Amara Darboh’s first football game as an American citizen didn’t feel different from the rest for most of the day. He woke up the same, prepared the same and played the same. He even stayed calm after an incredible one-handed catch in the first half.
But one moment, he admitted, was different. It was the moment he heard “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the first time as a U.S. citizen.
Darboh has lived in the U.S. for 14 years, since he came over as a refugee from war-torn Sierra Leone. He grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, before coming to Michigan on a football scholarship in 2012.
Thursday, he took the oath of citizenship and received his certificate to complete his journey toward becoming an American. Then again, he considered himself one all along.
“This was the last step,” Darboh said. “It feels official now.”
The team wasn’t shy about celebrating his accomplishment during the week. After he passed the citizenship exam Monday, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh called Darboh in front of the team to say a few words following practice Wednesday. He used that time to thank everyone for the support.
“I’m lucky to be where I’m at with a lot of great teammates,” Darboh said.
The Wolverines gathered for hamburgers and a cake after Darboh spoke Wednesday. He said the moment began to sink in Thursday when he drove back from Detroit to Ann Arbor with photographer David Turnley and Zach Eisendrath, Harbaugh’s director of internal communications and operations.
But his week wasn’t over yet. He finished it on the field with a big performance, helping spark Michigan to a blowout victory.
Early in the first quarter, after Michigan and Brigham Young traded punts, the Wolverines faced 3rd-and-5 at the BYU 40-yard line. Michigan appeared headed for another punt when fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock threw a pass toward the sideline, but Darboh leapt up and grabbed it with one hand over BYU’s Micah Hannemann.
He quickly pumped his fist and flipped the ball back to the referee before lining up for the next play.
“I didn’t try to do too much because it was just a third-down catch,” Darboh said. “I knew we had to get the play, get the ball moving and try to score. I got a little excited, but then try to get back to the huddle and get the drive moving.”
Five plays later, Rudock punched in Michigan’s first touchdown with a three-yard run. When Darboh returned to the sidelines, his teammates congratulated him for the second time this week. But then the Wolverines got back to business, scoring three touchdowns and a field goal on each of their next four possessions to take a commanding 31-0 lead.
Darboh scored one of those touchdowns on a four-yard catch from Rudock to a cap a 10-play, 90-yard drive in the second quarter. He finished with four receptions for 57 yards and a receiving touchdown, all team highs, and then earned a game ball and led the team in a “U-S-A” chant after the game.
“He’s so good because he’s a do-stuff-right guy all the time,” Harbaugh said.
That effort continues this week when the Wolverines prepare to open their Big Ten schedule at Maryland on Saturday night. It might not have the same luster as this past week, but that’s for a reason: Darboh’s journey to becoming an American is complete.