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Stanford OLB Peter Kalambayi is a citizen of the world

The NFL draft unearths hundreds of unique stories every year. Peter Kalambayi’s is one of the best.

NCAA Football: Stanford at San Diego State Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL draft is kind of a lot. It drags for months after the bowl season, and it tends to focus on the same tired stories about a handful of names. Every year there’s a Great Quarterback Debate (Rosen vs. Darnold vs. Mayfield vs. Allen vs. Jackson), a discussion about Blatant Casual Racism (Lamar Jackson is not a wide receiver), and a lot of patter about measurables and intangibles and ceilings and upsides.

It’s rote. It’s boring. But along with that comes one legitimate good: A showcase for great people who slipped under the national radar. Stanford outside linebacker Peter Kalambayi is one of those people.

Over four seasons, Kalambayi collected 16.5 sacks and 28 tackles for loss for a defense that finished, on average, 34th in FBS in total defense. He was primarily a somewhat undersized defensive end at 6’3”, 236 pounds. In the NFL he will likely have to prove he can handle outside linebacker, which makes him something like the definition of the mid-to-late round flyer with upside.

What sets him apart — aside from being one of the few people on the planet talented, smart, and hard-working enough to even be sniffed by the NFL — is his story. Kalambayi calls himself a citizen of the world. He speaks fluent French. He wants to become a foreign correspondent. He was raised primarily by his mother and grandmother, who are Trinidadian. His father, who was largely absent, is from Congo.

His journey extends from those nations to Washington D.C., Raleigh, and Palo Alto. And across that time and space, Kalambayi had to learn how to be not just a great football player, but a male figure to a younger sister whose name is tattooed on his side, as well prioritize his time to pursue a diverse group of off-field interests.

Kalambayi will be writing about his journey for SB Nation throughout his path through the weird, exhausting NFL draft process. You can read his first entry here. To give you a better sense of who he is, here is an edited and condensed transcript of a conversation we had before the combine.

What is life like right now? What do your days look like?

Every day I wake up, I hit the gym at about 10 in the morning. Then they give us a lunch and they give us dinner. So get lunch, and then we start lifting in the afternoon. Twice a week we have yoga. We also partake in cryotherapy and massages. And that’s pretty much life right now.

Do you feel positive right now? You’re about to poked and prodded by a lot of people.

I feel pretty good! ... I’ve been eating healthier than I have ever eaten in my life, so I can definitely see that impact on my body. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger, I’m just fine-tuning my speed, so that’s kind of the main things I’ve been working on, just combine drills.

What has been the toughest part about the transition from team-mode training to training for the NFL draft?

The toughest transition is not wanting to overwork yourself, because football training requires a lot of heavy conditioning and going hard all the time, but when you’re on a structured training regimen for the combine, there are times that you go light, there are days that you go hard. And you really have to adhere to the program to maximize the training. That’s kind of been the weirdest thing. Some days aren’t as intense as I’d like them to be.

Where does speaking French come in?

My mom’s from Trinidad so she speaks English. My dad’s from Congo. I don’t know him, but they speak French in Congo so I just started taking French in high school, and I was pretty good, so I continued in college. I took a year off my freshman year, then my sophomore year I still had retained enough to place out of the language requirement for college, but I decided to take a second year of class to see what it was like, and I really liked it.

Have you been to France or a French-speaking country yet?

No, I have not. But every time I have the opportunity to meet people from France — because I have relatives that live in Quebec — they ask me like, ‘Are you from an African country where they speak French?’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m American.’ They say I sound good, so that’s pretty cool. That’s my confirmation, kinda. [laughs]

2017 US College Football Sydney Cup: Launch
Peter Kalambayi posing with Tabbi the koala during the 2017 US College Football Sydney Cup Launch last August.
Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Your mother is from Trinidad and Tobago, have you been there yet?

I’ve been to Trinidad a lot, the last time being my junior year of high school. I haven’t been able to go since because of football. But I’d like to get back there in my offseasons in the future. Probably going to file for dual citizenship next time I go. My sister actually has dual citizenship, so I’ll probably have that in the near future. But she goes back every summer. Most of our family still lives there.

How did your mom end up in D.C., and your family in the United States?

So my grandma worked for the Trinidad embassy, and they’re based in D.C. So she just came over with the family. And I think they were only supposed to be here for five years or something like that? But she liked America so much, and since she got another job working with the World Bank in D.C., and she worked there until she retired. And we’ve been here ever since then.

You mentioned you were raised by your mother and grandmother. How did they raise you?

They were pretty strict on academics. They didn’t really care about the sports thing until they realized in high school that it could be a vehicle to get me a scholarship. But in terms of my childhood, they always made sure I was in a good school, regardless of where we lived. They always made sure that I went to a good school. And then when I was in school, the expectation was always As and Bs. Mostly As. If I had some As and some Bs, they’d be asking me like, ‘Well, why are you getting these Bs?’ I never got a C or anything like that. That would have been bad news for me if that ever happened. And there was always the threat of ‘You can’t play sports if your grades are bad,’ so that’s why I always tried hard because I liked to play sports.

I remember when I was five, my grandfather used to make me do multiplication tables with him every day after school. And you don’t learn that until the second or third grade. I was doing that in kindergarten. That helped a lot.

When you say they were hard on you, if they were to come down on you for bad grades what would they do?

They would probably take away whatever video game console I had, and then pull me out of whatever sport I was playing. I played a lot of sports so football, basketball, track, soccer, I played all that. But fortunately I was never in that position. They threatened it before, but never had to get to that point thankfully. [laughs]

What was your relationship like with your father, and what is it like now?

