When a potential NFL first-round pick in this year’s draft hails from a state that has largely sat on the sidelines when it comes to producing top-of-the-pyramid pigskin talent, you label this player a trailblazer.
We’re talking about an ultra-rare situation considering the last Rhode Island native to hear his name called in the first round of the NFL Draft was Providence native/Central High graduate Bill Osmanski. Back in 1939, Osmanski went sixth overall to the Chicago Bears. In his era, there were only 10 NFL teams – a far cry from the 32-team arrangement that in a few short days will embark upon a mission to replenish their respective rosters with up-and-comers.
If you’re the type of person who puts stock into what the prognosticators are proclaiming, an 82-year drought is set to expire. At long last, an NFL hopeful with Rhode Island ties as thick as coastal fog hanging over Narragansett Bay stands a pretty good chance of hearing his name called at some point during the first round this Thursday night.
Kwity Paye is about to put Rhode Island on the map in ways that few in his specific domain have done before. Personally, the 22-year-old defensive end is about to enter a life-changing realm where he and his family will benefit from a paycheck with quite a few zeros written on it.
In many corners of the Ocean State, the perception is that an additional group stands to reap the benefits of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell proclaiming, “With the [number] pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the [to-be-determined team] select Kwity Paye, defensive end, University of Michigan.”
This group in particular – those currently associated with the R.I. high school football community and those representing the next wave of on-field talent – could prove to benefit from something called the “Kwity Effect.” There must be others from where Paye came from, correct?
“People are starting to see that it doesn’t matter where you come from. You can come from Rhode Island. You can come from Florida. You can come from Texas. You can come from New Hampshire. If you have the ability and put forth the work, you can make the NFL,” proclaimed Tolman High head coach Jason DeLawrence.
“There is definitely such a thing as the Kwity Effect. He’s set the bar high, but now he’s going to come back to this state and talk to these younger kids and say, ‘I was just like you. I grew up in the south side of Providence. Now I’m in the NFL.’”
“Kwity has definitely helped, no question,” said Kris McCall, Classical High football head coach.
What does the “Kwity Effect” mean?
You start by following Paye’s lead of making the jump from the R.I. Interscholastic League to the world of bigtime college football. Upon setting foot onto that glitzy stage, you light it up in an eye-catching fashion that leaves NFL scouts daydreaming endlessly about the possibilities.
In his own personal path to the NFL Draft, Paye checked off all the prerequisite boxes. Just ask all the Big Ten quarterbacks who probably saw Paye charging at them in their sleep.
“If anything, hopefully today’s kids can believe they can achieve those same things that Kwity did – providing they put in the work,” said Keith Croft, Paye’s high school head coach at Bishop Hendricken. “You want to see more of that.”
In many respects, Paye is taking a page out of Will Blackmon’s playbook.
Similar to Paye, Blackmon made the jump from Hendricken to making waves at the Division I college level (Boston College in his case) before the NFL came calling. Blackmon spent 10 years in the NFL, a decade that was highlighted by a Super Bowl championship as a member of the 2011 New York Giants.
The great separator – or at least the potential for one – is that Blackmon was picked in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft. The odds are pretty good that Paye will be apartment hunting in his future NFL city when this year’s fourth round rolls around.
When will the next “Kwity Effect” domino fall? Hendricken has two such candidates in 6-foot-7, 330-pound Xavier Truss, the West Warwick native who started at left tackle during Georgia’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl win over Cincinnati this past New Year’s Day, and North Providence’s Jason Onye, who this fall is heading to Notre Dame as a defensive lineman.
“If you send me there [Bishop Hendricken], Mom, you won’t have to pay for college.” @OfficialKwity ’17 kept one promise to his mother. This Thursday, when he’s drafted into the @NFL, he’ll keep another: “she’ll never have to lift a finger again.”https://t.co/YnKyNT1pC1
— Bishop Hendricken High School (@HendrickenHawks) April 26, 2021
“Speaking for us, Kwity opened the door for Xavier and Jason. We had contacts built up with college coaches that when they asked, they knew they were going to get an honest opinion from us because there’s a relationship built there,” said Croft.
Hendricken does not have exclusive rights when it comes to the “Kwity Effect.” At La Salle, current senior Nick Lombardo is taking his offensive lineman talents to Navy. Someday perhaps, we’ll see Lombardo’s name under “NFL draft hopefuls.”
“There’s talent in our program, but there’s talent in every program,” said Croft. “The recruiting ground in Rhode Island … one thing that big-time coaches do, they come in and ask who else is in Rhode Island. We’ll talk about kids all over the state, public and private.”
— Kwity Paye (@OfficialKwity) April 26, 2021
In terms of current high school football members of R.I.’s junior class who are drawing attention from Power Five schools, look no further than Tolman offensive lineman Devin Ward and Classical wideout Marquis Buchanan. Ward has sat down and met with the coaches from Boston College. He’s also on Rutgers’ radar. Schools that have expressed interest in Buchanan include Arizona, Vanderbilt, and Duke.
No question, Ward and Buchanan possess enough talent to get noticed via word of mouth. What each one has is an ace in the hole called the “Kwity Effect.” Who is the next R.I. player to take the torch and run with it in the fashion that Paye has?
“With Kwity doing what he’s doing now and what he’s about to do in the NFL, it’s all very helpful,” said McCall.
“I just remember being on the city bus in high school, looking out the window, like, ’Man, I can’t wait till all this work can pay off where I can pay it back to my mom.’”
Michigan star Kwity Paye opens up to B/R’s @MasterTes about his inspiration 🙏 pic.twitter.com/eW7rVp62ws
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) April 23, 2021
Picture a post-COVID scenario where a Rhode Island high school-age prospect attends summer football camp where well-known college coaches are on the premises. The youngster from the Ocean State raises enough eyebrows to lead to a coach or two walking up and engaging in conversation.
“Where are you from?” says the coach to the prospect.
“Rhode Island,” is the response.
“Oh, you’re from the same state as Kwity Paye,” says the coach.
“Yes sir!” replies the Rhode Island hopeful.
A word to the wise: keep your eyes and ears out for the “Kwity Effect.” It may just be coming to a R.I. high school football field near you.
Hometown: Providence, R.I.
High School: Bishop Hendricken (Warwick, R.I.)
College: University of Michigan
Height: 6-2 (per NFL.com)
Weight: 261 pounds (per NFL.com)
College Accolades: Appeared in 38 games in his Michigan career with 20 starts along the defensive line. … Two-time All-Big Ten honoree. … Voted a team captain by his teammates (2020). Totaled 11.5 career sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss.
Intangibles: Timed at 6.71 seconds in the three-cone drill in 2020. … Benched 225 pounds 36 times during Michigan’s 2021 Pro Day.
What They’re Saying: “When I put on the tape, Kwity Paye is different. He has suddenness and twitchiness that some of these other guys don’t have. And I know his stats weren’t exceptional, but he is constantly disrupting. The other thing I love about him, you’ve got to have this as a defensive end or pass-rusher, the motor. He flies around the field, he plays sideline to sideline, he will chase you down from behind, and he’s got explosive workout numbers as well.” – ESPN NFL Draft Analyst Todd McShay (as told to 247Sports.com).
Where Paye Might Land: NFL.com has Paye going to the New York Giants with the 11th pick of the first round. … ESPN Draft Analyst Mel Kiper Jr. also has Paye heading to the Giants at pick No. 11. … CBS Sports also has the Giants taking Paye with their first pick.