Gittens Keeps Family First In Mind As He Chases Pro Football Dreams
When Kurleigh Gittens Jr. steps on to the football field, thoughts of his parents are never far removed.
The outstanding Wilfrid Laurier University receiver knows the grind his dad Kurleigh — who has a barbershop near Bronson and Somerset in Ottawa — goes through every day. And he knows the reality faced by his mom Kim, who lives in Guyana and looks after nine children. His mom and dad were never really together, he married a Canadian and moved to Ottawa. Tattooed on Gittens Jr.’s arm is a cross with his mom and dad’s name.
“I love the game, some of this I do for myself, but the other side of it, (playing in the CFL will) give me the opportunity to make my family happy and support them,” said Gittens. “(My mom is) so far away. It’s tough to talk to her. Technology back there, it’s not that good. To make a phone call, she has to leave and go to a phone booth 20 minutes away. But I know her love is there.”
Gittens, began playing touch football in Grade 8, then put the pads on a year later and it was quickly obvious he had a skillset and gridiron sense about him that’s tough to teach.
“I didn’t know the sport of football existed. Our football was soccer,” said the 21-year-old, who during the fall would practise at Wilfrid Laurier Secondary School, then go directly to practice with the Cumberland Panthers NCAFA club team. In the summer, he played in the OVFL for the Panthers.
“It was love at first sight,” he said. “I always had that desire to be the best player I could.”
Talk about a resume, Gittens has been an impact player going way back to his rookie college season — 2015 when he caught 40 passes for 461 yards and also scored a touchdown on a kickoff. As a first-year Hawk, he made the OUA second all-star team.
Gittens said he owes much of his success to his Laurier coach, Michael Faulds, who quickly threw him into the heat of battle.
“He believes in me as much as I believe in myself,” said Gittens.
In his second season, on a team that won the Yates Cup, he had 27 catches for 461 yards. He was named an OUA second-team all-star on special teams with 26 punt returns for 303 yards and a touchdown with 13 kickoff returns for 362 yards.
In 2017, he broke out with 75 catches (first in USports for 953 yards, which was second best) and six touchdowns. He was named a USports first-team all-Canadian on offence and a second-teamer on special teams (18 kickoff returns for 355 yards and 24 punt returns for 355 yards, with a touchdown).
In 2018, it was more of the same. He caught 64 passes (tops in the OUA and second in USports) for 792 yards and three touchdowns. He returned six kickoffs for 117 yards and 44 punts for 413 yards. He was named a first-team all-Canadian on both offence and special teams.
Gittens believes he can make an impact at the next level. At the CFL combine on the weekend in Toronto, he competed well against the cream of the crop of players eligible for next month’s draft.
“I knew coming in I’m not the fastest guy, but I’m one of the fastest,” said Gittens. “I’m not the strongest guy, but I’ll put up some reps. I wanted to come in and be consistent at everything I did. I know some of these guys are athletic, but so am I.
“I believe I’m the best playmaker. Put me in the slot, put me on the line, put me in the return game and I’ll do things with the ball I don’t think any of these guys can do as well as I can do.”