As the youngest of eight kids, Arizona Cardinals rookie linebacker Jesse Luketa had a front row seat to all the sacrifices his mother had to make while growing up.
Looking to give her children a better life, Luketa’s mother immigrated to Ontario, Canada, from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1980, leaving behind a life she knew.
Despite the tough times, Luketa’s mother remained positive, showing her kids what it meant to be selfless and how to overcome adversity.
Taking it upon himself to make his mother’s sacrifices warranted, Luketa went to work at a young age, looking to blaze a trail that not only helps his mom but also gives him a real chance at reaching his dreams of cracking the NFL.
“Honestly, it all stems from my mom. She’s my ‘why,’” Luketa told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Tuesday. “I got to a point when I was younger, I told her I was tired of seeing her struggle and I’m going to take onus on myself to 1) make sure I pursue my aspirations of playing football at the highest level and 2) she doesn’t have to struggle anymore.
“In doing that, I started sending emails out every single day, at least 150 emails every day, to prep schools in Pennsylvania and New York, Maryland and kind of introducing myself and letting them know my aspirations and playing football at the highest level and ultimately that I need financial assistance.”
Of those 150 emails, only a few coaches reached back out but offered little if any help.
It only takes one coach to go that extra mile, though, and Mercyhurst Preparatory School’s Jeff Root was that career lifeline Luketa needed.
Three years later, Luketa was on his way to Penn State as a four-star recruit after receiving a ton of looks from other programs.
On Saturday, Luketa saw his early determination rewarded in the form of a seventh-round selection this NFL Draft. He was one of eight Nittany Lions drafted by an NFL team after earning an All-Big Ten Conference honorable mention for his 61-tackle, one-interception effort in 2021.
The work is far from over for Luketa, however, who now turns his sights on being an everyday contributor for the Cardinals, whether that’s lining up as an outside linebacker on defense or covering kicks on special teams.
“My mindset going into training camp is wherever I’m needed that’s exactly where I’m going to be,” Luketa said. “I’m ready to contribute. It’s the same thing when I got to Penn State, we had some dudes that are playing on Sundays now.
“I was able to find my role in special teams and it ultimately allowed me to earn their respect and trust of my teammates and the coaching staff. That’s the one thing I’m looking forward to doing in Arizona as well. Special teams is going to be a huge factor to me and I can’t wait to get out there and contribute.”