Ottawa native Jesse Luketa will never forget Saturday April 30th, 2022 — the day he was drafted into the National Football League. It was day 3, and the league’s annual draft was just a few picks away from its conclusion. For many hours, Luketa ad been anxiously watching the broadcast at home with family and friends, wondering exactly when his name would be called. Would it be called at all?
So, as another team prepared to make their selection, someone called Luketa’s cell phone.
Maybe a friend? Someone calling to lend support? No. As he glanced down at his phone, two words shone back at him, and Luketa knew his life had just changed.
“The caller ID said, ‘Arizona Cardinals,’” Luketa fondly recalled. “I knew my moment was finally here!”
The Luketa household erupted.
Sure enough, in the 7th round, with the 256th pick, the Cardinals selected Penn State linebacker Jesse Luketa. A couple of weeks later, they signed him to a four-year rookie contract valued at $3.7 million.
“I felt it was only right to have such a big moment with my entire village of supporters,’ said Luketa. “That includes family members, coaches that I’ve had from a younger age, and childhood friends.”
A lot has happened since we featured you in Faces last year. Has it sunk yet that the football-crazy kid from South Ottawa has grown up to be an Arizona Cardinal and a member of the greatest football league in the world? How does it feel?
It feels surreal, yet so right. From sacrificing so much from such a young age to reach this point, I’m just extremely grateful to be in the position I’m in. I spoke some things into the universe and continued to do so until it became a reality.
What did you and your family do to celebrate?
We spent it together. Family is very important to me. I was fortunate enough to bring my family together for a special weekend and that’s a memory I’ll forever cherish.
Specifically, what was your mom’s reaction to your being drafted in the NFL?
She was emotional. The first thing she did once she heard my name get called was drop down to her knees and begin giving thanks. I finally picked her up and was able to give her a hug. It was an emotional moment shared between the both of us.
How did she and the rest of your family feel about your passion for football and when did they buy in that you maybe had a chance to be drafted into the NFL?
At first, they were a bit reluctant – not because they didn’t believe in me and my aspirations, but because they weren’t very familiar with the game of football in the beginning. As I continued to display how persistent and determined I was, they began to accept I wasn’t going to take “No” for an answer. It wasn’t until I left Canada at the age of 14 to study abroad in Erie, Pennsylvania where they began to see I actually have a legitimate opportunity to capitalize on my dream.
When did YOU start thinking you could maybe you could play someday in the NFL?
I knew from the time I started playing for the South Ottawa Mustangs. I’m a firm believer in speaking things into existence. It’s been something I’ve done from a very young age.
There are so few players who get drafted in the NFL. What do you think it is about your personality, character, or general makeup that helped you get this far?
My level of determination is uncommon, I was told from a very young age “The Great Ones All Found a Way.” That stuck with me ever since. I’ve been told “No” my entire life, but it never discouraged me. It only motivated me even more. That same mindset and chip on my shoulder is something I still carry to this day.
It had to feel amazing being a star linebacker at a school known as Linebacker U. How would you describe your final season at Penn State?
It was an honour to play at such a prestigious institution as Penn State. I made the decision in 2018 because I wanted to contribute to the rich tradition known as “Linebacker U.” My final year was phenomenal, being able to line up next to guys such as PJ Mustipher, Derrick Tangelo, and Arnold Ebiketie. They all pushed me on a daily basis to be the best version of myself.
How different would you say are you now, as a person and as a player, from the Ottawa kid who showed up on day one at Penn State?
I’m more prepared. Entering my freshman season, I was driven to play football and only football. The past four years at Penn State broadened my horizon for academics and exposed me to networking opportunities. That allowed me to continue to grow as individual off of the football field.
What do you do for fun when you’re back in Ottawa?
Community service. I’ve always been drawn to helping others and especially the youth. Whenever I’m able to come home, I take the time to spend it with the kids in my community as well at St. Patrick’s High School. Making myself available for them as a resource is something that’s important to me. For the majority of those kids, speaking from my personal experience, they never had the proper role model. So I strive to be that role model in my community.
Your Twitter bio sounds like it’s probably a nod to the famous proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Your bio simply reads, “Son of the Village.” Can you tell us about the people who are part of that village that helped raise you?
My reference to being the “Son of the Village” is very dear to me because without my village of supporters I would never be where I am today. When I think about my village, I think about my siblings. They helped raise me while my mother, who was a single parent, had to work to provide for 8 kids. I think about my coaches, who began to pour into my aspirations from a young age – whether it was picking me up to take me to practice or taking me to get Dairy Queen after practice. They understood the dynamic at home. They’d even invite me to their home over the weekend just to keep me out of trouble.
Is there a player you pattern yourself after? Or look up to?
There are a few I’ve moulded my game after and continue to study on a daily basis – Terrell Suggs, Henoc Muamba and Shaq Barrett.
Let’s maybe tackle a few fun, off-the-page questions. What’s the one song on your phone or playlist right now that you’re most into?
AP- 1984 Love.
What TV series most grabbed your attention in the past year?
Snowfall & YOU.
Rank your favourite kind of movie from favourite to least favourite. Comedy? Romance? Action? Fantasy? Horror?
Horror #1 (even though I’ll jump a few times)
Let’s leave health and fitness out of this. What’s your idea of the perfect meal?
I don’t play about my Shawarma. If I’m not having that, then I’d say some Shepards Pie.
Are you an avid gamer? If so, what video game do you like best?
I’m a serious FIFA player. (Canadian soccer star) Alphonso Davies and I have had some good battles online.
Will you have some down time this summer? Or is it all workouts and NFL camps?
As of now, all my focus is on entering the preseason as the best version of myself.