Mike Adams discusses his work both on and off the football field.

Too much want

Mike Adams discusses experiences as UD student, NFL player, philanthropist


8:56 a.m., April 22, 2016--University of Delaware alumnus Mike (Pops) Adams is recognized in the sports community for his dogged determination on the football field. As a safety in the National Football League, he’s been thwarting plays called by opposing quarterbacks for 12 years.

But Adams is most proud of his accomplishments outside of football. Thanks to his work in the community, kids in Paterson, New Jersey, start school with a sharp looking haircut and a backpack full of school supplies. Families have enjoyed a complete Thanksgiving dinner, delivered to their home by NFL players. Young athletes can get tips on how to make plays on the field — and how to become a better person off the field. 

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Adams was invited to speak on campus Friday, April 15, by the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. He shared his experiences growing up on the inner-city streets of Paterson, and how it drove him to become the man, the athlete and the philanthropist he is today. 

His presentation, “Moving Forward While Looking Back,” began with details of his difficult upbringing. “I lived in a drug infested neighborhood in an apartment with my six brothers and sister, my mom, my aunt…there were 13 people living there at one time.” 

As a teenager, he played football, but he didn’t take the game seriously. That was, until his picture appeared in the local newspaper. “It made my mom so proud, she went out and bought every paper she could find.” 

He wanted his mom to be happy, so he renewed his commitment to the sport. This led to an unexpected outcome — a football scholarship to UD.  

A life-changing opportunity

Transitioning from Paterson to Newark, Delaware, was a serious culture shock for Adams. While trying to adapt to to this radically different environment, he was hit by a horrifying array of personal tragedies — two uncles died, his sister’s house was destroyed by fire, and worst of all, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. 

When asked by a student in the audience why he didn't succumb to these overwhelming challenges, Adams answered, “Too much want. I thought about dropping out and going back home. But there was nothing there for me. What would that accomplish?”

Faculty, advisers, coaches and teammates helped him through it all, providing advice, encouragement, and occasionally, a cold dose of reality.

“Dr. Rys treated me like family.  She helped me get my first license,” said Adams, pointing to his former adviser. “Prof. Trask taught me valuable lessons about diversity and perspective.”  

And then there was football. “Coach Bossard told me I’d never make it in the NFL. I was too small. But that was my dream. So, I hit the weight room, studied plays, became better.”

The average NFL career is three years. This fall, Adams will be entering his third year with the Indianapolis Colts and 12th season in the NFL, having been selected for two Pro Bowls and playing in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Adams flashed his 100-watt smile. “I proved coach wrong.”

Adams’ final year at UD should have been a joyous time. He was set to become the first in his family to graduate college. He’d recovered from a serious hip injury and a broken leg. He’d made dean’s list and his football team won a national championship.

Then he was hit with the cruelest blow of all. His mother passed away two days before graduation.

“I didn’t think I could walk across that stage. But when I did, I felt her shining down on me,” Adams said. 

Helping, inspiring, making a difference

Football gave Adams his dream, but his goal in life is to help people. It’s why he majored in human services

“We all face adversity. Going through what I did made me want to help others come along.”

Tim Morrissey, director of UD’s Student Services for Athletes, said, “During his time here at UD, Pops was always helping his teammates and others in Athletics. He and the defensive backs, including Dominic Banks, Leon Clarke, and Ricardo Walker, took great pride in UD and helping others succeed both in the classroom and on the field.”

“He was always looking out for other people,” recalled Kristine Coll, his academic adviser, now assistant dean for the College of Education and Human Development. “Students would show up in my office all the time saying ‘Pops sent me.’”

Adams has stayed true to his commitment, dedicating both money and time to worthy causes. He has established the Team Adams Foundation, to improve the lives of inner city youth. He owns a construction company that focuses on building affordable housing. He visited service members in Japan as part of the NFL/ USO initiative, and now, he’s looking into building a community center and open a charter school in New Jersey. 

“We’ll take the bad kids that the system doesn’t want and teach them what they need to know. I hope to pull in some of my old classmates, who are now principals and administrators, to work at my school,” said Adams, pointing at his friends in the crowd. 

They didn’t appear to be onboard quite yet. But Pops just flashed his million dollar smile. There’s nothing more motivating to Adams than adversity. 

Article by Alison Burris

Photos by Lizzy Adams

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