Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye (left) greets Nigerian public officials during a visit to the country in 2008.
After three seasons in the NFL, Amobi Okoye is still the Texans' youngest player. For the third consecutive year, the 22-year-old will embark on a charitable trip that belies his age.
Okoye and several other NFL players will travel to Okoye's native country of Nigeria on March 12 for a 10-day mission trip. At the heart of the mission is a focus on promoting education and physical activity among Nigerian youth.
"I'm very, very excited," Okoye said. "Not only are we going this year to further our goal of building a prep school for football and also introducing American football to the continent of Africa, but we're also going to be giving out books and medical supplies and having a free medical clinic."
Okoye funds the annual trip out of his own pockets. This year, the Katy Independent School District and the Rotary Club of Katy chipped in thousands of books and school supplies that Okoye will donate to Nigerian children. Okoye also received a 40-foot container of medical equipment and supplies from The Medical Bridges Organization, a non-profit based in Houston.
The Texans' young defensive tackle will host two "Kick-Off 4 Kids" American football camps with the help of Nike Sparq. Okoye and the other NFL players will serve as instructors to at least 200 Nigerian children through the camps.
"We'll be hands-on with the community, and I take joy in that," Okoye said. "Overall, I look forward to enjoying the hot weather and just going back and viewing nature."
Okoye hopes that American football, a foreign concept to most Nigerians, will provide an alternative outlet for children who might otherwise end up as child soldiers. He also hopes to encourage academic study with his Changing Africa Through Education program, through which Okoye will award at least 20 full college scholarships this year to Nigerian student-athletes.
"I want to provide hope and opportunity for youth any way I can," Okoye wrote on his foundation's website. "I want to build support for Africa and alleviate the continent's needs."
When Okoye returns to Houston, he'll hit the ground running with preparations for his fourth NFL season. He progressed as a player in 2009, starting all 16 games for the first time in his career and setting a career-high with 38 tackles.
Chances are that Okoye will be younger than several of the Texans' rookies in 2010, so the Texans will hope that he continues to develop as a regular contributor in Frank Bush's defense.
"I went to Miami for the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl and went to Dallas for the NBA All-Star Game earlier this offseason," Okoye said. "Football-wise, I've just been doing the little stuff I need to do to repair the aches and pains and minor injuries you have in your body so you can gear it up to play a whole 'nother season. As a pro, I feel like you only need five to six weeks off after you're done with your season where you're not doing anything at all. After that, you start back working out and getting ready for what's to come."