Nana Amankwah-Ayeh. A complicated name for a such a humble, simple man.
The senior running back began his career as a walk-on at Lehigh University but has since become an essential part of the program through both his leadership and skills.
“Being a walk-on, people don’t expect too much from you coming out of high school,” Amankwah-Ayeh said. “There are a lot of scholarship guys who are very deserving of a scholarship and will get a lot of attention early on.”
After the fall of his freshman year, Amankwah-Ayeh began to make a name for himself.
Lehigh football coach Andy Coen knew Amankwah-Ayeh would be a great fit for his program. Since his junior year of high school, Coen had his eye on Amankwah-Ayeh. However, when Coen went with another running back in Amankwah-Ayeh’s class, Amankwah-Ayeh had to apply to Lehigh as a regular student.
“Spring practice was really when we noticed how well he was doing and started to think this guy could be in our plans, and it’s been that way ever since,” Coen said. “It’s been our goal every year to have an opportunity to get into the playoffs. We’ve been able to accomplish that the past few years, and Amankwah-Ayeh has been a big part of that.”
While Amankwah-Ayeh has made a significant impact on the field throughout the past few years, his leadership and character outweigh the touchdowns he has scored.
Junior defensive back Nick Thevanayagam said Amankwah-Ayeh is one of the most genuine people he has ever met and that he leads by example.
“The first and most important thing to me is my faith and I think a lot of the values that I get from being a Christian allow me to treat people with respect and dignity, which are important to me,”
— Nana Amankwah-Ayeh
“If someone doesn’t understand something, then he explains it. He is very knowledgable of the game of football and is like a coach in that aspect. Sometimes the coaches joke around, Oh coach Amankwah-Ayeh can you explain this,” Thevanayagam said. “He is very good at helping other people and just a great teammate in general.”
But his amicable personality goes beyond the field.
Amankwah-Ayeh attended Thanksgiving dinner at Thevanayagam’s home in Cinnaminson, New Jersey. Almost immediately, Amankwah-Ayeh became a part of the family. Ever since, Amankwah-Ayeh has texted Thevanayagam’s mom once a week asking how she is and how her day was.
“(Amankwah-Ayeh) is someone you just gravitate to, he is just such a vibrant, happy person,” Thevanayagam said. “You don’t really see these qualities in people my age.”
Amankwah-Ayeh attributes these “characteristics” to his dad.
“Me and my dad are best friends,” Amankwah-Ayeh said. “He is the hardest worker I know. He grew up with meager beginnings and ensured that I wouldn’t have to go through the same and is very commendable from that standpoint.”
He isn’t wrong.
Amankwah-Ayeh is a first generation college student. His parents are originally from Ghana and did everything they could to provide a better life for their children. Moving to the United States assured that.
Amankwah-Ayeh’s dad earned his undergraduate degree in England. He came to the U.S in the mid-90s to get his doctorate and now works for the World Bank. Amankwah-Ayeh was born shortly after.
Amankwah-Ayeh remembers when his dad used to come home from work, he would bring back different case studies and books and have Amankwah-Ayeh read them. This keened his interest in both finance and politics.
“I think it is my duty as a citizen to be informed as much as I can be,” Amankwah-Ayeh said. “I think politics are really cool and a lot can be learned from them.”
Thevanayagam could not agree more.
While they both tend to disagree on the same things, Amankwah-Ayeh is passionate about what he is talking about and educated on issues.
“In our international relations class, he raises his hands every two minutes because he is so knowledgeable about everything,” Thevanayagam said. “He really cares about what is going on in the country.”
This is something Amankwah-Ayeh learned from his dad.
“I am very happy that he is my dad. He has instilled in me a lot of fight, belief in myself, grit and confidence,” Amankwah-Ayeh said. “He has shaped who I am as a man.”
A lot of this grit came from his parents divorce.
“My parents divorced when I was 7 years old and it was the hardest thing I have ever gone through,” Amankwah-Ayeh said. “I was able to get through that and it helped me establish my emotional fortitude and be able to preserve through a lot more.”
The divorce shattered Amankwah-Ayeh’s life. He said he believed it was his fault many times and that he blamed himself for it. He said that looking back on this part of his life, he is not happy that his family went through it, but there is a good reason as to why they did.
Through this hardship, Amankwah-Ayeh’s parents still managed to raise him through a set of similar principles.
His parents instilled in him a different set of values than most American children have growing up. This gave Amankwah-Ayeh a different perspective on culture and in life, allowing him to handle situations in different ways.
“I think the biggest thing is that it helps me treat people differently based off of the values I was brought up with,” he said.
A big part of Amankwah-Ayeh’s values are based in his faith.
“The first and most important thing to me is my faith and I think a lot of the values that I get from being a Christian allow me to treat people with respect and dignity, which are important to me,” Amankwah-Ayeh said.
He said he believes that a lot of people are not very loving of their neighbor in today’s world and one of the biggest things he has learned from being a Christian is the importance of love in all situations.
“I do my best never to judge anyone from the decisions that they make or the actions that they take so I think I have a pretty open mind because of that.” Amankwah-Ayeh said.
Coen thinks that despite his presence on the field, Amankwah-Ayeh is most recognized for his guidance.
“He is a great teammate, that is one of the main things we talk about with the coaching staff,” Coen said. “He is the type of guy you can count on, that’s Nana.”