It happened by default.
David Bolisomi didn’t know anything about football when he arrived in Abilene in August 2008 as a refugee from Africa. Then, during a sixth-grade PE class at Clack Middle School, Bolisomi found himself playing America’s favorite sport.
“They put me in there,” Bolisomi said. “It was a, ‘What is this?’ type of thing. I guess it just happened.”
Asked what position, the 6-foot-6, 322-pound Bolisomi smiled and said: “I was on the line. I wasn’t quarterback.”
Fast forward 11 years and Bolisomi is the starting right guard for a Top 25 football program.
Bolisomi has cracked TCU’s starting lineup as a fifth-year senior. He’s expected to make his third straight start when the No. 25 Frogs take on crosstown rival SMU on Saturday afternoon at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
Oh, and the combined science major is fluent in three languages (English, French and Lingala), conversational in another (Ewe, a Niger-Congo dialect) and is studying Chinese.
“I believe in being a lifelong learner,” Bolisomi said. “You’re always learning. I take that approach to football. When you have coaches that are as knowledgeable as ours, I learn things everyday.
“Our O-line coach [Chris] Thomsen has been doing this longer than I’ve been alive. Teaching me technique, teaching me the right way to step, where to punch, when to punch, all of those things … you’re always learning.”
So far, so good for Bolisomi and TCU’s offensive line. The O-line has been among the bright spots this season.
The big men up front helped pave the way for the rushing attack to gain 346 yards and three touchdowns at Purdue on Saturday. TCU combined for 200 yards rushing in the season-opening victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Bolisomi is right in the middle of it, providing length and mass to the interior of the line. TCU coach Gary Patterson has raved about Bolisomi’s development since spring practices.
To Patterson, every great team needs eight to 10 players who go from a nobody to a somebody during the season and Bolisomi fits that label.
“That’s what you get with fifth-year seniors — you get guys that step up,” Patterson said. “He’s got huge mass and is able to play guard for us, able to play tackle. In his first four years, he probably didn’t move his feet. That was his biggest problem, but he made himself quicker with his feet and size.”
Coming to America
The wars in Congo in the mid-1990s forced Bolisomi’s mother, Isimbi Sebikali, to seek refuge for herself and two children to Togo, in West Africa.
The family lived in Togo for 11 years before obtaining resettlement to the United States. The contingent included Sebikali, Bolisomi, his sister, two aunts and an uncle. They had family in Abilene and settled there.
“My mom and my sisters were already here, so we just met them in Abilene,” said Sebikali, who is an accountant now in the DFW area.
“When we left our country, the Congo, it was in the middle of war. It was the wrong situation for us.”
The war has been over for close to a decade, and Sebikali still has family in Congo. But the country is “not stable yet,” Sebikali said, and the family has adapted well to Texas.
It’s home now. Sebikali chuckles when asked about any “culture shock” in coming to a new country.
“Not really,” Sebikali said. “Africa is not the way people see it on TV.”
In other words, the country isn’t just the Sahara desert and the rain forests. There are cities and buildings and, yes, even skyscrapers.
“We lived in the city,” Sebikali said, laughing. “We have the same things that you guys have here.
“Outside of the language barrier, there really wasn’t a culture shock.”
Football, though, became something new for the family. They watched and played rugby in Africa, but weren’t familiar with American football.
Being in Texas, the family learned about football rather quickly. Especially when the family moved to Denton and the Ryan High School coaches saw Bolisomi wandering the hallways.
“He was playing basketball and didn’t want to play football,” Sebikali said. “But then the coach came up to him and David said he’s going to play football. I said, ‘Do whatever you want to do.’”
Adrian Eaglin is the man who convinced Bolisomi that football would become his top sport. Eaglin was serving as Ryan’s offensive line coach when he had a chat with Bolisomi about his basketball dreams and compared them to what he may become in football.
“He had just moved in from Abilene and was going straight basketball,” Eaglin said. “I said, ‘You’re 6-foot-6, do you have guard type ball skills?’ Because Kobe Bryant is taller than you are and he’s a guard.
“So we got him to come out and see if he’d be a good fit. He liked the environment and decided to give it a try. He was a work-in-progress because he was more basketball than football, but he was very coachable and eager to improve. He improved every day and the next thing you know he was getting Power 5 offers.”
Bolisomi went from playing JV his junior season to starting at right tackle his senior season. As Eaglin said, college offers came flooding in seemingly overnight.
In the end, TCU felt right for Bolisomi. His mother liked the school for academic reasons after meeting with Shawn Worthen, a TCU product who played in the NFL and is now the associate athletic director of athletic academic services.
Eaglin thought it’d be perfect from a football perspective, playing at a respected Power 5 program, and life perspective staying close to family. Ironically, after Bolisomi had been on campus for two years, TCU hired Thomsen as the offensive line coach. Eaglin was an offensive lineman at Abilene Christian who played under Thomsen in the 1990s.
“When they hired Chris Thomsen, the first person I called was Dave,” Eaglin said. “I was over the moon. I’m biased, but CT is the greatest offensive line coach in America. I knew he’d keep an eye on Dave, not just as an athlete, but as a man.”
Bolisomi has no regrets with his decision. He saw game action as a redshirt freshman in 2016, sustained an injury-plagued 2017 season and then had a reserve role in all 13 games last season.
This season has seen Bolisomi emerge as a starter along the offensive line. Those closest to him aren’t surprised.
“He was 100% a project for us, but that’s a whole lot of clay,” Eaglin said. “He had such a willing spirit to do whatever it was that we needed him to do to get better. There was no way we weren’t going to be successful with him. That wingspan was a gift from God and he learned how to use it.”
Said Sebikali, his mother: “I still remember when he was just a kid and look at him now — he’s a man. He’s fluent in several languages, he’s been a great student academically and socially, and he’s really involved at home with his sister. We’re really proud of him. He’s become a grown man.”
On and off the field.
Bolisomi impressed the TV cameras at TCU’s weekly media availability earlier this week, speaking a few sentences in a foreign language to preview this week’s game against SMU.
Now he’s focused on continuing to grow on the field as a starter. It’s been quite the journey for Bolisomi, going from Africa to a refugee in Abilene to a starter at one of the top college football programs in the country.
“I didn’t grow up watching football. I really learned the game when I got to the United States,” Bolisomi said. “I learned to love the game. I really understand how complex it is, how beautiful the game is and all these different things. I take a lot of pride in that.”