Sam Acho has been going to Nigeria on an annual charity mission for the past 10 years. In May, the player once named college football’s top scholar-athlete will receive a MBA after three years of study.
He is a man who has been places and done things.
But ask the outside linebacker about his new home, and he’ll confess: before signing a one-year deal with the Bears, he’d been to Chicagoland only once — and that was to visit his sister, who studied labor and delivery nursing at Northwestern.
“No one in Chicago knows me,” Acho said this week. “And so my goal is to go out there and to prove myself. Prove myself to my teammates. Prove myself to the coaching staff. And remind them they made a great decision bringing me in.”
The 26-year-old hasn’t been promised anything. The Bears will likely start former University of Texas teammate Lamarr Houston and Pernell McPhee on the outside — though they could draft a pass-rusher, too — and will keep as many as nine linebackers.
Roles for future Hall of Famer Jared Allen, the rehabbing Willie Young and, yes, Acho will begin a long road toward finality when the Bears begin workouts Monday.
After starting 32 times in four years with the Cardinals, Acho’s first goal is simply to earn a roster spot. Along the way, he’ll be able to teach holdovers from the Bears’ 4-3 defense how to run Vic Fangio’s new scheme.
Acho has played in a 3-4 base his entire NFL career.
“We all know how to learn, whether it’s a different position from college to the NFL, whether it’s a different position from high school to college,” he said. “But there is value in having done it before — the experience. “
Fangio and outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt, he said, described the new scheme as a prime opportunity for the 6-1, 257-pounder. His 13 career sacks — and only six the last three years — aren’t many for an outside linebacker. Acho, though, played only three games in 2013 before suffering a broken fibula. He wouldn’t use his recovery as an excuse for last season, when he started four times in the regular season and once in the NFC Wild Card Game.
“Obviously, my ability to play out in space and cover and play the run, I’ve shown that on tape,” Acho said. “That’s one aspect of what I’ll be able to do, and also, get after the quarterback.
“The GM (Ryan Pace) said that you can never have too many pass rushers, and I agree with that statement.”
If Acho meets his goals — simply, to have a career year — he’ll be embraced they way he was in Phoenix, where the fan favorite hosted his own hour-long web stream show, blogged for his own web site and even once toured the state fair for a local television station. He spends parts of his summer traveling to Nigeria as part of a group led by his parents, who were born there, that brings medical care to rural villages.
“Sports is the be-all, end-all in Chicago,” he said. “It’s similar to how it was when I went to Texas. I’m actually really looking forward to being able to interact with some of the fans and earn their trust and earn their respect …
“I’m excited to get an opportunity to go out there and prove myself, on the field and off the field. And in everything I do.”
But first thing’s first.
“You have to go, and you have to earn a spot,” he said.