Championships Vanier Cup

From growing up playing basketball with his brothers in Sierra Leone during the Civil War to becoming captain of the Manitoba Bisons football team, AK Gassama’s journey has been nothing but awe inspiring. 

“My family, myself, we came as refugees to Winnipeg, Manitoba, so it's been kind of like coming to a whole new world,” said Gassama. 

“It wasn’t until around the fifth grade that I picked up a football. Every time we played football was at lunchtime, just backyard schoolyard football or throwing the ball around and catching.”

Gassama says it was the father of one of his best friends growing up, who also coached, that encouraged him to join a team and pursue playing the three-down game. 

“I was a pretty emotional kid,” said Gassama. 

“I used to get into trouble a little bit here and there. I think it was just because I had so much energy. He [his friend’s father] talked to my parents, just kind of saying, ‘I think this would be a really good positive outlet for AK.’”

And though Gassama’s family didn’t know what North American football was at the time, having been big into soccer, they did all they could to help him get started. 

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“I remember telling my dad about football and he's gonna go and try to give me soccer cleats and I'm like, ‘No dad, I'm talking about the one with the shoulder pads and the helmets,’” he laughed. 

“My dad wanted to make sure everything was good because he wants me to be protected while I'm playing.”

From there, Gassama began his career on the field playing defense and running back for a local minor team called the Fort Garry Lions and then moving up to high school, then the provincial level. It was there he switched positions to receiver. 

“My first practice coach is like, ‘You're fast, man, but I don't think you're gonna be playing running back for us,’” said Gassama. 

“You're really small, which is something I've kind of always heard in my life. So they told me to go play receiver and I'm like okay, I just want to play football.”

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And eventually, Gassama secured himself a scholarship to play for the University of Manitoba Bisons in 2017. 

“One of my biggest goals playing football was always to get a scholarship,” said Gassama. 

“I knew I wanted to lessen that burden on myself and my parents on having to pay to get education.”

There, Gassama grew even more at receiver, eventually cementing his name in many pages of the Bisons record books. 

This included becoming the seventh player in program history to record 100 catches and tally 1000 receiving yards and the first since Vanier Cup winner Terry Firr in 2008. He also became eighth in program history in receiving yards with 1346, as well as racked up the fourth-most yards (210) receiving in a game and the fifth most receiving yards in a season (749) in 2022.

“Those accomplishments, I'm super blessed and super proud of them,” said the 2022-23 Bison Sports Male Athlete of the Year and two-time All-Canadian. 

“For all the things that I went through, those are things that just remind me that hard work is what got me to those places. I just kept my head down. I never tried to cut corners, I never tried to cheat the process.”

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Gassama’s success has led him to get an invite to the 2024 CFL Combine in his hometown. And in the meantime, he is training in Houston leading up to the event in March.

“I gotta run a fast 40. So, I'm doing a lot of speed work out here,” said Gassama.

“My biggest focus is showing scouts and coaches I'm a complete football player. I can run routes, take the top off, I can catch the football, I can be a team player.”

Though he says he will be grateful for any opportunity in the league, that getting drafted to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would definitely be a special full-circle moment. 

“I mean, I watched the bombers growing up my whole life, right?” said Gassama. 

“It'd be really crazy, especially with the combine being in Winnipeg. It's just, there's something about my hometown that shaped who I am.”

Regardless, he hopes to use the platform he has created through football to give back in some way throughout his career.  

“I talk about where I come from and a lot of the times a lot of people didn't get the same opportunities that I got,” said Gassama. 

“It's gonna show a lot of kids that come from where I'm coming from that it is possible to do whatever it is that you put your mind to. My mom always told us if you don't know where you're going, know where you come from, you know, and it'll guide you along the way.”