Gado emerges as unlikely star for Packers

OWINGS MILLS -- Samkon Gado was virtually anonymous, a nobody from nowhere. Now, the Green Bay Packers' rookie is one of the most refreshing stories and promising young running backs in the NFL. If the Nigerian immigrant was a boxer, outspoken promoter Don King would bellow, "Only in America."

How Gado who rarely started for Division I-AA Liberty University -- the school founded by fundamentalist Christian leader Jerry Falwell -- emerged as a rising star in the land of Vince Lombardi is beyond improbable.

First, Pro Bowl running back Ahman Green ruptured his quadriceps tendon. Then, Najeh Davenport broke his ankle. Tony Fisher fractured his rib. And ReShard Lee fumbled on his very first carry.

Four running backs go down or falter, and, all of a sudden, Gado is the Packers' featured running back heading into Monday night's game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.

"If Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport hadn't gotten down, you would not be hearing about me," said Gado, who was signed to the Packers' practice squad Oct. 17, promoted to the active roster Oct. 29 and became the top running back one play into a Nov. 6 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. "When you think about it in the grand scheme of things, it is really a lot to take in. I really believe God is ordering my steps here."

Gado celebrated his 23rd birthday by rushing for 103 yards and scoring three touchdowns in his first NFL start in a win over the Atlanta Falcons.

He topped that performance in the Packers' overtime victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday night by rushing for a Packers rookie record 171 yards on 29 carries.

With 537 rushing yards in seven games, Gado has established a pace that would have netted him 1,227 yards over a 16-game season.

An undrafted free agent, Gado has outperformed Chicago Bears first-round pick Cedric Benson (237 yards) and ranks third among all rookie running backs behind Tampa Bay's Cadillac Williams (924 yards) and Miami's Ronnie Brown (841 yards).

No rookie has more rushing touchdowns than Gado's six.

"A lot of players find themselves in circumstances for a lot of reasons," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "The wrong place at the wrong time, not really having an opportunity, then, all of a sudden, you get that opportunity and you show that your abilities were more than people thought. They're great stories."

Gado's first name means "truth," in Tangale, one of the hundreds of languages spoken in his native land of Nigeria. His last name means, "inheritance."

He wears No. 35 to honor fellow countryman and former Kansas City Chiefs running back Christian Okoye.

The Gado family moved from Kufai, Nigeria to Wheaton, Ill, when he was six months old, moving back to Nigeria and then back to the United States and settling in Columbia, S.C. when he was nine years old.

Initially, his parents only allowed him to play soccer because they were afraid he would get hurt. But Gado was always drawn to football.

Gado started only two games in four years at Liberty and was supposed to redshirt as a senior until injuries to Dre Barnes and Eugene Goodman forced him onto the field. He wound up rushing for 901 yards and 11 touchdowns in nine games, but only worked out for one team – the New England Patriots – and his name wasn't called during the NFL draft.

"It scares me to death, it really does," said Gado, who plans to eventually attend medical school and work as a medical missionary when he's done playing football. "I don't want my circumstance to dictate who I am. I want to be the same person I was before I came here.

"I believe it's in every person's nature, particularly men, to be overcome with pride. If one is not careful, you could really get carried away."

It appears there's little chance of Gado getting cocky. Especially not with his strong family roots and humble beginnings.

The Packers acted on a hunch, and it has paid major dividends. Gado is the first Packers rookie with multiple 100-yard games since John Brockington in 1971.

"I wouldn't necessarily say that he is a proven NFL back yet," Packers coach Mike Sherman said of November's NFL Rookie of the Month. "He has a long way to go to become a week-in and week-out back. He is a bright kid.

"He is eager and spends a lot of time up here in the office looking at tapes. He is a work in progress."

The soft-spoken, 5-foot-10, 226-pound rookie covers 40 yards in 4.43 seconds, and his slashing running style has made a strong impression on the Ravens.

"We players we can identify players," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "The term is, ‘Game recognize game.' He's a back with a lot of potential."

 

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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