Denver Bronco helps youngsters tackle life's problems
ALUMNI | When Mike (Pops) Adams, EH04, stepped onto the UD campus as a freshman in 1999, he knew things would be different. Adams had grown up in Paterson, N.J., one of seven children in a three-bedroom apartment. Drug dealers were everywhere, and the likelihood of going to jail or being shot was high.
This April, Adams, a National Football League veteran of nine years and a leader on the Blue Hens' 2003 national championship team, returned to the University to speak about his experiences as a student and about the foundation he's established to help other youngsters from tough backgrounds.
"I didn't expect the culture shock to be so extreme," he recalled of his first days at UD. "But honestly, the only white people we ever saw in my neighborhood were landlords or people coming to buy drugs."
During his talk, titled "Reaching Back, While Moving Forward," Adams explained how he has been able to parlay his skills on the football field into a better life.
"Going to college had never been a consideration," he said. "Fortunately, I earned a football scholarship and decided to come to UD. Once I got here, I knew I wanted to graduate." But it wasn't easy, he admitted. He struggled with paralyzing doubt: Did he really belong? How could he fit in? What should he major in?
In his sophomore year, an adviser encouraged him to take classes in human development and family studies. He found they really clicked for him, and he became a human services major.
"My friends and family back home were doing drugs, going to jail, getting pregnant at 13," he said. "It was bad. I knew I wanted to help. I wanted to have an impact. This major gave me a sense of purpose."
Adams faced obstacles in academics and in his personal life—his mother died of cancer the day before Commencement—while his football career provided challenges as well. He sustained a hip injury his senior year that his doctor said was career-ending. Not ready to give up that easily, he managed to fight back, only to break his leg the following year, as a redshirt senior.
He was able to recover once again and was on UD's NCAA Division I-AA national championship team in 2003. It was also the year he made the Dean's List. That spring, he graduated with a degree in human services, education and public policy.
"Not only was I the first person in my family to graduate college, I was only the second to graduate high school," Adams said, "and I couldn't have done it without all the support I received at UD."
After graduation, Adams was signed by the San Francisco 49ers, where he played for three years. He then went to the Cleveland Browns for five years and became a safety for the Denver Broncos in March.
Through it all, Adams never forgot where he came from. He continues to dedicate time and money to support charities through the NFL, and he started the Rising Stars foundation with his childhood friend Gerald Hayes, linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals.
"Rising Stars supports the kids back home in Paterson," Adams said. "We want to help them overcome the negativity in the streets. We help them build self-esteem through football camps and mentoring, we provide backpacks full of school supplies and offer scholarships for post-secondary education."
His ultimate goal is to start a charter school—"not tomorrow … not soon, but someday. That's my plan."
Article by Alison Burris, BE85