Like many young players coming into the NFL, Detroit Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah has goals he wants to accomplish, both on and off the field.
Now going into his second season, Okudah has gained a unique perspective in a relatively short time in the NFL. He knows he can make a huge impact off the field. In addition to the success he wants to accomplish on the football field, both individually and for the Lions organization, Okudah would like to be named a Walter Payton Man of the Year one day.
It's not often we hear young players have that goal in mind so early in their career.
Okudah, the No. 3 overall pick in last year's NFL Draft, has stayed in Detroit this offseason to rehab from the core muscle surgery he had in mid-December. While here rehabbing, he's started to find his voice in the community with some of the charitable work he's become involved with.
"I know that growing up seeing an athlete come talk to me, the athlete never probably realized it, but it did so much to inspire me and push me and gave me extra motivation," Okudah told detroitlions.com.
"So I figure the more people I can see and really interact and get to know them, that's just more inspiration. People have all the trials and tribulations right now. With COVID going on it's even tougher. Giving kids the extra motivation, especially in the Detroit area, there's no telling how many lives you can touch. Hopefully, they then pay that forward and touch other lives."
View photos of the Detroit Lions coaching staffing visiting Ford Field together for the first time March 10, 2021.
Okudah recently donated more than $20K worth of headphones to Jackson Middle School in Grand Prairie, Texas, and he also sent a second shipment of headphones to Kids Kicking Cancer.
Okudah made a personal visit to the Boys and Girls Club of Southeast Michigan last month. That trip really jump started his passion to continue to work with kids.
"That was really important to me because that was the first time since I've been in Detroit that I've been able to go out into the community and just get a firsthand experience of listening to these kids, sitting down with them, playing football, and it was really reminiscent of me growing up," Okudah said.
"It just did something to my heart that's hard to describe. It kind of put a hunger in me to do more. People need the help. If you have the means to do it, then it's kind of – you have an obligation as a human to do it."
Okudah wanted to find ways he could help the community he was drafted into. He had a pretty good resource to lean on in fellow Ohio State alum and new Lions special assistant Chris Spielman, a Lions Legend on the field, and someone who's had a huge impact in the community.
Okudah said Spielman echoed his commitment to the importance of community service.
"Eventually, our lives transition from being a taker to being a giver," Okudah said. "With that being said, I kind of just challenged him to 'Let's just find ways to serve the Detroit area.' And with us having a natural connection to Ohio State, it was easy to hit him up and find things to just benefit the community. A little can go a long way. A lot can go an even longer way."
Okudah said Spielman's energy is going to be inspirational to a lot of people within the Lions organization.
Earlier this year Okudah was one of the highest donators to the GoFundMe for Ariel, the young girl injured in the Britt Reid car accident before the Super Bowl. Okudah had no previous connection to Ariel.
"Let me put some hands on deck and see how I can help," Okudah said of what prompted him to get involved. "Maybe I can inspire some other teammates and other NFL guys or someone else to maybe donate too and we can put some light on that situation no little girl should have to go through."
View photos of the Detroit Lions coaching staffing touring The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Mich. March 10, 2021.
So what does the future hold for Okudah as he looks to become a bigger part of the Detroit community?
Okudah's mother, Marie, battled cancer for most his life, and lost that battle in 2017. Okudah said he would like to set up a scholarship in her name one day. He also wants to help kids with parents who are suffering from a terminal illness. It's something that is very close to his heart.
"I kind of want to help them know that there's someone that's been through that with them and kind of just give them some reassurance that everything will be alright," he said.
As for his performance on the football field, Okudah said his rehab is going great and he's expecting to be a full participant in offseason training. The focus on football will ramp up in the coming weeks, but Okudah plans to continue to find ways he can impact the Detroit community that has become his new home.
"It's really important for me to make sure that no matter what, I'm informed so that I can make the best donation possible," he said. "Do the best thing that can best benefit this community."