CHICAGO — Eagles teammates Nnamdi Asomugha and Jason Avant are two of the more charitable players in the NFL, and they decided to join forces on this front.
Asomugha brought his 2012 ACTS (Asomugha College Tour for Scholars) Program to Chicago, a few miles from where Avant grew up and where his mother still lives, to join staff and students from the Walsh Elementary School in a service project to help build an outdoor classroom where students will grow crops and sell them at local farmer’s markets and donate the money to local charities, learning about agriculture, business and philanthropy all at once.
“These students are coming from some of the roughest neighborhoods, from some tough economic situations,” Asomugha said. “But they want to learn. They want to be encouraged, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Asomugha and Avant joined up, helping the ACTS students set up the garden beds for the Walsh students. The project was hastily thrown together, all in the past two weeks, but it went off without a hitch. The college tour also hit several local colleges — Northwestern, University of Chicago, DePaul and Notre Dame, among others — before Saturday’s service project to give Asomugha’s group of students a taste of college life before they hopefully get to go themselves one day.
Although it came together quickly, adjusting on the fly is nothing new for the Eagles players, who were part of the team’s whirlwind offseason after the lockout last season and disappointing 8-8 finish. It was even more shocking to the system for Asomugha, who came over from Oakland as the team’s highest-profile free agent, nonetheless struggling at times as the team was thrown into the mix.
Asomugha was asked to play a lot of coverages and take on roles he never had before. He admits that he felt overwhelmed at times to catch up and learn all the new techniques he was asked to play.
“It was good growth for me,” Asomugha said in a brief break from the charity work. “A lot of teams do one thing, coverage-wise, they get stuck in that, play it for their entire careers and (are) content with that. I love the growth from last year. I did things that I hadn’t seen myself doing, playing all those positions with no time to learn them, except in the fire.”
Asomugha said he has been happy for a more normally paced offseason, where he can fully digest the defense and get acclimated with whatever his role will be this season. He says he has heard — new CBA rules prohibit coaches and players talking business at this point of the offseason — that embattled defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is “getting after it” and that “he’s ready to go.”
In regard to rumors that CB Asante Samuel could be traded, Asomugha wasn’t biting.
“I can’t comment on that, I really have no idea,” he said. “We’ll be a good defense next year, either way.”
Avant said he’s back to normal in his offseason routine, but he has added an interesting wrinkle: He has been working on power weight training with former Eagles OT Tra Thomas, who is a trainer now, since March 1. The different regimen has helped improve his lower-body power, Avant said, which can add explosion to his get-off.
“We’ve had guys come and try it and they don’t come back,” said Avant, whose reception totals have improved each of the past five seasons. “It’s that hard.”
Avant agrees with Asomugha when he says that his teammates look hungry. They have seen each other at the team facility for the days that are appointed for workouts and they’ve seen a focused group. No talk of 8-8 or Dream Teams or any of that.
Avant also thinks that there will be fewer distractions a year removed from the craziness and without things such as DeSean Jackson and his lingering contract situation having an effect. Avant said he could understand how not having a contract extension completed previously could affect Jackson and his play last season.
“I was so glad DeSean got his deal done,” Avant said. “It’s less of a distraction to the team and to him. You can put contracts and egos and everything else to the side now.”
What Asomugha and Avant are not putting aside is their charity. Both players give back to the community in the offseason, and they’ll continue to do so — even after it’s time to get back to the field. They both are excited to get back and put the bad memories of last season behind them.
“If you look at the end of the season, we were a top-10 defense in a lot of (categories),” Asomugha said, noting he’s excited about the addition of MLB DeMeco Ryans. “I think the growth was there. The end of the season was a lot better than the beginning, and I think good things lie ahead. I really do.”