ASU football player inspires alum to organize charity drive

The charity work of former ASU football player Samson Szakacsy inspired a local private school athletic director to organize a school-wide donation drive for students on an Arizona Indian reservation.

Ryan Johnson, who graduated from ASU in 2005, started an athletic equipment drive at the Jess Schwartz Academy, a private K-12 Jewish school in Scottsdale, after hearing about Szakacsy’s work.

Last summer, Szakacsy organized a football camp for elementary, junior high and high school students at the reservation. Johnson heard about the football player’s efforts through a 3TV special about the football camp.

As an ASU graduate who has not missed a Sun Devil game since the eighth grade, Johnson said he follows the football players’ stories regularly. From there, he read several other articles about Szakacsy’s music and philosophy and decided that Szakacsy’s actions helped inspire a school-wide mitzvah.

“I looked at [Szakacsy] as the type of role model that I want our kids to see, or any kid to see for that matter,” Johnson said.

Szakacsy and junior quarterback Brock Osweiler spoke at the school Friday, praising students for donating nearly 600 different sports equipment items to the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in southeastern Arizona.

About a month ago, Johnson met with Szakacsy and asked him to visit the students at the Jess Schwartz Academy for a school-wide mitzvah, which Johnson called, “an act of fulfillment of human kindness.”

From that meeting Johnson learned more about Szakacsy’s experiences on the Indian reservation, where Szakacsy said he stayed with the chief, learned how to make a drum and prayed in a sweat lodge.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 68.1 percent of the population on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation was at or below the poverty line in 1999. Szakacsy said the current poverty rate might be almost 80 percent.

One hundred twenty-three elementary and high school students attended the football camp organized by Szakacsy on the reservation last summer. Fourteen of Szakacsy’s teammates helped run the camp.

The former football player plans to hold another camp at the reservation in May, where the students will be able to play with their donated footballs.

“Kids are the future … the football camp was the best medium to communicate to the kids our values of staying true to who you are,” Szakacsy said.

Along with footballs, students at the reservation will receive equipment from basketballs to Wiffle Balls to jump ropes, Johnson said. The drive surpassed his goal of 500 balls and other sports gear. The items will be donated to the reservation’s Boys and Girls Club, elementary school, junior high school and high school.

Johnson considered the drive so successful he said he might continue to collect equipment into next week.

Around 260 students, parents and teachers attended the special speaker event with Szakacsy and Osweiler at the school, where the two commended the students for their contribution.

“We’re just here to speak on things from our heart … and show them [what] an awesome thing they did,” Szakacsy said.

When Szakacsy called and asked Osweiler to attend the event with him, Osweiler said it was an immediate yes.

“I get to help out a friend and at the same time I’m helping a great cause,” Osweiler said. “It’s just fun being a part of these things and being able to help out the community.”

Before the student athletes spoke to the audience, Rabbi Pinchas Allouche, who teaches Jewish studies at the school, spoke about the power one person has to make a difference. He said that the uprisings in Northern Africa and the Middle East started because one man, Mohamed Bouazizi, felt he had no voice so he set himself on fire.

“If you had Googled his name just a few weeks ago, your search would have been zero,” Allouche said.

About 698,000 search results pop up when a person Googles the name today.

Szakacsy and Johnson both said a community-driven effort can come from one person’s initiative. Johnson said he had one idea, and that idea has now materialized into an effort that will help hundreds.

“I thought that it might be good to have a student-athlete, football player, somebody to come talk … I ended up with so much more,” Johnson said.

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