Famous cousins and brotherly love: Lwal Uguak follows family-oriented path to pro football

Photos courtesy: AP/Jim Prisching & TCU Athletics. Photo edit: 3DownNation.

Lwal Uguak’s (pronounced: ‘Loo-ALL YOU-goo-ack’) path to professional football started in a war-torn country halfway around the world before he was even born.

The Uguak family fled Sudan in 1997 amid the country’s second civil war, temporarily moving north to Egypt. Aher, Lwal’s older brother, was born along the Mediterranean Sea in Alexandria in 1998 before the family immigrated to Canada, finding a home in Edmonton. Lwal was born a little over a year later in March 2000, making him the first of his siblings to be born in the family’s new country.

Football has been in Uguak’s life ever since, largely due to the impact of his family. He is the third of five children and one of many members of his large extended family to achieve success at high-level athletics.

“My brother and my cousins played (football) before me when I was five years old, so I couldn’t really start right away. I just followed in their footsteps. We played all the time as kids in the backyard, in the field around our neighbourhood. Ever since then, it just stuck with me. My family was a big influence on me playing football,” Uguak told 3DownNation via telephone.

Aher became an accomplished athlete in his own right, albeit it in another sport. The six-foot-seven, 225-pound basketball star earned a scholarship to New Mexico out of high school and later transferred to Loyola University in Chicago. He played professionally this past season as a member of the Niners Chemnitz in Germany’s Basketball Bundesliga and recently signed with the Edmonton Stingers of the Canadian Elite Basketball League.

Lwal missed being playing with his brother after he left football to tackle a new sport, though he’s proud of everything Aher has achieved on the hardwood.

“He had a bunch of friends on the football team that played basketball too and from there he just blossomed. I remember hearing stories about how he was dunking in grade nine and I didn’t watch my brother play too much, I just knew that he didn’t play football with me and my younger brothers anymore,” said Lwal.

“At first, I didn’t know why he was leaving. I was like, ‘Dang, you’re just gonna stop playing football?’ But he’s been doing his thing for as long as I remember. He’s doing his thing and I’m proud of him.”

Uguak’s family spans the globe with members throughout Africa, the United Kingdom and areas of Canada and the United States. His younger brother, Adam, recently committed to Queen’s University after receiving a number of offers from top U Sports football programs.

Aher isn’t the only professional basketball player in Uguak’s family, however, nor is he the most famous. One of his first cousins on his mother’s side is Luol Deng, the native of Wau, Sudan who played 15 seasons in the NBA primarily as a member of the Chicago Bulls.

Deng recorded over 13,000 points and 5,000 rebounds over the course of his career as a six-foot-nine, 237-pound small and power forward. He was named NBA all-rookie first team in 2005 and an NBA All-Star in 2012 and 2013. He is 15 years older than Uguak and was raised overseas as his family immigrated to England after fleeing the war.

“I didn’t really have opportunities to meet with him while he was in his professional career, but he’s definitely reached out with my recent success in football,” said Uguak. “It’s good to know that he had a career. I was definitely a big fan of him while he was playing, so it’s just nice that he’s getting a chance to see me play as well.”

Uguak attended a number of CFL games growing up in Edmonton and considers Fred Stamps, Ricky Ray, and Calvin McCarty among his favourite all-time players. He also played during halftime of a game at Commonwealth Stadium as a member of the Edmonton Chargers, scoring a touchdown in the process.

The athletic defender played against local star running back Chuba Hubbard a number of times in Alberta amateur football despite being one year his junior. Hubbard, a native of Sherwood Park, Alta. who has since risen to prominence with Oklahoma State and the Carolina Panthers, offered Uguak support following their final meeting in high school.

“We didn’t know each other well but we definitely were familiar with each other. I played a pretty good game against [Hubbard’s team at Bev Facey Community High School] and he reached out to me. He said, ‘Look, you can definitely play at [NCAA division one] level. Let me help you out, try to get you some exposure and reach out to some people.'”

Uguak got an offer from Fresno State that summer before starting grade 12. He received an offer from the University of Connecticut in the middle of the football season and didn’t wait long before deciding to join the Huskies.

“[Connecticut] was showing love,” said Uguak. “They came and visited me at my house, took me on a visit there. I decided to commit out of high school instead of going to prep [school] like most people do. I just bet on myself and played as a true freshman, then started as a sophomore.”

Uguak was a versatile player along the defensive line with Connecticut, taking reps at defensive end and defensive tackle. He recorded 69 total tackles, nine tackles for loss, four sacks, four knockdowns, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery over 34 career games with the Huskies (2018-21). The team did not play in 2020 due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 23-year-old transferred to Texas Christian University in 2022 looking to play on a larger stage. He dressed for 14 games in a rotational role with the Horned Frogs as they reached the National Championship Game against Georgia.

“Football is a huge platform. You want to play against the best and you want to be the best and I felt like transferring to TCU was gonna put me in a position to do that,” he said. “This last season was very amazing, honestly. Not too many people can say that they’ve gone to a National Championship and won a Fiesta Bowl.”

Uguak was listed between 270 and 280 pounds throughout his college career though he has dropped down to 255 pounds ahead of his pro day on March 30. He’s open to changing his body again at the professional level in order to ensure he has the size and quickness needed to be successful wherever he plays.

The defender is planning to attend the upcoming CFL Combine in Edmonton, though he will forgo testing to interview with teams. While his main focus is getting an opportunity to play in the NFL, he wants to sit down with each CFL team to discuss how they envision him potentially fitting into their lineup.

“I can play the run pretty well at the defensive end spot, I can pass rush as well but I can also go inside and pass rush at three-tech. Sometimes I’d be playing nose, too. I played the whole line, so definitely I got well-versed at a lot of the techniques at D-line and I think that helped me show that I’m a pretty versatile player. Hopefully whatever team picks me up [in the draft] can use me to the best of my ability,” he said.

“I know the Canadian league is a lot more passing. With three downs, you’ve got to get the ball out and put it in the air, so there are definitely times where I might have to rush inside, rush outside, whatever it takes. I’m not opposed to anything but at the same time I feel like I can be utilized on the edge pretty well.”

Uguak recorded nine total tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, and one fumble recovery this past season as part of a loaded TCU defensive line. He knows that his production won’t be enough to impress NFL teams and is hoping to use his upcoming pro day to garner more attention from scouts south of the border. If he’s unable to secure an opportunity in the NFL, he will welcome the chance to play professionally in Canada with open arms.

“My goal is definitely the NFL. This last season didn’t go the way I wanted it to playing-wise. I didn’t put the numbers out there I was hoping to see so I guess that changed things as to where I would end up landing, but I still have goals of making it to the NFL,” said Uguak.

“With the CFL, I don’t want to knock down any opportunities. God has a plan for what he wants me to do and I feel like once I really show what I can do come next season, wherever it is, I feel like I can show that I can play high-level football. Wherever it takes me is where we’ll end up.”

Uguak placed eighth on the CFL’s most recent scouting bureau rankings, though he could easily be selected higher than that in the upcoming draft. He appeared in the top three selections of my first mock draft and is one of eight prospects that could realistically be selected first overall by the Ottawa Redblacks according to 3DownNation.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.