Six years ago, Clement Mubungirwa and his family were living in the African war-torn country of Uganda in a refugee camp. A few months later, Mubungirwa, his six siblings and his mother were chosen to be sponsored by Catholic Charities and thought they were headed to Buffalo, N.Y.
Their destination was altered to Baton Rouge, and his life was changed forever. Born in Congo Goma, Mubungirwa’s native language is Swahili.
“I could barely speak English when I first arrived in the United States,” said Mubungirwa, a football and soccer standout for Episcopal High School. “I still have problems with grammar and spelling. I try my best. My teachers say I’ve improved a lot. I definitely love it here.”
Mubungirwa spent two years of middle school at St. Aloysius Catholic School and transferred to Episcopal for eighth grade. The 17-year-old is a sophomore academically but a junior athletically. He was an All-Metro soccer forward for the Knights last season and was a backup to Mike Henry in football.
Mubungirwa has emerged this season as a fullback and defensive end for ninth-seeded Episcopal (8-2), which travels to No. 25 Riverside (5-5) Friday night for a Class 2A regional playoff game.
“Soccer is my first love. It’s something I’ve played on the playground since age 5,” Mubungirwa said. “I was never on a team in Africa. I didn’t even know what football was until about three years ago. I love this opportunity to be on a team. I love the contact in football. I feel like I’ve gotten better, and the team has gotten better.”
Mubungirwa has rushed for over 135 yards each of the last two weeks. For the season, he’s gained 578 yards on 98 carries with 13 touchdowns. Defensively, he’s made 23 solo tackles, assisted on 14 others, had two sacks and made a fumble recovery.
“Being on the team has really helped Clement adjust to school,” EHS coach Travis Bourgeois said. “He’s such a good, polite and soft-spoken kid. It makes it easy for everybody to want to help. He’s had difficulties in his life, and helps a lot with his younger siblings.”
Two years ago, Mubungirwa tried football for the first time and played on the eighth-grade team. His confidence level has improved each season.
In Episcopal’s 17-6 bidistrict victory over Booker T. Washington, Clement followed tailback Jarrell Rogers and scored on a 30-yard run with 7:27 remaining to put the Knights up 14-6. He gained 153 yards on 26 carries in the contest.
“Before the play, Jarrell told me to calm down and that he would free me with his block,” said Mubungirwa (5-foot-9, 175 pounds). “I’ve found that I run better when I think the play through before it happens. I took my time and followed him. I got tripped a little, then cut off his block. I was really happy to score and give us some breathing room.”
“That TD was a big momentum swing for us,” said Bourgeois, whose team has won six straight games. “The unique thing about Clement is his instincts. For a kid who hasn’t played a lot of football, things come naturally to him. It helps that he’s had the same terminology for three years.
“Right now, he’s the go-to guy for us at running back. We want to let him be an athlete. He’s running with a lot of confidence.e_SDRq
Defensively, the Knights have held eight foes to 16 or fewer points. They’ll face an improved Riverside squad that defeated eighth-seeded Homer 56-8.
“I love our defense,” Mubungirwa said. “We work together and trust each other.”
“Defensive end is a right position for Clement,” Bourgeois said. “He knows his responsibility, and he knows the gap he’s got to defend. Clement is definitely a guy who can rush a quarterback in a hurry.
“Whether it’s soccer or football, the impressive thing is his ability to get from point A to point B. The explosiveness he has is the same with the ball at his feet or in his hand.”