Concordia's Maurice Simba gets his shot to impress NFL scouts
Before immigrating to Canada in 2012, Simba had never considered playing football
When Maurice Simba first put on a football helmet and shoulder pads at Collège Montmorency in Laval, Que., saying that he felt a little uncomfortable would have been an understatement.
"The first month of learning football was the worst month of my life, honestly," Simba says.
But that was before the six-foot-eight-inch, 320-pound native of Congo realized what opportunities the game held for a man his size.
Today, six years since first putting on his pads, Simba is set to suit up in front of scouts from all 32 NFL teams at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Pasadena, California.
"It's awesome and I know without football I wouldn't be the same person I am today," Simba says.
Hoop dreams denied, football dreams realized
Simba grew up in Kinshasa, Congo, dreaming of becoming a professional basketball player.
But soon after arriving in Canada in 2012 at the age of 18, he realized that his weight — he tipped the scales at 375 pounds at the time — was going to make playing that sport a challenge.
But his uncle knew exactly where he'd fit in and arranged a meeting with a football coach at Collège Montmorency. As soon as he walked into that meeting, Simba says he found his calling.
For two seasons Simba learned the basics of the game at school. Then the Concordia Stingers offered him a chance to play at the university level.
He says it was on the Loyola campus where he discovered a love for the game, working with coach Ted Karabatsos.
"He was working with me one or two hours every day," Simba says. "I felt like there is actually someone who cared about me. I started having fun because he taught me that's the only way you can play this game."
His childhood friends back in Congo didn't fully understand the game he was playing. But he says they supported him unconditionally.
"They all keep asking me, like, 'Dude, how do you walk in all those helmets and pads?'" Simba says. "I'm the first person actually playing this sport.… They're all part of me. So I feel like, having all those people trusting me, I don't have a choice to keep grinding and make them proud."
Simba was named a second team All-Canadian after his 2017 season with the Stingers and, following his 2018 season, he became the first player from a Canadian university to be invited to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl — a showcase for NFL draft-eligible football prospects.
Coming to Canada
Simba wasn't yet three years old when his mother left Congo to set up roots in Canada.
He grew up with his grandparents and his seven other siblings, and for 15 years waited for the day he could be reunited with his mother.
That day came on February 26, 2012, when he landed at Montreal's Trudeau Airport.
"It was a sensational moment that night," Simba recalls.
"It was a lot of emotions. We both cried, we both fell down on our knees. I even remember people around us looking at us like, 'What is going on here?' but we needed that moment. For almost five minutes, we didn't say anything to each other — just crying, just hugging each other and it was special."
Adjusting to life in Canada wasn't easy, however. Simba's first impression was shock at how cold Montreal could be in February.
"I couldn't believe it. I literally told my mom, 'This is like a fridge. It's like a national fridge that people live in.'"
Aside from the climate shock, he also remembers the first few months being isolated and lonely as he waited for all his immigration paperwork to be processed to start school.
"It was really tough for me. You know, like I'm in Canada but you just stay home and not do anything," he says.
School and football gave him a direction and a purpose.
"With football you have discipline," he says. "I'm just really happy about it and I don't take anything for granted."
Playing at the next level
With encouragement from his coaches, friends and family, Simba has worked tirelessly to polish his skills on the football field.
At the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, he will have his opportunity to show NFL scouts that he has what it takes to play at the next level.
He will be up against some of the top players American universities have to offer.
"I need to show them that I am violent and I can dominate the game. If you dominate those guys (at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl) they can see, 'He can compete in the NFL,'" Simba says.
Seeing players Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Antony Auclair coming out of Quebec university football and crack an NFL roster also gives Simba some inspiration that he could be next.
He says their success has opened the eyes of NFL teams to football in Quebec and he would not be getting his opportunity with out them doing it first.
"I look up to them a lot," Simba says.
Whether or not Simba's appearance will lead to him being drafted by an NFL team or invited to a training camp all depends on his performance on the field.
Simba says he owes it to himself and everyone to helped him reach this point to seize the moment.
"I'm going there for business, so that's something I'm proud of. To go there and be dominant, that's the key," Simba says, "And that's what I'm going to do."