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Sportsman

My Sportsman: Nnamdi Asomugha

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 2. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer. For more essays, click here.

The session was supposed to last less than an hour. Show up, talk to the kids, move on. That's what standout Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha expected on a Monday afternoon in 2003 when he arrived at the East Oakland (Caif.) Youth Development Center.

But after visiting with the students and touring the grounds of the nonprofit center, whose stated goal is to develop local inner-city youth into healthy self-supporting citizens and adults, Asomugha discovered that he didn't want to leave. Five years later he can still be found at the center on Monday afternoons, mentoring and tutoring.

But the lessons don't stop when Asomugha walks out of the tinted glass doors of the white-stucco building. In each of the last three years Asomugha has taken six high schoolers on cultural and educational tours to parts of the country they might not have otherwise been able to see in person.

Last year it was Atlanta. And last spring it was the New England region, where they visited Harvard, Brown, MIT, Boston University and Berklee College of Music.

"When I was in high school and at Cal, I would hear about trips that Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks would do through his foundation, where he would take kids from the neighborhood and go abroad," said Asomugha, one of the game's top defenders. "I was so impressed that I always said I wanted to do it. But with such a focus on education in my household growing up, I figured I would do college tours instead of the trips abroad."

"We spend about a week visiting schools. These kids are all 3.0 GPA students and above and are all in position to earn scholarships to universities. But being from Oakland they can be so distracted that they might never give college a chance. This way they're exposed to college life and life outside of inner-city Oakland."

Asomugha, who is as soft-spoken as he is talented, never seeks attention for his philanthropy. He would prefer to operate below the radar, although that's hard to do because of the impact he's having on young peoples' lives. If the smiles on the students' faces when the group returns home aren't gratifying enough for Asomugha, the determination in their eyes to further their education lets him know that he's doing the right thing.

"So far the kids have all ended up in colleges -- not necessarily the ones I have shown them, but the point is to get to that next level," Asomugha said. "I choose areas that I have never really seen either, and that's what gets me excited. We all have fun for our different reasons. We see the schools, visit the hot spots of the city, historic parts of the city, go to sporting events in the particular city. We do so much. It's a fun-filled week, not just seeing schools but seeing life from a different spectrum. All in all it's a very uplifting trip each year for everyone."

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