Following his sack against Syracuse last week, an impassioned Antonio “Tony” Balabani pumped his right arm in celebration.
On the bicep of that arm is a tattoo featuring a double-headed eagle, a symbol of his Albanian ethnic heritage.
“It’s really a motivation every time I look at it,” he said. “It’s more than just a couple colors and shapes on the arm.”
Balabani is a native of Kosovo and a fifth-year senior defensive end at Western Michigan University. It has been two decades since he and his family fled their homeland, which was then in the midst of the Kosovo War.
The conflict between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (now Serbia and Montenegro) and the Kosovo Liberation Army raged for 16 months. The KLA were rebels made up mostly of Kosovo Albanians, or Kosovars, the largest ethnic group in the nation.
Nearly 9,000 Kosovars were killed or are missing from the conflict, many as a result of ethnic cleansing.
Balabani identifies as a Kosovar. He wants his tattoo to be a beacon, a sign for others.