At the same time Lycoming middle linebacker Kabongo Bukasa arrived in the United States from his native country of Congo eight years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles were having a stellar year, advancing all the way to the Super Bowl in 2004.

With all of the local hype, the youngster from Africa, who now resides in Sharon Hill, Pa., was immediately drawn to the American game of football, especially the Eagles and All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins.

At 12 years old Bukasa came to America not knowing the English language but he didn't need to speak the language to fall in love with the game. In eighth grade, Bukasa tried out for his middle school team, and did not even know how to put on his pads, but soon enough he was hooked.

I remember there was a space with a lot of trees where people were shooting at each other and men were being burned alive.”
-- Bukasa, describing a childhood memory

Bukasa was a quick study on the football field. As a sophomore in high school at Academy Park outside Philadelphia, he started receiving recruiting letters from Division I FBS and FCS schools.

“We knew when we recruited him that he didn’t belong here,” Lycoming head coach Mike Clark said.  “We thought he was at least a Division II player or better, but we got him, quite honestly, because of the language barrier.  Even though he graduated in the top of his high school class, he struggled on his standardized testing.”

Clark heard about Bukasa from an alum who was an assistant football coach Academy Park, and the Warriors' head coach was very impressed with him on film.

But Clark was even more pleased when he met the always-smiling, fun-loving Bukasa.

"He also has a remarkable personality," Clark said. "The kid is really energetic and outgoing. He makes a great first impression."

Bukasa's early childhood experiences undoubtedly influenced his exuberant personality. He wants to enjoy every moment of life because circumstances can change in an instant as Bukasa learned as a child during Congo's civil war.

"I remember when I was four years old, and there was gunfire coming near my uncle's house where the family was staying," Bukasa said. "We were eating as a family and we had to just leave and run away. We ran down to a river, and I crossed it on my uncle's shoulders. I remember there was a space with a lot of trees where people were shooting at each other and men were being burned alive."

Thankfully, Bukasa and his family members were able to stay together, and no one was hurt. When they returned to the house about a week later, dinner was still sitting on the table and there were some gunshot holes in the floor.

"He's witnessed a lot of conflict and seen things that most people would only see in the movies," Clark said.

Even scarier for Bukasa was that his father, Kadima, had left the Congo in order to care for his grandmother in the U.S., and to work towards saving enough money to bring Bukasa, his mother and two sisters to join him in America.

It took eight years, but Kadima's hard work finally paid off in 2004, and he was able to finally reunite with his family. Bukasa fondly remembers the meeting at the airport that day being like a "dream come true."

"He is really tough," Bukasa said. "He is the man I look up to."

Bukasa's father introduced him to American football and the pair roots for the Eagles together. Kadima, who teaches French at a local high school and college, also instilled the importance of teamwork in his son, which Bukasa now exhibits at Lycoming.

Bukasa began his career at the safety position his freshman season, playing in all 10 games and earning Middle Atlantic Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors. But Clark and the coaching staff saw potential for Bukasa at the middle linebacker position, and moved him there last year.

"We thought his talent as a linebacker would really separate him," Clark said.

It did. He racked up 59 total tackles, and garnered second team All-MAC honors in his first year at the position. He was part of a defense that was ranked second nationally in pass efficiency defense (77.59) and third in total defense (214.40).

"He is very fast for a linebacker, he runs like a defensive back. You have a guy who is as fast as anyone on the football field playing linebacker, and he loves to hit people," Clark said.

Bukasa, who began playing organized football much later than most college players, is still learning the game, and Clark believes he has untapped potential.

"He's still learning how to play linebacker and getting used to being four yards from the football at all times," Clark said. "He should be a first-team all-conference performer from here on out, and potentially an all-region or all-America type player. I hate to put that burden on anyone, but there's still a tremendous amount of room for growth."

The Warriors open the season by hosting Brockport on Sept. 1, and Bukasa is excited for his junior campaign.

"I don't really smile when I am playing, but I have a lot of fun," Bukasa said.