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Friday, September 29, 2023

Remembering Kaleb Boateng, former Gators offensive lineman

Boateng spent 2021 season on Gators roster

An offensive lineman’s job is to protect and put others first — Kaleb Boateng took this to heart.

On the field, he was a quiet leader who attracted scouts and gave others an opportunity to shine. Off the field, he had a penetrating smile and a giving nature.

Boateng died at 21 in his Varsity House apartment on Feb. 9. While fans of Florida Gators and Clemson Tigers football may know him as an offensive lineman for their favorite football team, those close to him remember him as a big man with an even bigger heart.

He played collegiate football at Clemson during the 2019 and 2020 seasons before transferring to Florida for the 2021 season. His loved ones believe he could’ve been whatever he set his mind to in addition to his years-long dedication to football.

“He could have went on to become an engineer if he wanted to; he could have been a lawyer; he could be the freakin’ president of this country if he wanted,” Fort Lauderdale High School football head coach Richard Dunbar said. “He was that damn gifted.”

In the beginning of his football career, Boateng was a giant compared to the other kids. Dunbar first met Boateng when he was a 13-year-old kid trying to join his high school football team.

Boateng told Dunbar he wanted to play running back, tight end or fullback. However, Dunbar knew his size would be best utilized on the offensive line.

“I said, ‘Yeah, no, that's not gonna work, buddy,’” Dunbar said. “‘You’ve got to be a big boy. We're going to teach you how to play all five positions on the offensive line.’”

The future Division I commit transitioned to the offensive line effortlessly. He used the mobility and agility he developed as a multi-position little league player to help Fort Lauderdale’s offense flourish. 

Dunbar’s offense often uses the counter trey concept, which required Boateng to cross the backfield in order to protect his running back. He was able to excel in the role, even as a 13-year-old.

The typical ninth grader is 14 or 15 years old, so Boateng was one of the youngest of the bunch. To the average person, he was the largest person they might encounter on any any given day. But on the field he was younger and smaller than his fellow offensive linemen.

“It definitely put a chip on his shoulder because he had to prove himself,” Dunbar said. “He was a lot smaller. He wasn't as filled out as a lot of his counterparts were, so he had to work extra hard.”

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This mentality stuck with him as he moved to Clemson to begin his college career. The 3-star recruit graduated early in January 2019. Even if he had graduated at the end of Spring 2019, he still would’ve stepped on campus at the age of 17.

One day during his time at Clemson, Boateng finally cracked a B-grade level by the Tigers’ coaches’ standards. He called Dunbar to share the news.

“He saw progress,” Dunbar said. “He was able to use that as motivation.”

Boateng was passionate about football, but he never used it as a reason not to take school seriously. He pursued a Cambridge AICE Diploma, which required much of his time.

One Thursday night, Boateng stayed up until 3 a.m. working on homework. He texted his coach, apologizing in advance for his inevitable dragging the next day. Fort Lauderdale’s team, the Flying L’s, was set to play the West Broward Bobcats that Friday, and Boateng was sluggish, Dunbar said.

Dunbar was talking to his team at halftime when he heard snoring coming from the back of the group. When everyone turned around, they saw Boateng — without his helmet and shoulder pads — asleep on the ground underneath the goalpost.

But his late-night study sessions paid off. Boateng received 40 offers coming out of high school. He was wanted by big-name football programs like Clemson, Maryland and Purdue. He also received offers from Ivy League schools like Harvard and Pennsylvania, said Ryan Popov, a 20-year-old UF finance junior.

“He was an academic hit as well,” Popov said. “He never let that float under the radar, and he always made it a priority.”

Popov was a fellow Flying L during Boateng’s time at Fort Lauderdale High School. He was primarily a safety but also spent some time as a running back.

“I was on both sides for that and definitely felt his power and his reign but also felt that go against me as well,” Popov said.

Boateng was a silent leader with a high football IQ in high school, Popov said, and this carried over to his time at Clemson. He also valued his education, making the student-athlete honor roll at Clemson.

“I remember seeing that on Twitter, immediately screenshot it, sent it to him,” Popov said. “‘I see you.’”

Boateng took advantage of Clemson’s STEM All In program to meet with business professionals. He met with Adobe and had a summer internship lined up with the company.

“He was really intelligent in the sense that he knew that there's life after football,” Popov said. “And he made sure that he would set himself up for success in that way as well.”

But his on-field abilities still garnered much attention, especially as college scouts looked for the next big man to bolster their offensive line. His team expected a scout to attend practice every day just for the spectacle of watching Boateng compete.

At practice, his teammates would ask him how many offers he got that day. If he didn’t get an offer, it was a slow day to his standards.

Boateng was a magnet for college coaches, so much so that others got the opportunity to prove themselves as he continued to make a name for himself. At one of the team’s practices, a coach from Kentucky came to watch Boateng but left with a strong impression of another member of the team who showed out in front of the coach.

“I don't want people to necessarily just think of Kaleb as the football player,” Popov said. “He was so much more than that.”

Popov was already a student in Gainesville when Boateng transferred to Florida; he was excited to see his friend work to reach his goals in the same place he lived, he said. 

As was typical of Boateng, he quickly made friends with the students in Gainesville. After Jeremy Lever, a 20-year-old UF media production and management sophomore, received his bid from Theta Chi, the two met at the pool at the Hub on Campus Gainesville Third Ave. 

Boateng and Lever quickly formed a strong bond. They listened to Kid Cudi on spontaneous road trips together and spent nights watching movies until 3 a.m., Lever said.

At first glance, Boateng was a reserved person, but Lever said he always wanted to meet new people. Boateng became an unofficial member of Theta Chi because of the relationships he built with the fraternity’s members.

“We all basically considered him a part of the family,” Lever said.

Lever and his roommates will continue to hold memories of Boateng close to their hearts and ensure people know his name. They plan to hang Boateng’s jersey in his room in the Theta Chi fraternity house for future members to see.

“Leaving it there for generations to come,” Lever said, “so people recognize the impact that he left on all of us.”

Contact Kyle Bumpers at Follow him on Twitter @BumpersKyle.

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Kyle Bumpers

Kyle Bumpers is a fourth-year journalism major and the sports editor of The Alligator. In his free time, he cries about Russell Wilson and writes an outrageous amount of movie reviews on Letterboxd.

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