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From obscurity to underdog: The remarkable journey of Qwan’tez Stiggers as an NFL Draft hopeful

Qwan’tez Stiggers found himself alone in a dim hotel room, far from anything familiar, drawing the curtains tight to shut out the world and focus on the turmoil in his mind.

It was spring 2023, and just two weeks prior, he had left his fiancee and family in Atlanta to travel to Canada for an unexpected opportunity – one that promised to bring back everything he had lost.

Stiggers’ thoughts were consumed by the clock and the phone. The ticking of the former seemed relentless, while the latter remained silent. Homesickness crept in as doubts about the endeavor filled his mind. “You don’t get second chances in life,” he mused. Sometimes, it feels like it’s too late.

“They forgot about me,” Stiggers whispered to himself. “Again.”

The football world had indeed overlooked Stiggers, only to rediscover him in a surprising turn of events that led him on the brink of a potential spot in the 2024 NFL Draft. His journey resembled a blockbuster movie with all the trimmings.


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But in that moment, it was only darkness.

The call Stiggers awaited was from the Toronto Argonauts. When the coaches in Toronto received their 2023 camp tryout list, they questioned why the young man from Georgia had no college background listed next to his name. They soon discovered that their new defensive back had indeed earned a football scholarship in high school but had walked away from it, burdened by depression and tragedy.

Upon arrival at camp, Stiggers expected to be the first to be cut. Having made two friends during practice, both with NFL experience, who failed to make the team, Stiggers decided he had waited long enough. Turning on the lights, he grabbed his shoes and headed to the coaches’ room.

Upon his arrival, a puzzled coach inquired, “What are you doing here?”

An irritated Stiggers retorted, “What’s going on? Nobody called me.”

The past three years of his life had been tumultuous. He had gone from a heartbroken college dropout working odd jobs to the brink of professional football without even playing in college. Before flying to Canada for a tryout with the Argonauts, Stiggers had told his boss at the truck wash to clock him out, anticipating another shift upon his return. The GM of the team had initially reached out to him through Instagram.

It felt unreal. It seemed like they had forgotten about him, just like everyone else.

“We don’t contact you,” the coach replied, “if you’re not on the active roster.”

Every player’s journey to the draft is unique and unforgettable, but for Qwan’tez Stiggers – the kid who went pro straight from high school – the current chapter of his story resembled a fairy tale.

Kwanna Stiggers had lost count of how many times she had forged her son’s signature on sign-up sheets. At least a dozen times. Back in late 2021, as the world slowly reopened post-pandemic, Kwanna spent hours scouring the internet for any football-related activities in Atlanta that Qwan’tez could partake in.

She didn’t care what it was – a camp, a clinic, a workout group, a pickup game – as long as it had football in the title, she signed up Qwan’tez. “Whether he wanted to or not,” she recalled, her voice a mix of sternness and affection reserved for mothers and their sons.



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Qwan’tez Stiggers fell in love with football at the age of 8. Alongside his older brother, Qwantayvious, he played pee-wee ball for the Georgia Rattlers. Following in his brother’s footsteps, Qwan’tez enrolled at The B.E.S.T. Academy, a small, all-boys public school in northwest Atlanta.

By his sophomore year, Qwan’tez stood at 5 feet 5 inches. Initially serving as the kicker, he transitioned to a defensive back, his height reaching nearly 6 feet by his senior year, where he began to thrive on the field.

Despite playing for a small high school that limited exposure, Stiggers caught a late growth spurt, leading to some interest from regional small schools and eventually landing him at Division II Lane College in Tennessee for the 2020 season.

However, tragedy struck just before his sophomore year of college when Stiggers’ father, Rayves Harrison, was involved in a car accident that left him in a coma. Despite heading back to school for the fall semester, Rayves’ condition did not improve, with his passing confirmed during a visit home in September, in the presence of Qwan’tez and his girlfriend, now fiancee, Cheyenne McClain.

Football no longer held the same significance. Everything seemed trivial in the face of the loss. By the end of that fateful weekend, Stiggers made the decision to quit school and remain home to support his grieving family.

Or at least, that’s what he envisioned.

Reality proved harsh, leaving him unable to concentrate, with memories of his father intruding on even the simplest tasks. He drifted, working odd jobs at DoorDash and InstaCart before joining the Blue Beacon truck wash near his home. Depression set in, with sporadic attempts to return to football meeting dead ends with no one willing to accommodate him.

Feeling like a forgotten pebble at the bottom of the ocean in the football world, Stiggers was paralyzed by anxiety, fear, and grief, stuck in a mire of hopelessness.

Kwanna’s relentless search for opportunities to reignite her son’s passion for football played a pivotal role in keeping Qwan’tez afloat, serving as an unwavering pillar of support. Cheyenne, equally devastated by loss, recognized Qwan’tez’s struggle and embarked on a journey to be his rock, putting aside her own pain to lift him up in his darkest hour.

Motivated by a desire to help him through grief, Cheyenne urged Qwan’tez to be resolute, echoing the mantra “Never give up” when the battle seemed insurmountable. Their late-night conversations in the car opened the door to healing, as they shared stories of loss, heartbreak, and the promise of brighter tomorrows.

Describing their bond as complementary, Qwan’tez and Cheyenne found solace in each other’s strength, a beacon of hope in a sea of despair. United in their pain and shared experiences, they rebuilt their lives, piece by piece.