I don’t really know him. I haven’t seen him since I was a baby. I know where he’s at now. Sometimes I talk to him, but he was never really around. But never really a hindrance to me because I never knew him as being around so it’s not like he ever left and I remember it. He was just never there, so it never really bothered me growing up.

It definitely made things tougher financially on my mom though, so that was always tough. She definitely went through a lot trying to make sure I was in a good school district, and raising a child is just so much. Hats off to her for that. I always respected her so much for that.

Do you have any interest in going to meet him?

I’ll probably meet him someday. But like I said, with football I don’t really have time to go anywhere. That’s the reason I haven’t been anywhere, really, because we’re pretty much locked in all year. The only chance you’ll get to go somewhere is like spring break. I haven’t even been to Trinidad since I was a junior in high school. I think that would be the first priority over that, going back and seeing all my family there.

I hope you don’t mind that I’m prying.

[laughs] Nah, I don’t trip about questions like that.

So then what’s the relationship between your mom and your dad like now? And do you know why he left your life?

I have no idea, to be honest. I know they didn’t talk for a very long time. I know he never really helped out financially when I was young. He wasn’t really paying child support or anything like that, so she wasn’t really talking to him. When I got to about high school, he started calling me, and I kind of got a relationship with him. But I don’t know, it’s never really been anything I felt like pursuing. I acknowledge that he’s there, and he knows where I’m at, and I know where he’s at. That’s it.

And same with my mom. He’s talked to her a few times over the past few years and everything. We’re all Facebook friends, but that might be the extent of our relationship.

When he started calling you, did you question why he was talking to you?

At that point it definitely felt kind of weird, because at that point it was established that I wasn’t, like, a terrible person. Would he be calling me if I was a juvenile delinquent? I don’t know. But that definitely caught me off guard. It wasn’t like an emotional thing, it was more like, ‘OK, at least I know where he is now.’ That’s good to know, in case anybody ever asks me. Like, you, for example. [laughs]

So it’s like, it’s good that I know where he’s at. I know he has a family, and he has some other kids, too. I know them as well. I’ve actually met my two sisters that are his kids. I’ve met them in person once when I was like 15. They came and visited my cousins in North Carolina. So that was cool. It was nice to meet them.

Really I have four siblings, but I really only know one of them.

Peter Kalambayi with (from left to right) his grandmother, sister, and mother.

Do you want to be closer to your siblings and cousins on that side? Or is that too difficult to cultivate?

I would actually say that my generation of kids, we’re pretty close, actually. I have my sisters, his kids, I have both of them on Snapchat and Instagram, as well as my cousins that live in Raleigh, same thing. We talk more often. It’s more so the adults — they have their own thing going on, we don’t really even bother with them. But us kids, we’re pretty close actually. We talk pretty often. Definitely going to see them in the future. But like I was saying with football, I just don’t have the chance to go anywhere. Since I was at Stanford, I’d see my mother like twice a year, and that’s my mother.

My sister is younger, she’s a freshman in high school.

And what’s your relationship like with her?

My sister is kind of like my best friend. Her dad also isn’t around. It’s always pretty much been me and her. When I was younger, I had a lot of responsibility to take care of her because my mom would have to take her to work and stuff. So I would get her ready to go to school in the morning. I’d do her hair in the morning, get her dressed, walk her to school, or before she was in school I’d walk her to daycare before I went to school. Once I started driving, I wold pick her up from school and everything.

We’re also just very close. I actually have her name tattooed on my side. That’s like my favorite person in the world. We talk all the time. That’s probably the family member I talk to the most. I think I’ve set a good example for her on the importance of academics. She’s not an athlete, but she’s a very good student. That’s going to be what helps her get to college and get through college. She understands the importance of academics and how it can really change your life, change our socioeconomic status, and things like that.

She has a different father?

Yeah, yeah.

And where is he?

That’s a good question, I actually don’t know. [laughs] I don’t know if she knows either. But he used to live in New Jersey. Kind of the same deal, when she was a baby, she stopped seeing him as much. Kind of the same time frame as me, but maybe when she was almost like two, three, he stopped coming around as much. And she’s probably seen him twice since then, two of three times maybe. He’s in the States. But he’s also from Trinidad. Same thing. He never really helped out with anything. So It was just me, I was kind of her male figure in her life. Pretty much just me.

You’re known as a man with pretty diverse interests. What attracted you to foreign correspondence in particular?

Particularly the opportunity to travel the world and see new places and talk to people. I’m very interested in different cultures and how they operate, so just being able to talk to people from different cultures and get a firsthand perspective. Because you see things on TV, but to be there yourself is the only way you can truly understand how things are somewhere, why some things are a certain way somewhere, and why things are happening the way that they are happening, whether it be a political conflict, or a territorial conflict, or something like that.

You don’t really understand why things are happening until you meet the people themselves, and that’s why I’d love to just be able to go over there and talk to people, talk to citizens, talk to politicians, talk to police, talk to the army, to military members, and just see everybody’s side of the story and be able to write my own.

Having a mother from the Caribbean, and a dad from Congo, did that also inform your interest in foreign correspondence?

Oh definitely, because I feel like I don’t really consider myself just an American. I feel like there’s so much more of the world out there to see. A lot of people think of themselves as just citizens of America instead of world citizens, and I kind of think of myself as a citizen of the world, so I want to see it. Even in California, I just like to explore places, since I’ve been in California for the last four years. I’ve pretty much been everywhere in California. I had the opportunity to go to Australia for a football game this year, that was great. I’ve been to Mexico, since it’s right across the border, just out of curiosity, just because I like to see places.

If you could go anywhere in the world, first choice, where would it be?

Oof, that is a fine question. I mean, right now it’s Trinidad, but after Trinidad, I’d like to see the Maldives because I hear they’re not going to be around for too much longer, and that place is beautiful.