paye was asked about his wallet and his mom.
“It feels amazing, just to be able to take care of her, cause that’s a thing I wanted to do since I was young,” Paye said. “I‘ve just seen how hard she worked, how much she struggled to get us through. … She’s just relaxing now, and she’s just chilling. So it feels good to just have her be with my younger brothers and raise them because at times when I was younger she wasn’t really around cause she just had to work.”
When Paye starts playing in a new city, he’s excited to share his story with a new set of fans. He wants kids in the community who are in a similar position he was to look at him and know they can make it.
As far as his draft prospects, it’s likely Paye will be the highest-picked Michigan product this year. In the abbreviated six-game season, Paye had 2.0 sacks and four tackles for loss.
“He comes in, does his work, does his job correctly all the time,” linebacker Cam McGrone said. “He’s really a freak of nature, how big he is, how strong he is, how fast he is, the combination of all the things you would want, at the end that’s Kwity.”
Paye wants teams to know that he’s a hard worker, the sort of person who won’t get distracted from his goals. That’s not too different from what every other potential draftee wants teams to know. But Paye has the experience to back it up.
“I feel like Michigan prepared me well,” he said. “Coming here, seeing different schemes in our defense and just doing a lot of stuff, had to prepare well going into my meetings with the teams. When they teach me their schemes, I can pick up on it faster cause of how fast we roll with our defense and how fast you need to adjust on the fly. So for me being able to pick up on our defense and learn to play really fast is kinda what teams like.”
Paye hasn’t yet decided on his plans for draft night. Because of COVID-19 protocols, the NFL might limit the number of guests each player gets to bring to Cleveland. If the cap is too small, Paye might be home when his name is called.
He wants to be with his mom, and with the family that helped him get this far.