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From the ditch of despair, Cheyenne watched Qwan’tez rise, mirroring his journey in her own ascent from the abyss of desolation. Their intertwined destinies bore the fruit of a love that transcended grief, blossoming in the embrace of shared burdens and shared triumphs.

“Seeing him being strong made me sit back and think,” Cheyenne says. “(I was with) someone who was (handling this), and it was sort of me having to help him become strong. And that made me strong.”

The small excuses ceased, replaced by a renewed sense of purpose in Qwan’tez’s heart. He resumed his training regimen, reaching out to every possible connection for guidance and support. The relentless pursuit of his dreams found a beacon of light in the Fan Controlled Football (FCF) league, an opportunity that reignited his love for the game.

Qwan’tez Stiggers restarted his career by playing in the Fan Controlled Football league. (Jonathan Bachman / Fan Controlled Football / Getty Images)

FCF may have been a departure from traditional football, but for Stiggers, it was a homecoming. Every game brought a renewed sense of purpose and joy, unburdened by expectations. He quickly found his groove, making a mark as one of FCF’s standout defenders.

One of the coaches at Fan Controlled Football was John Jenkins, a seasoned professional coach with deep roots in Canadian football. Impressed by Stiggers’ talent and story, Jenkins facilitated his entry into the CFL, paving the way for his journey with the Toronto Argonauts.

On a regular shift at the truck wash, Stiggers received a message from Vince Magri of the Toronto Argonauts via Instagram, propelling him into a new chapter of his football career. A tryout contract arrived in his mailbox shortly after, validating the reality of the surreal turn of events.

When Qwan’tez put pen to paper, Kwanna knew two things for certain – a mother’s determination was unbeatable, and her son had found his joy again.

“It was like, ‘OK, yes,’” Kwanna recalls. “He got his fight back.”

In football, there’s a saying: “If you’re good enough, they’ll find you.”

They may take their time, but they will find you. The story of Qwan’tez Stiggers is a testament to this truth. People have lauded him for having “the perfect story,” a fairy tale of loss and redemption.

From a football perspective, Stiggers’ narrative mirrors that of many talented youngsters in bustling cities. A standout player in high school, he possessed the skill to play at any college in the South. However, the complexities of recruitment and time constraints often obscure such talent, leaving many overlooked.

Players from small high schools often struggle to gain visibility in the cutthroat world of college football recruitment, increasing the likelihood of being overlooked. Yet, it is rare for a cornerback with no college experience to land in a CFL training camp at the age of 20 and pick off four passes in the first two days. Stiggers defied the odds, swiftly ascending from obscurity to a starting position after an injury sidelined a teammate in the first preseason game.

“I never went back to the bench,” Stiggers states proudly.

A natural defensive back with impeccable instincts, Stiggers possessed the size, agility, and skills to excel in multiple positions in the secondary, a fact not lost on the Argonauts coaching staff. What began as skepticism transformed into trust as Stiggers carved out his place as a top performer on the team.

In his debut season with the Argonauts, Stiggers played 16 games, amassing 53 tackles and five interceptions, earning him the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie award. The whirlwind journey culminated in Stiggers signing with agent Fred Lyles, who recognized his potential and talent, heralding the young cornerback as a future star akin to the likes of A.J. Bouye and Chris Harris Jr.

With Lyles’ guidance, Stiggers garnered significant interest, securing an invitation to the East-West Shrine Bowl. He impressed scouts from all 32 NFL teams during the workouts in Dallas, sparking widespread curiosity about the cornerback who bypassed college football.

As of last week, Stiggers had scheduled seven formal pre-draft visits, with hopes of adding more after his pro day at B.E.S.T. Academy on March 15. NFL scouts eagerly awaited the opportunity to unravel the tale of the young man who bypassed the traditional route of college football.

Together with his growing family, including his son, Legend, Stiggers looks forward to showcasing his journey to the scouts, sharing his story of perseverance and triumph.

When Stiggers shared the news of making the Argonauts with Cheyenne, she recounts, “I cried. It was overwhelming. We have a son, and it was just like, ‘OK, my son now has a role model to look up to.’”

“(Legend) loves sports, loves football. Every time he sees a football, he’s calling for Dada.”

Competitive football brought structure and purpose back into Stiggers’ life when he needed it the most. Unable to fully articulate his emotions amid the whirlwind of the past two years, he remains consumed by the process.

Life still carries the weight of his father’s absence, a shadow that looms over football and every other aspect of his existence. Yet, the sorrow serves not as a hindrance but as a catalyst, driving him to set an example for Legend, cherishing each moment spent with Cheyenne and their son.

While excited about his prospects in the draft, with hopes of hearing his name called this spring, even potentially ahead of players who secured an NFL combine invite, Stiggers remains grounded in hope.

He credits football for providing a pathway to redemption, but his deepest gratitude is reserved for his loved ones, who guided him through the darkest hours, never allowing him to lose sight of his destiny. Life, it appears, does offer second chances for those willing to chase them, providing a lifeline out of the deepest pits.

And as long as one has a support system willing to extend a helping hand, hope remains eternal.

“I feel like he can help change the thought process of younger people,” Kwanna says. “No matter what your path is, whatever you choose to do in life … you can do it.

“Nothing is ever too late.”

(Top photo: John E. Sokolowski / Getty Images)


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