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Sharing more than a position

Kaddu, Lokombo push each other at linebacker for Oregon
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Oregon Ducks linebacker Boseko Lokombo returns a blocked punt for the opening touchdown in last week’s home victory over Washington State.

Eugene — Coaching legend Vince Lombardi once said that “football is not a contact sport. It’s a collision sport.” At no position on the football field is that statement more true than at strong-side linebacker. The strong-side linebacker, often referred to these days as the Sam ’backer, lines up across the heart of the offensive formation’s strength —where teams most often run the ball. He must have strength and a willingness to mix it up with the tight end and other blockers. By the end of the game, a strong-side linebacker has had more collisions than anyone on the field. The Oregon Ducks have two men well-suited to play the position. Josh Kaddu and Boseko Lokombo have speed, power and playmaking ability. The two are symbolic of everything the Oregon defense aspires to. “To be an outside linebacker, you’ve just got to have that good combination of speed and strength,” the 6-3, 235-pound Kaddu says. “You have to be able to rush the passer, drop back in coverage, and be able to tussle with some linemen.” Playing the same position —senior Kaddu as the starter and sophomore Lokombo as the backup —the two Ducks have formed a friendship. As children of African immigrants, they are first-generation North Americans who have bonded over not only their African roots but also their desire to help Oregon win games. And, they share the hope of playing football at the next level to help their families. “Me and Bo have a pretty good relationship because we have a lot in common,” Kaddu says. “We’ve got that African background. We talk about stuff like the struggle of his family trying to get out from where they were and trying to move up in the world and my family trying to do the same —the different paths and how we both ended up here and how we’re both trying to do better for our families.” The two have also formed the same sort of competitive relationship that running backs Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo had while playing for the Chicago Bears in the 1960s. “We push each other,” Lokombo says. “Every time I see him out there making a play I have to go out there and make a play. We’re constantly going back and forth, back and forth, seeing who’s trying to make a play, and pushing each other.” Says Kaddu: “We push each other in each practice, and when one of us is slacking we try to let each other know and try to get the most out of it, because we both love to see each other doing well.” Lokombo, 6-3 and 230 pounds, was born in the Congo. His family moved to Canada when he was 6, too early for him to have many memories of Africa. “Sometimes I wish I could remember more,” he says. “It’s kind of like a blur memory.” The Lokombos originally moved to Quebec, but found it far too cold. They soon moved to suburban Vancoucer, British Columbia. “Living in Canada was fun,” Lokombo says. “Just growing up in British Columbia was amazing.” Lokombo who attended South Eugene High his junior year before returning to British Colombia as a senior, learned to speak English outside his Canadian home. “I kind of picked up speaking in the streets and in school,” he says. Kaddu was raised by parents who hailed from Uganda, where his older sister was born. Growing up in Vacaville, Calif., with an African family presented challenges. “It was good and bad,” Kaddu says. “You’ve got both cultures. You’ve got the American culture, and then I’ve got the African culture when I go home. My parents would be speaking Ugandan at the house. Then I’d go to school and be speaking English with everyone else. But it was nice. I liked it. My parents were a little more strict than other parents, I guess. But they raised me well.” Lokombo and Kaddu have used their competitive friendship to become stalwarts on the Oregon defense. Kaddu ranks sixth on the team with 31 tackles and leads the Ducks with five sacks this season. Lokombo has 22 tackles, one sack and an interception against Washington State that he returned 67 yards for a touchdown. “At times they play great, and at times not as good as I’d like them to play,” says defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, who also works specifically with the strong-side linebackers. “I’m pretty tough on them. But for the most part they’ve played very well.” The Ducks graduated two linebackers from last season into the NFL — Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger. Kaddu says those players taught him and Lokombo a lot. “That’s what I’m trying to aspire to,” Kaddu says, of the NFL. “I’ve been playing football for so long, and I hope to do that to do better for my family.” Lokombo is looking at the NFL as a far-off goal. “Josh Kaddu, he’s a senior, he’s trying to play at the next level,” Lokombo says. “I still have some time. I have two years.” The Ducks’ defense will be tested more in the next three weeks than it has been all season. Oregon plays at Washington at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and then must travel to fourth-ranked Stanford and go against visiting USC. As they look into the teeth of those high-powered offenses, Lokombo and Kaddu know they will have to play well. “We want to be the dominant players out there,” Lokombo says. “We want to be the ones making big plays, creating turnovers, pressuring the quarterback and just leading the team.”