From unknown to underdog: Qwan’tez Stiggers’ storybook rise as an NFL Draft prospect

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Qwan’tez Stiggers sat alone in a dark hotel room, a thousand miles from anything familiar. He drew the curtains tight to block out the world so he could focus on the avalanche in his head.

It was spring 2023, and two weeks earlier, he’d left his fiancee and family in Atlanta and flown to Canada for an opportunity he never saw coming — the one where he was going to get it all back.

Stiggers’ mind fixated on the clock and the telephone. The former kept ticking. The latter stayed silent. He missed home. He worried this entire thing was foolish. “You don’t get do-overs in life,” he thought. Sometimes, it’s just too late.

“They forgot about me,” Stiggers told himself. “Again.”

The football world did forget about Stiggers. It also rediscovered him — but not before he rediscovered himself. Now, with Stiggers on the edge of a potential spot in the 2024 NFL Draft, his story reads like a major motion picture with all the bells and whistles.

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In that room, though, it was just dark.

The call Stiggers was waiting on was from the Toronto Argonauts. When Toronto’s coaches got their 2023 camp tryout roster, they asked one another why the kid from Georgia had no college next to his name. They’d soon learn their new DB did receive a football scholarship out of high school, but he walked away from it, crushed beneath the weight of depression and tragedy.

When Stiggers got to camp, he figured he’d be the first guy cut. He’d made two friends in practice, both of whom had played in the NFL; neither made the team. Stiggers was done waiting. He put the lights on, grabbed some shoes and headed to the coaches’ room.

“What’re you doing here?” a puzzled coach asked when he arrived.

“What’s going on?” an annoyed Stiggers replied. “Nobody called me.”

The last three years of his life had been a whirlwind. He’d gone from a heartbroken college dropout driving for DoorDash and washing trucks to the edge of professional football in the blink of an eye, all without ever having played a snap in college. Before he got on the plane to Canada for his tryout with the Argonauts, Stiggers told his boss at the truck wash to clock him out, figuring he’d need another shift upon return. The GM of the team had first reached out to him via Instagram.

This couldn’t be real. They’d forgotten about him. Just like everybody else.

Except …

“We don’t call you,” the coach replied, “if you’ve made the active roster.”

Every player’s path to the draft is unique, special and unforgettable. But for Qwan’tez Stiggers, the kid who went pro straight from high school (sort of), the journey — at least the part he’s in now — is an actual fairy tale.


Kwanna Stiggers lost track of how many times she’d forged her son’s name on a sign-up sheet. At least a dozen. In late 2021, with the world starting to reopen post-pandemic, Kwanna spent hours online searching for anything football-related in the Atlanta area that could be attended in person.

She didn’t care what it was — a camp, clinic, workout group, pickup game, fantasy league …

If it had football in the name, she signed up Qwan’tez. “Whether he wanted to or not,” she recalls in that stern, caring tone of love and courage — the one reserved for mothers and their sons.

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Qwan’tez Stiggers first fell in love with football at age 8. He and his older brother, Qwantayvious, played pee-wee ball for the Georgia Rattlers. Younger brother followed older brother to The B.E.S.T. Academy, a small, all-boys public middle and high school in northwest Atlanta.

By Qwan’tez’s sophomore year, he was 5 feet 5. His only full-time role was as the kicker, one fast enough to chase down returners. He grew 4 inches ahead of his junior year and moved to defensive back. By his senior season, he was nearly 6 feet tall and starting to thrive on the field.

Stiggers played for a tiny high school, limiting exposure, and caught a super late growth spurt, limiting it further. He still managed to garner attention from some small schools in the region, landing on Division II Lane College in Tennessee ahead of the 2020 season.

Then, just before the world stopped in February 2020, Stiggers’ father, Rayves Harrison, was involved in a car accident that left him in a coma. Even as Stiggers headed to school in the fall, his father’s condition hadn’t improved. During a visit home in September, Stiggers was with his girlfriend (now fiancee), Cheyenne McClain, when Kwanna called with the message they’d all feared. Rayves, to whom Quan’tez referred as his biggest fan, had died.

Football no longer mattered. Nothing really mattered. By the end of that weekend, Stiggers had decided to quit school and stay home to help his family.

At least, that’s what he wanted to do.

In reality, he couldn’t do anything.

“I couldn’t focus,” he says. “It was like a period of time where I’d try to do something — anything — and then a picture of my dad would just pop up in my head. Didn’t matter what it was. And it would just shut me right down.”

He began to drift. Stiggers worked for DoorDash and InstaCart before landing at a Blue Beacon truck wash near home. His depression deepened. There were times when he tried to play football again; he even reached out to schools, trainers, coaches — anyone he’d known from when he was recruited. No one had time.

When it came to his place in the football world, Stiggers felt like a pebble at the bottom of the ocean. Anxiety, fear and grief had left him in a perpetual state of feeling stuck.

Kwanna continued her search for anything that might reignite the smile football gave her son, serving as one half of a rock for Qwan’tez that never budged. Cheyenne formed the other half. Sadly, she understood everything Qwan’tez was going through.

In October 2019, Cheyenne’s sister, Jessica Daniels, was murdered. After waking to the sound of gunshots outside her southwest Atlanta home, Jessica got out of bed to get on the ground and was fatally shot by a stray bullet. She was 18. Cheyenne’s world collapsed. PTSD, anxiety and waves of depression left her numb, a feeling that was still there the morning Kwanna called Qwan’tez to tell him his father had died.

Depression can be like a deep hole with steep sides and no ladder. Sometimes, the only way out comes when someone else falls in. When Cheyenne saw that familiar pain begin to take over the person she loved, she started climbing.

