Maybe the best $2.6 million a rookie ever spent

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by Jim Litke
AP Sports Columnist

(AP)—The calls that every agent with a kid in the draft dreads most are about money.

“The first call is always about taxes,” longtime NFL agent Ralph Cindrich said a while back. “So few of these guys have had after-school jobs that they see their first paycheck and demand to know where the rest of the money went.”

That won’t be a problem with Ndamukong Suh.

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NDAMUKONG SUH

It’s not just that the projected top-three pick come April 22 is smart and sophisticated, qualities that Suh displayed again during an appearance last week on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” Smart enough, anyway, that he’s lined up his first charitable donation even before he’s seen a single paycheck.

At a time when most guys in his position would be out pricing a Bentley, the 23-year-old defensive tackle just pledged $2.6 million to his alma mater. It was the largest single gift ever by a Nebraska football player, among the largest-known contributions ever by an active pro athlete to his alma mater, and unprecedented for someone who hasn’t yet signed a contract.

“I didn’t feel like I had to, but I definitely wanted to give back to the university that gave me so much,” Suh said when the donation was announced, just before Nebraska’s Red-White spring game kicked off.

Pro athletes donate plenty to charities, but for reasons that university fundraising officers don’t completely understand, they give only so much to old State U.

There are exceptions, to be sure: Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony recently gave $3 million to fund construction of a basketball facility at Syracuse; and Steve Smith, who collected a few sportsmanship and citizenship awards during 15 seasons in the NBA, donated $2.5 million to help build a student-athlete center on the Michigan State campus that bears his mother’s name.

Veteran agents like Cindrich and Nashville, Tenn.-based Brian Parker routinely encourage clients to donate, as much to build relationships in the communities where they work or live as to take advantage of potential tax breaks. Even so, Parker was heartened to see a draft pick who’s that far out in front of the process.

“It’s encouraging for a lot of reasons,” he said, “but it’s definitely not the norm. The best way to sell a player to a general manager is to be able to say he’s got it all—height, weight, speed, character, consistency and smarts. Everything I’ve read about Suh suggests he’s one of those.”

The job of selling Suh belongs to agent Roosevelt Barnes, and it’s likely to be an easy one. The most recent comparable example was LSU defender Tyson Jackson, who went to Kansas City with the third overall pick in 2009 and has a six-year deal with $31 million guaranteed. And keep in mind that Jackson wasn’t nearly as decorated as Suh—a Heisman finalist and winner of the Outland, Bednarik, Nagurski and Associated Press Player of the Year awards last season.

Then again, predicting any player’s future is always risky, even for someone like Suh, who came into the NFL scouting combine at 6-7 and 305 pounds and not only did every drill—something top picks often avoid—but nailed each one. He bench-pressed 225 pounds 32 times, ran 40 yards in 4.98 seconds and soared 35-1/2 inches in the vertical jump, the best for any defensive tackle since 2000.

Yet scouts find his backstory just as compelling. It’s one reason why he’s been trailed by a camera crew for an NFL Network documentary the past few weeks. His mother, Bernadette, is a schoolteacher from Jamaica who required her son to post a 3.0 grade-point average before he could play football. His father, Michael, was born in Cameroon and became a mechanical engineer after moving to Portland.

Suh graduated from Nebraska with a degree in construction management from the College of Engineering, to which $600,000 of his total pledge will go to endow a scholarship. The other $2 million will fund a renovation of the Cornhuskers’ strength and conditioning center, where Suh put in long hours.

“He was one of the strongest guys I’ve ever seen on the field,” Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini told ESPN.com recently. He has great explosion, and despite all that, he moves like a basketball player. He’s really smooth.”

And if nothing else, Suh’s donation should see to it that he won’t be the last guy from Nebraska to fit the description.

(Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.)

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