🏈 Azur Kamara Reflects on Journey Leading up to the NFL Draft

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Hearing your name called at the National Football League (NFL) Draft is a moment that many athletes aspire to hear. For KU’s Azur Kamara, he’s looking to be drafted in the 2020 NFL Draft April 23-25, but football wasn’t always in his plans.

Born in the Ivory Coast, a country of just over 26 million nestled into Western Africa, Kamara moved to the United States at the age of 10. His mother and stepfather had come to the US five years earlier as refugees from the first Ivorian Civil War.

Upon arriving to the United States, Kamara aspired to play professional soccer, specifically for the Ivory Coast national team. It wasn’t until high school that Kamara was introduced to the sport of football.

“I was introduced to football during my first year of high school,” Kamara told USA Today. “When I went to register at my high school in Phoenix, I was stopped by the head coach of the football team in the hallway. He pulled me aside and he asked me what sport I was playing. He couldn’t believe it when I said soccer (laughs). He said there’s no way you play soccer. I explained to him that I was African and that was our first choice when it came to sports.”

“He told me that I looked like a long kid and that I should give football a try. He thought I was a good fit and he asked me to come tryout for him. I didn’t really like the idea at the time (laughs). I was very unsure of it. I loved soccer, and I didn’t really know anything about football. My stepfather was with me, and he encouraged me to give it a shot. He told me that you never know what could happen. I’m very glad that I decided to give it a shot. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I didn’t.”

With little knowledge of the sport, Kamara took the advice of his stepfather and played at Central High School, where his raw talent and athleticism tallied 106 tackles and 25.5 sacks his senior season, earning first team all-conference accolades on both offense and defense.

Kamara later picked up an offer from Arizona Western College, where he played his freshman and sophomore seasons.

With three seasons of football experience, Kamara’s skillset earned the attention from programs such as Florida State, Nebraska, Oregon, Arizona and Arizona State, among others. Kamara committed to the University of Kansas in 2017, and made an immediate impact with the Jayhawks.

His junior year, Kamara was credited with 16 total tackles, 5 tackles for loss and 1 sack in three games started. This past season, Kamara added 51 tackles and 4.0 sacks, earning All-Big 12 Honorable Mention honors and invites to the Reese’s Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine.

At the Senior Bowl, Kamara caught the attention of scouts around the league. At the NFL Combine, he did so again by running a 4.59 unofficial 40-yard dash. Kamara was also measured with a 81.25” wingspan, the longest of any linebacker at the combine.

“It was an incredible experience. I also played in the Senior Bowl. Both of those experiences were amazing,” Kamara told USA Today. “I’m very blessed that I had a chance to go to both the Senior Bowl and the combine. I was very fortunate to attend both events. I had a chance to meet with a lot of teams out there. I went out there and ran with both of those opportunities. I had a lot of fun at both events. I tried to go out there and put my name on the map. I wanted to show the coaches and scouts how well I move as both an edge rusher and as a linebacker. I feel like I was able to do that.”

At KU’s Pro Day on March 5, Kamara demonstrated his skills in front of 30 NFL scouts, representing 28 teams from across the league. Kamara showed off his athleticism by jumping a 30” vertical and recording a 7.16 in the L-Cone drill.

“They’re going to get a guy that’s going to come in and upgrade their defense as a versatile defender,” Kamara said. “I can play special teams as well and be a gunner. I’m happy to play in any role. I’m going to come in every day ready to work.”

Throughout the draft process, Kamara has reportedly had private meetings with the Cincinnati Bengals, Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs, among others. Due to COVID-19, many of Kamara’s pre-draft meetings and workouts were canceled, leaving him to rely on his highlight tape to make an impression.

Follow the 2020 NFL Draft on ESPN and NFL Network  April 23-25, as Kamara and several other Jayhawks hope to hear their names called.