Kugbila, who moved to the United States from Ghana at the age of 10 after his family won a visa via a lottery, has been selected by the Panthers in the fourth round of the NFL Draft.
"Everybody went crazy when the announcement came," said Kugbila, a hulking guard from Valdosta State who was watching the draft in Lawrenceville, Ga., when the Panthers called. "I just love the game of football and I'm excited to get a chance to be a Panther."
Kugbila, a 6-4, 317-pounder, knew nothing of American football growing up in Ghana on the west coast of Africa. But when his family moved to the United States in 2000 to join his mother – who had moved to Georgia three years earlier and established a career in nursing – the 10-year-old quickly fell for the game.
"It's hard to believe, but I was just a skinny guy kicking a soccer ball around," Kugbila said. "I remember watching rugby one time on TV, but not the NFL.
"When I first moved to the States in 2000, the first game I ever watched was the Super Bowl with the Ravens."
Kugbila soon started playing the game and eventually developed into a highly sought college prospect. His SAT scores prevented him from signing with a big-time program, but he managed to make a name for himself at Valdosta State.
He played tackle his first two years and moved to guard for his final two years, capping his college career with a special senior season in 2012. He was an All-American and helped the Blazers win the Division II national championship. Then, he became the first player in school history invited to the NFL Scouting Combine.
After his performance at the combine and then a strong showing at his pro day that attracted scouts from nearly 20 NFL teams, the Panthers showed significant interest in him by sending assistant offensive line coach Ray Brown down to work him out.
"He sees the potential in me and sees that I can be great," Kugbila said. "I see myself as a complete player but I still have a lot of room to grow. I love run blocking and I love pass blocking.
"I know I can be great. I can't wait to get to work."