PAWTUCKET – In Justin DeCosta’s bedroom, you’ll find a picture hanging that shows him standing next to Kwity Paye.
It’s a photo that now holds extra meaning and a reminder of just how much has changed, considering it was taken in January 2020 when Paye made a guest appearance at the city’s Boys & Girls Club that came not long after Paye returned to his home state following a New Year’s Day Bowl game that lowered the curtain on his junior season at the University of Michigan.
A senior offensive lineman on the Tolman High football team, DeCosta can claim that he rubbed elbows with Paye before his personal story was regaled amongst countless platforms leading up to last week’s NFL Draft. A few times a year, the B&G Club will hold panels with the intent of helping the high school-aged club membership to compile a checklist. How will college fit into my life? Will athletics be a part of it?
“We want them to be reality based when they make decisions. Not everyone is going to be a first-round draft pick,” said Jim Hoyt, chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Club.
Paye wasn’t the only Rhode Islander with college football ties on hand that Jan. 2020 evening, peeling back the curtain and sharing their own personal experiences for the benefit of DeCosta and others. Included in the eight-person panel was Tyneil Cooper, the Providence native who played one season in the Canadian Football League.
“[Cooper] was the only person I knew because he was getting involved with the Tolman team,” said DeCosta. “I didn’t know who Kwity was until that night.”
Not everyone in the DeCosta household needed to get up to speed with Paye. Daniel DeCosta – Justin’s father – wears his passion for the Michigan football program on his sleeve. Paye showed up to the B&G Club wearing a Michigan jacket.
“I knew my dad would want me to get a picture with a Michigan player,” said Justin DeCosta, shedding light on the backstory of the aforementioned photo with Paye.
There’s another reason why DeCosta saddled up next to Paye for some quality 1-on-1 time.
“My goal was to play varsity. When I went up to him, I asked him for some D-line tips, knowing he was an edge rusher from the Big Ten. He told me that I’ve got to be coachable, be good with your hands, and always watch plenty of film. I was at the part of my career where I wanted to try and play defense,” said DeCosta. “When he was part of the panel, he preached the importance of getting good grades. His older brother [Komotay, a defensive back at New Mexico State and Northern Colorado] was also there.
“Kwity didn’t talk about his personal story. He said he came from Providence and how his opportunity came about with Michigan,” DeCosta. “I walked away thinking, ‘This guy knows his stuff as far as what I could do to get more playing time.’”
An aspiring journalist who plans to attend St. Francis-Brooklyn this fall, DeCosta set out to learn more about Paye and his story.
“After that [Jan. 2020 encounter], I went on Instagram and was like, ‘Wow, I just met a Michigan football player,’” said DeCosta. “My dad watches every Michigan football game. The only player I would watch was Kwity. Then the hype started to develop that he was going to get drafted.
“Looking back, I didn’t realize how big he was going to become … getting drafted in the first round,” added DeCosta. “Wow, I met a pretty good football player who’s going to the NFL.”
Father and son watched last Thursday’s first round unfold. Like many houses around the state, the DeCosta’s yelled out “Kwity!” when Paye was chosen with the 21st pick by the Indianapolis Colts.
“I knew it was a big moment for the state,” said Justin DeCosta. “It meant a lot that I got to meet him before all the hype. For him to come out and talk to us, it shows who he is as a person … that he’s genuine.”
DeCosta never did figure into Tolman’s defensive plans during the 2021 “Fall II” season. One of the pointers he received from Paye proved to be helpful in his duties as an offensive lineman.
“I never used my hands in football. I would try to hit people. I took Kwity’s advice and got better,” said DeCosta. “Hands and feet … those are the top two things for a lineman according to him. I wanted to take that into account.”
Call it advice from an individual who’s coming soon to an NFL Sunday near you.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03