Originally Posted by USA Today
Gado-send: Packers rookie keeps ground game afloat
By Todd McMahon, The Associated Press
GREEN BAY, Wis. — From where he hails, thousands of miles and seven time zones removed from the NFL's smallest market, there's meaning behind Nigerian-born Samkon Gado. His first name translates into "truth." His last name translates into "inheritance."
Samkon Gado rumbled to a 171-yard performance vs. the Lions on Sunday. Samkon Gado rumbled to a 171-yard performance vs. the Lions on Sunday.
By Mike Roemer, AP
The truth is Gado (SAM-kohn GAH-doh) was an afterthought when the Packers signed the rookie running back to their practice squad Oct. 17. He was a warm body they could throw into the scout-team mix in practice and leave it at that.
A not-so-funny thing happened to the team's running backs within two weeks of Gado's arrival, however.
The Packers, who had lost top backup Najeh Davenport to a season-ending broken ankle earlier in the month, watched four-time Pro Bowler Ahman Green succumb in an Oct. 23 loss at Minnesota to a torn quadriceps tendon that ended his year. They then discovered that Tony Fisher suffered a broken rib after the third-down specialist made an emergency start in an Oct. 30 defeat at Cincinnati.
Gado had been promoted to the 53-man roster in time for the latter game, one of four running backs active. By the following Sunday, Nov. 6 at home against Pittsburgh, Gado found himself No. 2 on the depth chart. That designation didn't last long, either.
Fill-in starter ReShard Lee fumbled away the ball on his second carry of the game and was banished to the sideline. In stepped Gado, and what an inheritance it's been for the Packers the past six weeks.
"It's something we haven't had happen here, that I can remember," quarterback Brett Favre says.
Gado has given Packers backers at least something to get excited about. He rushed for 100 yards in three of his first four starts and was named NFC Offensive Rookie of the Month for November. On Sunday, he had a rookie franchise record 171 yards, including a 64-yard TD run, in a 16-13 win against the Lions.
All the while, he's rubbed off on teammates, coaches and fans with a sincere, amiable demeanor packed with humility. Afters his TD run Sunday, Gado was too tired to do the famous Lambeau Leap — "That was more like a Lambeau Skip," he said — but fans helped pull him into the stands.
"As far as the league is concerned, it doesn't happen too often," Favre says about Gado's rise. "He's played well. He's a bright guy. And, he's picked (the offense) up. More than anything, he's here because he's talented."
The Packers' promising early-season find could be the medical profession's loss.
Gado aspires to be a doctor and wants to do so in Africa, to be of help to the underserved people of his native land.
"Hopefully, when it's all said and done, that's what I'll be doing. But, right now, football is for me," Gado says with a smile.
He's had to put off plans to start medical school. The Chiefs signed the former backup from Liberty University as an undrafted free agent in May. Gado started only two games at the Division I-AA school in Virginia.
The Chiefs re-signed Gado to their practice squad after cutting him late in the preseason. They kept him around for the first month of the season before releasing him again.
"After I got cut (the second time), I thought that was it (for playing football). I didn't think any other team would be interested," recalls Gado, who subsequently turned his attention toward applying for medical school.
The Packers brought Gado in for a workout Oct. 17. The personnel officials and coaches were won over by a 40-yard dash time of 4.43 seconds and signed Gado on the spot.
At 5-10, 226 pounds, Gado brings quickness and power. He averaged 7.2 and 6.5 yards per carry his last two years at Liberty.
In his brief time with the Packers, Gado has proved a dependable workhorse, befitting the nickname "Sammy the Bull," bestowed on him by coach Mike Sherman.
He's also invited comparisons to the "Nigerian Nightmare," former Chiefs standout running back Christian Okoye, whose No. 35 Gado wears. Okoye recently called his countryman to congratulate him.
"He's young and, knock on wood, he appears to be durable," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley says.
Gado's performance in a Dec. 4 loss at Chicago drew praise from Rossley and Sherman. Gado had 75 yards in 20 carries against the Bears' top-rated defense, doing so by reading his blocks better and hitting holes with more authority. Gado was sure-handed, not putting the ball on the ground after he had four fumbles in the three previous games.
"Things are slowing down (for him), and he's speeding up," Rossley says.
Sherman, though, stopped short of saying Gado is ready to take off as the team's featured back of the future, possibly as early as next year. Green, Davenport and Fisher will be free agents after this season.
"To be a running back in the National Football League, it's week after week after week," says Sherman, touching on the consistency aspect. "(But) his durability has proven to be a plus for him. He doesn't get beat up necessarily and doesn't ask out of practices. Physically, he takes a pounding, and we've given him his fair share of carries."
Gado, who's signed through 2006, won't allow himself to get worked up over potentially retaining the role beyond this season. Still, he doesn't deny it's something he covets.
"Who wouldn't?" Gado says. "But, it's not my decision to make. Coaches and management have to make that decision. ... I'm more concerned about getting better this year. I really believe that shouldn't be my focus, and if it becomes my focus, my production will definitely go downhill."
Gado's straightforward perspective is derived from an upbringing grounded in strong family and faith. His father, Jeremiah, left Nigeria in 1990 to study at bible college Columbia (S.C.) International. His family, including 9-year-old Samkon, followed him to the U.S. a year later.
Samkon, the only boy among five children for Jeremiah and wife Grace, followed in his dad's footsteps and played soccer the first few years in America. He was introduced to football in eighth grade and was instantly hooked.
Gado, whose six rushing touchdowns surpasses the single-season high for a Packers rookie, has only one regret amid the improbable splash he's made. His father won't be able to see him play. Jeremiah returned to Africa to do missionary work and visit family only a couple of days before Samkon signed with the Packers. He won't return until mid-January.
"He's doing what God decided to call him to do, and I can't ask any more of that," Samkon says.
He shouldn't expect to see Samkon making house calls, though he has made contact with a Green Bay hospital about gaining some on-the-job training during the offseason.
"Obviously, this changes everything," Gado says. "But, I want to see if there's a way that I can pursue both. I can't do med school right now, but it doesn't necessarily mean that I have to stay away from the medical arena."
For now, he's been more than what the Packers ordered.