By: Rick Beitman, Editor-in-Chief
Produced by: Marissa Burkett, Audio/Visual Editor
Sam Acho, No. 94, plays for the Arizona Cardinals as a linebacker in the National Football League (NFL). Interestingly, Acho also pursues his MBA at Thunderbird School of Global Management concurrently while continuing his career in the NFL. – While furthering studies and playing professional ball at the same time might be unusual for most NFL players, not so for Acho who, in many ways, perfectly manifests the ‘Thunderbird mystique’.
Acho was kind enough to share some insights into his personal and professional life with Das Tor in its first-ever live interview. Please see the video for the full interview. – A native of Dallas, Texas, Acho attended the University of Texas on a football scholarship and was a business honors major. While he did play college ball, Acho did not necessarily expect to go professional and as such ‘gave his all’ in both the classroom and on the football field. Of that time, Acho said, “I didn’t really expect to make it to the NFL… It’s pretty rare that people make it.” However, when it seemed likely that a colleague of Acho might become a first round pick for the NFL, the opportunity seemed more feasible and he decided to “give this dream a chance”.
Selected by the Cardinals in 2011 in the fourth round, Acho said of his football career, “I want to play as long as I can, plus two years.” Whenever Acho does move on from the NFL, he would like to get into broadcasting and intends to use his MBA for business work. – While successful in his NFL career, the sailing has not always been smooth for Acho, who broke his leg in September 2013 and as a result had to sit out the remainder of that season. Of that experience, Acho related that, “Injuries are devastating, especially when your body is your money maker… It’s your profession.” Acho could not walk much less run, but made the best of his break from ball, citing, “It gave me the opportunity to see that I was talented outside of sacking quarterbacks,” and noting he had other skill sets to explore.
Like many T-Birds, Acho comes from an international background and has a flair for the global lifestyle. Acho’s parents both came to the U.S. while in their 20s but were from small villages in Nigeria. Both educated, Acho’s mother is a nurse practitioner (DNP) while his father holds a PhD in psychology. Even though they live in the U.S., the Acho family has a sense of obligation to its roots in Nigeria, returning every year to do free medical mission work in small villages. – While Acho has no medical background, he has been instilled with a ‘heart to serve’ others and works in a crowd control capacity since he is usually one of the ‘bigger guys there’ and someone must help organize the droves of people seeking care.
Now a family man, Acho has been married over a year to his wife Ngozi whose name means ‘blessing’ in Igbo. They met ten years ago in Nigeria while Ngozi was caring for Acho’s grandmother. – After a year, they now have their first child, a son named Caleb who is over two months old.
When asked about his choice to pursue a graduate program while still in the NFL, Acho acknowledged that, “It is unusual.” However, since Acho has time in the offseason and Thunderbird is local, he chose to further his education. Acho chose Thunderbird because, “I came to meet some awesome people.” Acho believes there are unique minds at Thunderbird and he chose it because of its enrichment and not just as an opportunity to network. – Education, while always important in the Acho family, Acho also wants to avoid becoming a statistic. When Acho began his MBA in January 2013, he was aware that within two years of retirement from the NFL, 80% of retired players are either depressed, divorced, bankrupt, or some combination of the three.
Since he began his MBA, Thunderbird has gone through a great deal of change in the past two years, particularly with the December 2014 partnership with Arizona State University. Acho tends to hold an optimistic view, “It’s all about transition. It’s about weathering the storm.” Acho believes that like all transitions, whether it is a marriage, partnership, or new job, it is necessary to ‘make the best, make the most out of it’.
While the Cardinals were no longer in the running, the Super Bowl came to Glendale and the greater Phoenix area earlier this year. Acho felt that Phoenix handled it well, observing, “It was cool to see how people fell in love with the city.” He also heard some say that Phoenix should host the football championship every five years.
Acho continues to play for the Cardinals in the NFL and his education at Thunderbird is ongoing. However, he is looking forward to continuing to be a husband and father. As the future is never certain, Acho may end up playing for another team one day or working in another industry. However, whether or not Acho is a Cardinal, he will always be a global citizen and a T-Bird, and that is his profession.