Football just part of equation for Washington's Azeem Victor
SEATTLE (AP) Already the starting middle linebacker for the No. 4 team in the country, Azeem Victor is trying to do more.
Victor's goals go beyond what he's doing on the field for Washington and what he's doing in getting his education. In Victor's case, doing more means being philanthropic and starting a foundation while he's still a college student and football player, in the hopes of keeping kids from making some of the mistakes he made that nearly cost him a chance at college.
''I always wanted to do something to give back … for kids,'' Victor said. ''Pretty much to give back, spread life and spread growth and keep the kids safe.''
So while Victor has been steadily improving as one of the top linebackers in the Pac-12, he's also been creating the ''Azeem Dream Foundation.'' His target audience is middle school-age kids, hoping to reach out and influence them before habits can get formed – like the ones that nearly kept Victor from finding his way to college.
It's an ambitious project for a college student to tackle and one still in its infancy. But with help from his grandmother and Washington's compliance office, Victor has created a base for trying to make a difference.
''It took a long time. It was a long process,'' Victor said. ''Did a lot of research and my grandma is the CEO of her own business so she pretty much taught me the whole way. She laid out a map for me and I just knew what I wanted to do with it.''
Victor's cause is important to him because of how close he was to missing out on college. It wasn't until his final two years of high school that Victor – a native of Compton, California – realized he needed to change if his football potential was to lead to a college opportunity. That included online classes and tutoring in order to meet the requirements for being a qualified college applicant.
His goal with the foundation is to make sure those sixth, seventh and eighth graders have the supplies they need, and know what resources are available so they don't to scramble like he did in high school.
''He said, `I want to catch kids who are young enough to shift their thinking. Because, when they get to be 10th and 11th graders, they think they know it all. They think they're good enough to go to any college because they're so good on the field. But I need to catch them early,''' said Chiquita Bell, Victor's grandmother.
On the field, Victor is one of the top linebackers in the Pac-12. At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, he's a prototypical inside linebacker and is rated as one of the top NFL prospects whether he decides to enter the draft after his junior season or play out his final year with the Huskies. Two weeks ago, he earned Pac-12 and national defensive player of the week awards after recording 16 tackles in the Huskies' win over Utah, but he didn't earn team defensive player of the game honors because of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
''It's not something you can just talk about and they get. It's like everything: You work through it and you're trying to improve on that,'' Washington coach Chris Petersen said. ''Some guys, just how they're wired, it's going to be more challenging than others. So I do think he pays much closer attention to it, and I think we're making progress, but those are critical situations.''
Victor had to work extensively with Washington's compliance office to make sure no NCAA rules were being violated in creating the structure of the foundation. There was communication with both the Pac-12 and NCAA compliance liaisons to vet Victor's intentions and any fundraisers must be cleared through the Washington compliance staff.
Bell handles many of the logistics, especially during football season. But Bell always makes time on Saturdays – and the occasional weekday – to make sure she can see her grandson play. Usually she wants to be alone to watch his games because she can't help but remember what Victor overcame to get to this point and what he hopes to help kids avoid in the future.
''When I see Azeem on TV, the first thing I do is I say, `Where's my tissue box?''' Bell said. ''I keep saying this, but they kept saying we couldn't do it. Look at this miracle running around that field. Look at him.''
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