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Okoye chairs fundraiser for Africa

CHICAGO -- Amobi Okoye is trying to make an impact wherever he can this season. On the field, the Chicago Bears' defensive lineman has three sacks and is showing some of the flashes of the talent that made him a first-round draft pick. Off the field, he's trying to make an even bigger difference.

Okoye is serving as the co-chairman and host of the Health and Hope for Africa concert gala on Saturday Dec. 3 at the Museum of Science and Industry. The GEANCO Foundation's mission is to "improve the lives of Nigeria's poorest and most vulnerable citizens." That is a cause which is near and dear to Okoye's heart given that he spent the first 12 years of his life there before coming to America. I had the chance to catch up with him for a few moments Friday, and we hit on a number of topics including his involvement in the foundation, the differences between the Bears' and Texans' system and the adjustments his team must make heading into its rematch against the Detroit Lions this Sunday.

Why is it so important for you to get involved with something like this?

Amobi Okoye: It's very important because it's a great partnership and it [allows us] to accomplish our goals which is to help the people of Africa, especially starting with Nigeria. So building this campus with this school and the hospital facility, especially with the strength in sports medicine brings a lot of opportunity to the people of Nigeria -- and hope.

How often do you get back to Nigeria?

AO: Ever since I got into the league in 2007, I've gone every year. So '08, '09, '10 ... This coming March, this year after the season's over with be my fifth trip. I'd love to go twice a year, but I only have the opportunity to go once a year.

As somebody who is still so young, when you go back there, do you think to yourself, "Wow, I can't believe the stuff I've already accomplished?"

AO: Sometimes I guess recently, maybe in the last year or two I have caught myself reminicing on that. But the majority of the time, I just see it as it is meant for me to do, that's the reason I'm put on this earth.

A lot of athletes still shy away from the role model label. Given what you've accomplished and where you came from in Nigeria, do you embrace the role model label maybe more than your average player?

AO: I don't know. I just see it as what I'm supposed to do. What I like to do. And I can understand where the majority of athletes come from, but I just see it as what I want to do and what I'm supposed to do.

It seems like something you really embrace.

AO: Yes, yes, but at the same time I think it's just something you have to embrace. You have to just kind of understand, especially if you like to do it. Especially if you don't mind doing it. It's something you just have to embrace and say to yourself, "It's what I'm supposed to do."

Is it true when you moved to America your football coach gave you a copy of aMadden video gameand basically said, 'Here, learn the game this way?'

AO: No, he invites me to go play it and that [the video game] could help me understand [the real game] better.

Obviously, there aren't a lot of kids coming from your position, but you tell somebody they could learn the game that way if they played the video game long enough?

AO: Yeah, I definitely would.

For you this season, coming from Houston, what do you think the single biggest difference between the Bears' system compared to the Texans'?

AO: I would have to say it's similar to my system in college [at Louisville], where it's kind of downhill. Strengthen the field and [not] getting offensive opponents to stretch you out. It's more of a downhill type of scheme. That's pretty much the biggest difference. If I had to explain football terms ... for example, the cut-off block is played in a much different way here than it was in Houston. And their system and the way it's played here is similar to the way we played in college.

As far as this Sunday's game against the Lions goes, what do you think has to change, at least from a defensive perspective, that didn't happen in Detroit a few weeks ago?

AO: Everybody playing to the system. Kind of understanding and having trust in your teammate next to you. He understands the system as well and knows what the system is meant to do to the opposing offense.

I asked Julius Peppers a couple weeks ago what the Bears could do to stop Calvin Johnson and he said there's nothing you can do. Do you feel the same way or do you feel like there's an adjustment in there somewhere?

AO: I think it's going to take all 11 [players], knowing that as down linemen we just have to put the heat on the quarterback enough times where he doesn't deliver a perfect ball to Calvin.

As far as the foundation in concerned, do you plan on being involved with this long after your career is over?

AO: It's something I would love to continue doing. It's something that I definitely can't do on my own so getting as much help as possible is great. It's something that I would like to see progress and have an opportunity to better people's life as I had an opportunity to better my life and my family.