In the second game of this young season for Georgetown football, the offense was struggling to get any momentum going against Dayton University. Junior quarterback Kyle Nolan completed just over 50 percent of his pass attempts, and the team converted only three of 14 third-down attempts. Despite all this, there was a bright spot for the Hoyas in the form of junior running back Jo’el Kimpela.
The Blue and Gray’s starting running back compiled 49 yards on nine carries for an impressive 5.4 yards per carry. This effort was enough to lead the team in rushing yards, as he has done in every game this season.
Kimpela is no stranger to success as Georgetown’s running back. He was third on the team in rushing in 2013 with three touchdowns after impressing as a freshman in 2012 by twice earning Patriot League Rookie of the Week honors. But perhaps the bigger story is that Kimpela is even playing football at all.
Jo’el Kimpela (MSB ’16) was born and raised in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As he began to grow up, though, his mother Sidione decided that it was better for them to move to the United States.
“One of the most vivid memories I remember is just my mom leaving us before she would come to America,” Kimpela said. “She was getting in the car and it was raining and I just remember crying. Her kind of leaving us behind made me felt some kind of weight and it made me really sad, but I knew she was going to a better place. She would have a future for us and she would help us get to America as well.”
Kimpela’s mother left Jo’el and his sister Nicky in the DRC waiting for their mother to get enough money and the appropriate papers to bring her children to America. Creating that opportunity for her children took considerable effort from Kimpela’s mother, who worked two jobs for a number of years, one at American Airlines and the other at a telephone company.
When Kimpela finally came to America at the age of 6, he found himself needing to adapt to a new culture and a new way to communicate, facing a difficult language barrier. The one thing that he could understand from the beginning, however, was football.
“The language was very different, communicating with people [was difficult],” Kimpela said. “But I picked up the English language, I picked up on how to learn football and I started loving it here.”
From the first time Kimpela watched football after coming to America, he knew it was something for which he had a passion. Even at a young age he did everything he could to be on the football field, begging his mother to pay the $75 fee so he could play as an elementary school student. To this day, he promises to pay his mother back for all of the money she spent to let him play football in his pre-high school days.
In high school, Kimpela took his love of football to a new level. He was a two-year letter winner and started for Euless Trinity High School in Texas during his senior season. Although he started for only one season, he made the most of that year. As a senior, Kimpela rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 26 touchdowns. For his accomplishments, Kimpela was selected to the Texas All-State team at running back at the 5A level. He also caught the eye of the Georgetown coaching staff.
“Coach [Rob] Sgarlata — he was the one who recruited me,” Kimpela said of the then-defensive coordinator, currently in his first year as head coach. “He came into my home and he spoke to my mom, and we were talking in three different languages so it was kind of fun. He had a great personality and he wanted to win and he wanted to build a family at Georgetown. And that’s kind of what my high school was like, so it felt really similar.”
Since that day in his living room, Kimpela has seen his life change drastically. Before he came to Georgetown, Kimpela was a kid in Texas using football as a way to adapt to life in a new country. Now, he is the Hoyas’ starting running back and his role in the offense is increasing. But while this may make his role on the field more complicated, the management major keeps his goals for the rest of his time at Georgetown simple.
“[I] just do the best that I can for the football team. I love all these guys and play hard for them,” Kimpela said. “And also [I want to] graduate, you know, like everyone wants to do here.”