Melvin Keihn (PRONOUNCED CANE) will tell his mom, Satta, he loves her and has missed her.
After that — the moment Saturday when they’re reunited in Liberia for the first time in 14 years — the Maryland defensive end isn’t sure what will happen.
Keihn thinks she’ll cry. He might, too.
After all, Satta doesn’t know her son, who she pushed to leave Liberia at 8 years old to escape the war-torn conditions, is planning a surprise return.
But throughout his 10-day trip, when he plans to visit relatives, see childhood sites and spend every moment possible with his mother, Keihn knows he’ll make one point clear.
“It’s definitely not going to take that long now that I’m older,” Keihn said. “I’m not going to let it take that long to see her again.”
Keihn’s dad, Bainda, will drive him to Dulles International Airport on Thursday, and camera crews from ESPN and Big Ten Network will document his journey to where he lived until he was 8, where he spent three years in hiding with his stepmom before joining his dad who sought political asylum in America. And where Satta has remained since her son’s departure.
Keihn will land in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city, on Friday, checking into a hotel and taking a seven-question statistics quiz as one of the final assignments in his summer course.
On Saturday morning, his uncle will drive him about 45 miles to Kakata to see his mother. Relatives have told Satta to expect a delivery from Keihn to ensure she’s not on her farm, where she spends most of her time, especially during the current rainy season.
Keihn envisions her on the porch, “just chilling.”
“Then we’re going to drive up,” he said, “and kapow! I am the package.”
The two will return to Keihn’s hotel that night and travel between Monrovia and Kakata for the remainder of the trip.
They don’t have definite plans, but he wants to see his childhood home and where he hid with his stepmom. “I don’t know why I want to see that,” Keihn said, “but I just do.”
He’ll spend time with his older brother, two older sisters and their kids. Bainda is trying to arrange for him to talk with a group of native children with the message, “it’s never too late to do what you want.”
Keihn’s also curious about a piece of land his mother might own. His uncle isn’t sure about the property rights, but Keihn has aspirations to invest in a house for her after he graduates from Maryland this school year and finishes his eligibility after the 2018 season.
“It’s going to be emotional,” Bainda said. “She’s not going to be able to recognize Melvin. He was 8 years old when he came here 14 years ago, and now he’s going back a man.”
During downtime, Keihn is excited to show Satta his football highlight reel coaches loaded onto his iPad and teach her about the sport that has helped create the foundation for his return.
In practice last August, the former Gilman star became frustrated while working to earn a spot in the defensive rotation after redshirting the previous year as a transfer from Virginia Tech.
Coach DJ Durkin approached him and learned about Keihn’s longing to visit his mother. The coach made him a promise: they’d revisit the idea after the season and find a way to send Keihn to Liberia.
After making 24 tackles in 10 games last year and working through this season’s spring practices, Keihn consulted with strength coach Rick Court about the summer workout schedule and Durkin helped book flights via the NCAA’s Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund.
“Melvin hasn’t topped smiling since he found out he was getting the chance to go back to Liberia to see his mom,” Durkin said. “We know how much family means to him and not seeing his mom in so long has been weighing on him. I couldn’t be more thrilled that he’s getting this opportunity.”
When the trip was approved in mid-May, Keihn was “jumping for joy.”
He got three shots and a prescription for Malaria pills, endured a hectic process to secure his passport — he received it last week after a name misspelling and multiple trips to the agency in Washington — and paid $75 for an expedited visa because of the delay.
But just before going to retrieve it from the Embassy of Liberia on Monday afternoon, Keihn thought about what he would bring for his family.
He’s stocking up on Tylenol, Motrin, Advil and cold medicines because his dad warned him about Liberia’s poor healthcare conditions.
And for his mom, he’s bringing a Maryland jersey, a newspaper feature about his experience in America and a necklace similar to the silver dog tag engraved with her picture that he wears.
Keihn bought her a locket, putting her picture on one side and his on the other. That’s the closest thing they have to being in the same image — until this weekend.