INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kwity Paye just wanted a chance to hear his name called during the NFL draft so he could tell his mother, Agnes, she no longer had to work.
The Indianapolis Colts made it all possible with one call.
General manager Chris Ballard took the highly touted pass rusher from Michigan with the 21st overall pick Thursday night, capping an incredible story that began with Paye's mother fleeing Liberia’s civil war near the turn of the century and eventually raising two sons in America.
“It means everything that was my goal my whole life," Paye said shortly after the selection. “Just seeing how hard she worked is what made me work hard. So being able to tell her that she’s done (working), it means a lot."
The 6-foot-2, 261-pound Paye could mean a lot for the Colts, too.
Ballard has been looking for a young, consistent pass rusher ever since he took the Indy job following the 2016 season. The need became only greater this year when the Colts opted not to to re-sign last season's two starting defensive ends, Denico Autry and Justin Houston. Autry signed with division rival Tennessee. Houston remains unsigned.
So when Paye slid through the top 20 picks, Ballard ended a three-year run of trading first-round picks.
Indy moved down three spots in 2018 before taking All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson, traded out of the first round in 2019 when they selected cornerback Rock Ya-Sin and sent last year’s first-rounder to San Francisco for All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.
This time, Ballard simply couldn't pass on an impact player living the American dream.
Paye was born in a refugee camp in Guinea before coming to America. Here, he became a citizen and learned how to play football well enough to wind up at Michigan. There, he turned himself into an NFL prospect and on Thursday, the payoff came when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced Paye’s name as the Colts’ selection.
“I saw the video and I almost got teary-eyed watching it," Ballard said. “His mother, just what a tremendous lady and what she did for her kids and what they went through, she deserves a lot of credit"
Ballard could have gone with Virginia Tech offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw still available as the likely replacement for longtime left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who retired in January.
But with two starting spots open on the defensive line, the greater need was finding someone who could make an immediate impact. Paye fit the bill.
“I’ve made some pretty easy picks where you just kind of knew and pulling the card for Kwity Paye was very easy,” Ballard said. “He stands for everything we want. We think he’s got really good upside, we think he’s going to get better and we think he’s going to add to our (defensive) front.”
Paye earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2019 when he recorded 50 tackles, 12 for loss and 6 1/2 sacks in 12 games. Last season, he was named a captain at Michigan and was an honorable mention all-conference selection despite missing two games with injury. He finished 2020 with 16 tackles and two sacks. And he was named Rhode Island's 2016 Gatorade Player of the Year as a two-way star.
“Last night I was kind of anxious, excited,” he said. “I woke up this morning, I was cool. Once I got picked, turned around and saw my family there, it was kind of heartwarming.” and I remembered the hard work put in throughout the years.”
NEXT UP: The Colts still have picks to make, starting with their second-round slot, No. 54 overall, on Friday and could find a left tackle with that. Indy dealt its third-round pick to Philadelphia in exchange for starting quarterback Carson Wentz in March.