Most fans of the WWE (back then known as WWF) might recall an outlandish character by the name of Kamala. A tubby, near-300 pounder—he was known to fans as the Ugandan Giant.
But the New York Giants in the National Football League have a real Ugandan Giant. He may not be 300 pounds, but he’s 6’5" 265 pounds.
And his name is Mathias Kiwanuka.
Although born in Indianapolis, Kiwanuka’s story begins in a landlocked country in east Africa.
His grandfather Benedicto Kiwanuka was the first Prime Minister of Uganda, and was given the position when Uganda achieved international self government on March 1, 1962.
When Kiwanuka was in third grade in 1991, his mother gave him and his sister Mary each $100 and told them to go and buy candy.
“It was Heaven for me as a third grader,” he said. “Then we went home and she took it, and I didn’t see it until we go off the plane in Uganda.”
Upon arrival in Uganda, Kiwanuka’s mother proceeded to hand out all the candy to the area children, showing Kiwanuka how things are different in Africa than the U.S.A.
Making the journey back to his family’s homeland, Kiwanuka learned about his grandfather’s work. About how he fought for women’s rights, pushed for education, and higher minimum wages for the working class.
But Kiwanuka also learned of the tragic death of his grandfather.
Benedicto was tortured and soon after assassinated by political opponents, more than 10 years before Kiwanuka’s birth.
“From an early age, my parents told me bits and pieces about it,” he said.
“But it took awhile for me to realize the magnitude of it all.”
Always keeping the memory of his grandfather and the spirit of Uganda close to him, Kiwanuka attended St. Simon the Apostle school in Indianapolis from kindergarten all the way until eighth grade.
He then went on to start his football career at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, and led the school to four Indiana High School Athletic Association titles.
While in high school, he played his future NFL position, defensive end, while also playing tight end on offense.
Playing defense as a senior, he recorded 39 tackles—11 of which came for losses. On the offensive side of the field, he garnered 98 receiving yards at tight end, proving his worth as an all-around player.
Now at the end of his high school career, Kiwanuka chose to play at Boston College.
Out of Indiana and away from his family, he hung the Ugandan flag in his dormitory out of respect to his family and heritage.
Along with showing admiration and love for his family’s place of origin, he put up stellar numbers at BC.
Overall he played in 49 games, starting 38 of them from the defensive end position. He notched 245 tackles, 155 of which he took care of by himself. He set school records with 37.5 sacks and 64.5 stops for losses.
One of his better games came as a senior against Boise State in the MPC Computers Bowl. Kiwanuka recorded two tackles, one of which came for a loss.
After college, Kiwanuka was drafted 32nd overall by the Giants in the 2006 NFL Draft. He then signed a five-year, $10 million contract on July 25 of that year to play defensive end for Big Blue.
In his first year, he played in all 16 games—starting nine of them. He broke out and dazzled in his rookie year, finishing the season with a total of 55 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles.
Coming back in 2007, Kiwanuka learned a new position. Instead of his normal post at defensive end, he was taught how to be a strongside linebacker, and earned the job as a starter.
He started the first 10 games in 2007, but his year was cut short due to a severe injury.
When the Giants were playing the Detroit Lions on Nov. 18, 2007, Kiwanuka suffered a fractured left fibula. He would need surgery on his leg and ankle, ending his season and taking him off the road to the Giants’ Super Bowl XLII victory.
Even though he was not able to compete in the big game, he still earned a ring with the Giants.
Despite missing the Super Bowl and playing a shortened season, Kiwanuka had 47 tackles, 4.5 sacks, four passes defended, and a forced fumble.
Making his return to the team in 2008, Kiwanuka went back to his original position. Giants’ defensive end Osi Umenyiora’s season ended before it even began, injuring his knee against the New York Jets in a preseason game.
Kiwanuka started all 16 games for the G-Men at right defensive end, and put up solid numbers on the year.
At the end of 2008, he completed 59 tackles, 28 of which were solo. He also added eight sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries to his resume.
He has done a lot in his young career. At 26 years old he is a two time first team All-American in college. He was a defensive player of the year. And a Super Bowl Champion.
But Kiwanuka is much more than that.
He is a man who respects his family’s lineage and keeps it alive through his actions.
Sources: Washington Post, Giants.com, Boston College Athletics