Motivated to help Qwan’tez battle the same type of grief she was still trying to process, Cheyenne began working with Kwanna to support him and help him find joy again. Which, for Qwan’tez, meant restarting his football career.

Cheyenne told him to be brave and bold. “Never give up,” she’d say over and over when the idea became too difficult. They’d sit in the car every night and talk for hours — about his dad, about her sister, about their futures. In losing herself in the quest to help someone she cared about, Cheyenne began healing from her own loss.

Qwan’tez says he’s like the male version of Cheyenne, and she the female version of him. Together they just fit. They’ve known each other forever. Everything she likes, he likes. His passions are her passions. He loves her, and she loves him. Unconditionally.

How’d she manage to find the strength to pick herself up, almost in a blink, so she could help pick up Qwan’tez? She just did. Her person needed her. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

“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 stopped, and Qwan’tez became inspired again. He kept lifting and running. He called anyone he knew who might be able to help him train. If he couldn’t find anyone, he did it himself. One foot in front of the other, one day at a time.

Then, after more than a dozen failed sign-ups, Kwanna finally found a winner while scrolling through Facebook: Fan Controlled Football (FCF), an indoor, semi-pro, seven-on-seven football league housed in Atlanta. It completed its debut season in 2021, and as the 2022 season approached, Qwan’tez Stiggers was back in playing shape.


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

FCF was a long way from the NCAA or NFL, but it was football. And every time Stiggers buttoned his chinstrap, he felt like he could breathe again. There was no pressure, just a chance to play again. He made a team immediately and, as the youngest player in the league, returned a pick six in his first game. Quickly, he earned a rep as one of the FCF’s top defenders.

One of the coaches involved with Fan Controlled Football in 2022 was longtime college and pro coach John Jenkins, who spent a large chunk of his five-decade career in the Canadian Football League. When Jenkins discovered Stiggers’ story, talent and age, he made a call and sent some tape to a contact in the CFL.

Then, during a shift at the truck wash, Stiggers’ phone buzzed. It was an Instagram message from Vince Magri of the Toronto Argonauts, asking him for some basic information and a contact address. Days later, a tryout contract appeared in his mailbox. Stiggers sent it to everyone he knew, trying to confirm it was real. It was.

When Qwan’tez put pen to paper, Kwanna knew two things to be true: A mother’s drive remained undefeated, and her son was smiling again.

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


There’s an old saying in football: If you’re good enough, they’ll find you.

They might take a while, but they will find you. Qwan’tez Stiggers is living proof of it. He’s said people have told him he has “the perfect story,” an actual fairy tale of someone who was lost and found again.

From a purely football sense, though, Stiggers’ story is not unlike that of a lot of kids living in large metropolitan areas. He was a good football player in high school, very good by his senior season, and talented enough to play at any college in the South. Recruiting, though, is a numbers game in more ways than one, and time does not wait for talent. It sounds illogical, but it’s true.

If you play at a school the size of a needle in a football-crazed state the size of a haystack, your odds of getting lost increase. The churn of big-time football is grueling, and it forgets about people all the time.

Then again, cornerbacks who’ve never played a snap of college football don’t usually show up at a CFL training camp — at age 20 — and pick off four passes in the first two days. Stiggers did. He moved from third-string to the starting lineup after a teammate suffered an injury in the first preseason game.

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

A natural defensive back with fluid hips, burst in his lower half and terrific ball skills, Stiggers plays with confidence and patience in man coverage, and he’s big enough at 5-11 and 203 pounds to hit and instinctive enough to play multiple positions in a secondary. Argonauts coaches went from thinking this whole thing was some kind of joke to trusting the youngster as their top player on the back end.

Stiggers played 16 games with the Argonauts last season, making 53 tackles and five interceptions, earning the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie award. The whirlwind ride led Stiggers to the door of agent Fred Lyles, who found the prospect through contacts with the Argonauts.

Lyles, who now operates NZone Sports Management, has repped several talented corners over the years, players such as A.J. Bouye and Chris Harris Jr.

“This kid,” Lyles says, “is as good as they were.”

Lyles burned up the phones over the winter trying to get Stiggers more attention, which eventually led to an invite to the East-West Shrine Bowl. Stiggers spent a week in Dallas working out in front of the entire NFL, more than holding his own. By the time the game ended, he’d heard from all 32 teams.

As of last week, Stiggers had seven formal pre-draft visits scheduled. He’s hoping to add more after his pro day at B.E.S.T. Academy on March 15, one that, again, will be attended by a gaggle of NFL scouts eager to learn the story of the kid who somehow skipped college football.

He and his family, which now includes a son, Legend, can’t wait to tell it to them.

When Stiggers called Cheyenne and told her he’d made the Argonauts, “I cried,” Cheyenne says. “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.”

Stiggers’ return to competitive football brought him structure when he needed it. He has a hard time putting his excitement about everything that’s happened over the past two years into words, as he’s still in it.

Life is still hard without his father — football and so many other things remind him of times spent with his dad. He’s still grieving that loss. He always will be. Only now, when the waves of sadness come, they serve as motivation to set a strong example for Legend, to make sure he cherishes every day spent with him and Cheyenne.

Stiggers is excited about his draft prospects and hopeful to hear his name called this spring, perhaps earlier than some of the players who received an NFL combine invite over him. Mostly, though, he’s just hopeful.

In some ways, he has football to thank for that. But in more ways, the thank-yous are reserved for the loved ones who continued to push him toward his destiny, even when it felt lost forever. It turns out, life does offer do-overs to those who work for them. There are ways out of that deep hole.

And so long as you have people around you who are willing to help you up, hope can be everlasting.

“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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