The CFL released its September rankings of the top 15 prospects for the 2013 draft Wednesday, and the family name of one of the guys on the list will be familiar to CFL fans. Eighth-ranked prospect Kalonji Kashama, a defensive lineman from the Mid-American Conference's Eastern Michigan University, could become the fourth brother from his family to play in the CFL, following in the footsteps of older siblings Hakeem, Alain and Fernand. That's a pretty remarkable statistic, along the lines of the six Sutters who played in the NHL, and given how well many players from prominent football bloodlines have done in the past, it's one that may help Kashama's draft case.
The Kashama brothers have made notable impacts on the CFL over the last decade, but they've taken interesting routes to get here. Hakeem, Alain and Fernand were all born in what's now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but the family moved to Canada in 1991, the year Kalonji was born. As Fernand told Adam Wazny earlier this year, the move brought its share of shocks:
Looking back, the winter actually held some importance to Fernand.
"I didn't know what was going on," the defensive end with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers said from his home in Toronto last month. "It was the first time I saw snow, though -- I remember that. I loved the snow back then."
It's completely understandable that a six-year-old kid from the Congo would be so fascinated with snow. Put yourself in his shoes: Previous experience with the white stuff came through obscure mentions in books or through conversation; having it under your feet or in your hands was a whole new sensation.
Leaving the Congo for Canada was a big deal, too, but trading social unrest back home for snowball fights with your brothers doesn't really register when laughing through cold hands and diving behind a tree to avoid icy attacks.
French is the official language in the DRC, so that made it easier for the Kashamas to adapt to life in Montreal, but there still were struggles involved for the family of nine (mother Mary Kaleta, father Ferdinand Kashama, the four brothers and three sisters). Fernand told Wazny his father worked numerous shifts at odd jobs and took university classes between shifts to try and improve his family's life. In 1996, they moved to Brampton, where Ferdinand finished a degree in education and took a job teaching high school. Meanwhile, the brothers all became gridiron stars.
Hakeem turned 13 the year his family came to Canada, so he got a late start in football compared to many, but excelled enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Connecticut as a defensive end. He wasn't chosen in the 2004 CFL Draft, but after a short stint with the NFL's Cleveland Browns, he spent some time in the CFL with Hamilton (2004-2005), Winnipeg (2006) and Calgary (2007-2008). Injuries hurt his career, and he only recorded four regular-season tackles (in 2005), but still, a FBS scholarship, brief NFL time and numerous years on CFL rosters is impressive. Alain did even better, though, earning a scholarship to Big Ten power Michigan (also as a defensive end), being selected in the first round of the 2004 CFL Draft (eighth overall by Montreal), playing for the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks from 2004 to 2006 and then heading north of the border. He then led the Alouettes in sacks in 2007 with eight. After a knee injury, he was traded to Hamilton the following year and had brief stints with the Tiger-Cats and Stampeders.
Meanwhile, Fernand went to a less high-profile college (Western Michigan of the Mid-American Conference) and began his college career as a tight end before converting to the defensive line. He was selected in the second round of the 2008 CFL draft (16th overall by Calgary), where he started as a linebacker but was converted to fullback. He didn't last long with the Stampeders, though, but signed with Winnipeg as a free agent in 2010 and was placed back at defensive end. With the Bombers, he's become an effective player, rotating in on the defensive line and starting 11 games in 2011. So far this season, he has nine tackles and one special-teams tackle.
Interestingly enough, though, the most prominent football connection in the Kashama family may be a cousin who never played in the CFL. That would be Tshimanga "Tim" Biakabutuka, the star Michigan running back who led the Wolverines to a remarkable upset of Ohio State in 1995 with a 313-yard rushing performance (on 37 attempts, 8.5 yards per carry) that's still the second-highest in Michigan history. He also set a Wolverines' single-season rushing mark of 1,818 yards that still stands today. Biakabutuka was selected eighth overall in the 1996 NFL draft (the second-highest selection of a Canadian ever, behind only 1989 second-overall pick Tony Mandarich) and spent five years with the Carolina Panthers, although injuries limited his effectiveness there. Still, that's a pretty impressive relative to have.
Do football bloodlines mean anything? Well, they've certainly paid off for many CFL players. One of the most famous brother combinations is Doug and Darren Flutie, both in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. It looks like they're the only brothers there, but plenty of other brothers have had notable impacts. Consider legendary CFL quarterback and Hall-Of-Famer Damon Allen, who broke pro football's passing record, but may not even be the most famous football player in his family thanks to brother Marcus' incredible NFL career as a running back. Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant's brother Justin's had a solid career as an NFL linebacker and is currently with the Detroit Lions. The Ismails (Raghib "The Rocket", Quadry "The Missile" and Sulaiman "The Bomb") made tremendous impacts in the NCAA, CFL and NFL, and the Muamba brothers are making their presence felt in today's CFL. and others have done the same over the years, including Brett and Brock Ralph. Kalongi Kashama isn't even the only brother on this prospect list, as fifth-ranked Calgary Dinos' running back Steven Lumbala's brother Rolly's an effective fullback with the B.C. Lions.
There are fathers and sons who have dominated this league, too, including Hall of Famers Eddie "Dynamite" James and Gerry James. The most remarkable CFL family might be the Forzanis, though; brothers Tom, Joe and John all played for their hometown Stampeders in the 1970s and 1980s. Tom made the Hall of Fame as a player, while John opened a sports-apparel store during his playing days, turned it into the billion-dollar Forzani Group and went on to be a part-owner of the Stamps. Their legacy's continuing too, as Tom's son Johnny is turning into a star in his own right with the Stampeders. We'll see if the Kashamas ever reach those heights, but even landing four brothers in the CFL would be an incredible feat by itself, and one that speaks to the talent in this family.