---- — HAVERHILL — For most of Michael Kwegyir-Attah’s youth, “football” did not elicit images of helmets and shoulder pads.
Instead, “futball” meant a round ball and a large net.
“I thought of soccer,” said Kwegyir-Attah. “It’s still a little weird.”
Born in London, England to a family from the African country of Ghana, Kwegyir-Attah grew up obsessed with soccer, as a dedicated fan and player through his sophomore year in high school.
So even Kwegyir-Attah would never have guessed that, just over a year after playing football for the first time, he would develop into Haverhill High’s most feared linebacker who has received attention from Division 1-AA college programs.
Through three games, Kwegyir-Attah has made 16 tackles, picked off a pass and blocked two field goals for a Hillies squad that is 2-1 heading into tonight’s key MVC Division 2 matchup with 4-0 Methuen High.
“It took two years to convince him to play, but we are sure glad he came out,” said Hillies coach Tim O’Connor. “His versatility is great and his athleticism is special. You can’t teach 6-foot-2, 215 pounds with a 4.7 40 (yard dash). With a big year, I believe the sky is the limit for college football.”
Kwegyir-Attah spent the first three-plus years of his life in London, where his parents moved after leaving Ghana.
He and his mother then spent much of the next few years moving from home to home, first immigrating to Chicago when he was 4-years-old before moving to New Jersey, Worcester and finally Haverhill when he was 13-years-old.
“It was tough always having to meet new people and make new friends,” said Kwegyir-Attah, who has very limited contact with his father, who remains in England. “But life goes on and you have to adjust. When my mom said we were moving to Haverhill I said, ‘What’s Haverhill?’ I had only heard of Lowell in this area.”
Like so many from his native England, Kwegyir-Attah grew up obsessed with soccer, particularly his favorite team, Chelsea F.C, which plays its home games in London.
“Definitely a crazy fan,” he said. “I love soccer. I played it growing up and my first two years of high school. I was a striker.”
Through those first two years O’Connor, with the help of his players, worked to convince Kwegyir-Attah that his home may be on a different field.
“I saw this great looking athlete,” said O’Connor, “and I thought to myself, ‘I need this athlete on my football team.’ It took a lot of convincing, not just from me but from his friends too.”
Initially, Kwegyir-Attah was content to limit his growing fascination with American football to watching it on TV Saturdays and Sundays. But between his sophomore and junior year, that all changed.
“I wanted to try something new,” he said. “My friends were all saying, ‘You have the size to play football’ and Coach O would ask me in the halls.”
Kwegyir-Attah took the plunge last summer, going out for football heading into the 2012 season. But the brand new sport — especially one as high-contact as football — was a difficult transition.
“My shoulders hurt so bad,” he said. “It was hard. I had to learn the plays and learn to hit. But then I started to like it.”
It didn’t take long for Kwegyir-Attah to find the field, inserted into the starting lineup in Game 3 of last season against Peabody, making four tackles.
“It was very overwhelming at first,” he said “I was afraid I would make mistakes. But the coaches told me I deserved to be out there and should just play. After a while I started to feel like, ‘This sport is for real.’”
Kwegyir-Attah was on his way from there. He finished 2012 with 64 tackles, eight for a loss including three sacks, picked off a pass and knocked down six more throws.
“I think that he really loves the game now,” said O’Connor. “His versatility is great. He can play inside linebacker, outside linebacker, rush the passer from defensive end. Watching him run around the field, making plays shows how special he is.”
Also a sixth man on the Hillies basketball team, Kwegyir-Attah hopes his football career doesn’t end this fall.
According to Kwegyir-Attah, he has been contacted by colleges including Division 1-AA University of New Hampshire, University of Maine and Albany and Division 2 schools like Stonehill.
He also has his eyes set on a big senior season, including a victory over unbeaten Methuen tonight, a squad he helped Haverhill defeat 41-20 a season ago.
“We are feeling confident,” he said. “They are a good team, but we will be ready. We know how big a win here would be for the playoff hunt and we are excited.”
See his story
For a video interview with Haverhill’s Michael Kwegyir-Attah, visit eagletribune.com/sports
Football twitter tracker
Can’t be at the game? These Eagle-Tribune sports reporters will be live tweeting from these football games tonight:
Andover vs. Chelmsford
David Willis (@DWillisET)
Haverhill at Methuen
Hector Longo (@MVcreature)
Salem vs. Manchester West
Mike McMahon (@MikeMcMahonCHN)
Lawrence vs. Tewksbury
Bill Burt (@BurtTalksSports)
Pinkerton at Manchester Memorial, 4 p.m.
Winnisquam at Pelham, 7 p.m.
Pentucket at Newburyport, 7 p.m.
Chelmsford at Andover, 7 p.m.
Londonderry at Concord, 7 p.m.
Georgetown at Ipswich, 7 p.m.
Haverhill at Methuen, 7 p.m.
Manchester West at Salem, 7 p.m.
Tewksbury at Lawrence, 7 p.m.
Masconomet at North Reading, 7 p.m.
North Andover at Dracut, 7 p.m.
Keene at Timberlane, 7 p.m.
Greater Lawrence at Greater Lowell, 2 p.m.
Milford at Windham, 2:30 p.m.
Northeast Metro at Whittier, 2:30 p.m.
ConVal at Sanborn, 3 p.m.
Brooks at St. George’s, 4:30 p.m.
Choate at Phillips, 7 p.m.