By Tidi Kwindini
Stansly Maponga reveals the secret to his success
He is the first Zimbabwean to play in the National Football League (NFL) and in the last two years has become the newest addition to the Denver Broncos, one of the most successful sides in the game.
Stansly Maponga has no airs and graces about him. With an undeniable passion for God, his family and football, the versatile outside line-backer was a star at Texas Christian University (TSU) before being drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 2013, becoming an integral member of the team’s roster in 2014.
“I am a family man, but more importantly, I am a God fearing man. I am a hard worker and l get that from my mum.”
“My mum worked extremely hard to take care of three boys. l saw how she worked everyday and night to make sure we had everything we needed and l think that’s where l get my work ethic from.
One of the most important things for me is being able to provide for my family. I have just tried to create a better life for them. All the glamour and spotlight that comes with being in the NFL, isn’t really me. It comes with it but, l know how to handle it”, he added.
Maponga moved to the United States when he was 9. An all-round sportsman, he found his passion for football after being encouraged by one of his coaches in high school.
“I played a variety of sports. However, soccer was once my first love and l was really good at it. I also played rugby basketball, baseball and cricket. Nonetheless, (American) football became a big part of my life when l moved to the States,” he said.
“Initially, American football was like a bunch of moving pieces and I really didn’t take it seriously in the beginning, but when l moved, I found a greater appreciation for it when coach Johnson came out to watch one of my soccer matches and said he thought l had the potential to play American Football,” he added.
Stansly recalls that his mother was not very keen on him playing football in the beginning.
“I remember telling my mum about it and she wasn’t too keen on the idea for obvious reasons – it can be a rough sport. She wasn’t fond of it at the start but she gave me her blessing in the end.”
Maponga remembers his first game vividly and how exhilarating it was, and knew from that first ‘play’, that it was something he wanted to pursue.
“There was something about the game. It was almost an instant attraction. I fitted in and I could see a real future playing the sport. That first encounter with the game definitely contributed to football becoming my first love.”
Before Maponga joined the Broncos, he almost sealed a big deal with the Dallas Cowboys after they added him to their practice squad in October 2017 but the move proved short-lived as the parties cut ties after a brief stint.
Now aged 27 and in his sixth year in the NFL, he has played in 26 career regular season games, 24 of which came with the Falcons. He also spent a majority of his career with the New York Giants, who tried him both as a defensive end and line-backer.
“I have been in the league for approximately six years and in that time I have played for three teams. I was with Atlanta for three years, played for the Giants for one and a half years, and have been with the Broncos for nearly two years.
It is a fantastic organisation, probably one of the best I have played for to date and I am truly blessed to be part of the team. I feel I am in the best shape of my career and the best is yet to come,” Stansly added.
Stansly is the only Zimbabwean to date be drafted to the NFL, having impressed scouts in High School.
“It is humbling and such an honour to be the first Zimbabwean in the history of the NFL to be drafted and be a valuable asset.”
“With a sport of this nature, where you are front and centre, you have a lot of people looking up to you; as a result, failure hasn’t been an option since I was drafted.”
“The game has had its challenges but I have learnt over the years, that no matter if I am tired, in pain, or going through something outside of football, I know I have one job to do and that’s to go out there and get as many tackles and as many sacks as l can.”
Speaking about his biggest highlights, Maponga said that being drafted to Atlanta was a momentous occasion. “Most of my family were there when I was drafted and just having them around when something as significant as this happened in my life was amazing.”
“It was a celebration, not only for me but for them too. I had moved up a level and to a place where the younger generation will have a reference point and something they can look up to and be inspired by.”
Maponga added that his family have been key to his success and that their presence at games was a key highlight and the biggest blessing of them all.
“There is no greater feeling than knowing that they are cheering me on from the stands,” he said?
Maponga, who went professional in 2012, said that remaining focused on his goal helped him reach it.
“There are a lot of distractions trying to make it into the league and make it into the NFL. There are a lot of challenges and obstacles but, one thing that’s been key to this process is my family. They have been behind me every step of the way.”
“They have been my support system but more than anything, God has been my number one.
I put him first in everything l set out to accomplish and by putting him at the centre of my passion, has made any challenge I have faced easier,” added Stansly.
Stansly said that the hard work it takes to get to the league and stay in it has its own set of challenges.
“You are constantly combating with being in the spotlight and people watching what you do. It can be difficult but as always, my family are my support system and just knowing they are part of my journey makes the process and journey worthwhile,” he added.
His long-term goal
Speaking about the future, Maponga said that he is in the process of getting sponsors so that he can set up football camps in Zimbabwe.
“I would really love to go back to Zimbabwe and start my own football camp out there for the kids
“I want it to be a programme that will give kids from all backgrounds, the opportunity to pursue whatever their hearts desire, be it football, basketball, baseball and know that they can be anything they want to be if they put their minds to it and persevere,” he added
Maponga said that introducing American Football in Zimbabwe and Africa in general would make a big difference and would be helpful to kids,especially from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Being in the sport for a number of years has helped me discover a different home. l can 100 percent say it’s like a second family.
You get individuals from different cultures and different backgrounds. We come together as a team and are able to tell each other about our stories.”
“All of us have overcome some kind of adversity and found ourselves through this beautiful game and l believe taking it back to Zimbabwe and telling people my story will inspire the next generation of footballers.”
The NFL in recent years has started to promote the game outside of the country, with the UK having hosted numerous games to mark the start of the Superbowl.
His thoughts on Zimbabwe
Stansly, who has not been back to Zimbabwe for many years said he missed it and that Zimbabwe held some significant memories for him that he often shares with his teammates and friends.
“Zimbabwe is a beautiful country with a rich culture, fantastic landscapes and amazing tourist attractions.”
“ I think sometimes those who get caught up watching TV don’t even see a true reflection or view of what Zimbabwe or the African continent really looks like as a whole and it’s important for people to actually see God’s grace and beauty, first hand”
Maponga who is now a father of two got married two years ago and says he is the happiest he has ever been.
“I’ve been married for two years and my wife and boys are my pride and joy. I enjoy being a dad and a husband. That’s what I wanted and it is a blessing.”
“I love taking care of my kids because they are my reflection. Looking at them, l want to give them a life that l never had. I also love taking them to work with me, just so they can see what l am passionate about.”
Speaking on pursuing a career in sport, Maponga encouraged aspiring sportsmen to be determined and to remain focused.
“Pursuing your dream is never easy, but I’d like to encourage people to never give up.”
“There are going to be a lot uphill battles but I believe if you keep at it and keep God first, everything will fall into place.
Sometimes people quit when they are really close but it’s important to keep persevering and to have a good support system around to motivate and push you,” he added.