Genesis Preciado, 16, was overwhelmed with exhilaration as the Jet Blue flight began its descent onto Logan International Airport. It was his first time on the East Coast, first time on a plane.
"My favorite moment was actually just getting to go to a new place," Genesis, a junior at Lionel Wilson High School in Oakland, said April 20, when the group returned. "It was so different."
Nnamdi Asomugha understands.
Having traversed various parts of the world -- Africa, Europe, South America -- the Raiders' star cornerback wanted to share the exhilaration of visiting new places, expose some deserving kids to opportunities they wouldn't have otherwise. So he set up a college tour last month to Boston for six underprivileged youth from the East Oakland Youth Development Center (EOYDC).
It's the latest helping hand by one of the NFL's most charitable players. Asomugha, 26, said his desire to give back is a natural reaction.
"I just view it as my portion," he said. "It is normal for me because it has always been a part of me, for as long as I can remember. You wake up in the morning and tie your shoes and don't think twice about it because you are used to it. It's just never been that big of a deal to me, until I hear stories of the impact it has on people. That's when it blows my mind."
One of Asomugha's favorite acts of benevolence is the college tour. Last summer, he took four Oakland youth to Atlanta. At the last minute, he contacted Regina Jackson, executive director of EOYDC, and had her choose students to join him in the ATL, which included a visit to black colleges Clark Atlanta University and Spelman College, and to Georgia Tech.
This year, Asomugha came up with the idea of taking kids to Boston. He was there in early April for the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program at Harvard's business school. So six EOYDC youth leaders, who met Asomugha's requirements of need and classroom performance, went with him to Beantown.
Asomugha flew them out, put them up in a Marriott in Rhode Island and planned five days of activities. They went to the Boston Celtics' regular-season finale, where they met Celtics forward Leon Powe, an EOYDC alum. They visited Harvard, Brown and Boston universities. They witnessed a performance by the Boston University gospel choir, shopped at the mall, dined at a Benihana-style restaurant and played at Dave & Busters.
One of the highlight's of the trip was the visit to the Berklee School of Music, where 17-year-old Christina Green -- a member of Castlemont High School's choir, The Castleers -- serenaded some music students. Asomugha surprised the group with tickets to Berklee's 24th annual, sold-out Singers Showcase, a concert featuring the school's finest vocalists.
Yehoshua Jackson, 17, applied to the Berklee School of Music. He was rejected because he couldn't make the audition in Los Angeles. A month later, thanks to Asomugha, he was in Boston at the Berklee Performance Center.
"Sometimes, I like to be around people we can talk about things that I like -- compositions, theory, music, the piano," said Jackson, a senior at the Oakland School for the Arts. "I liked the atmosphere out there, and I wanted to take that back with me and share it."
Narea Wilson needed something good like this to happen. Her beaming smile masks the emptiness that has taken residence in her heart.
In October, Narea's father died. She has been on the mend ever since, trying to keep focused on school and enjoy her youth.
"It's difficult because you see everybody else with their parents," Narea said. "It's hard on Father's Days and stuff."
Having lost his father, Godfrey, in 1994, when he was just 12, he knows firsthand the pain Narea is experiencing. So he can relate to those bearing through the tragedy of losing a parent.
"I like to show them that I am like them," Asomugha said. "I'm here as a human being. I'm not on a pedestal."
Asomugha is constantly recognized for his contributions. The last three years, he received the Byron "Whizzer" White Award, given by the NFL Players Association to one player annually for charity work. For his commitment to community service, he was featured on NFL Network as one of 16 players recognized for the Home Depot Neighborhood MVP.
Asomugha said he doesn't like to just throw money at a cause. Instead, he's looking to build relationships and touch people's lives. That explains why in June 2006 he took six kids on a fishing trip, why he annually plays games and goes trick-or-treating with kids during the Halloween Heroes event put on by the Palo Alto-based Wender Weis Charity Foundation.
His ordinary disposition usually shocks youngsters. It did in Boston. They said they could hardly tell Asomugha was a multimillionaire sports star.
He sat with them on the plane and drove them around. He joked with them constantly, even sided with the boys in cross-gender banter. He played the piano with Yehoshua in the hotel lobby until the wee hours of the morning.
"He was so open," Arroyo High School junior Jasmine Williams, 16, said. "It was like he was one of us. You would think some stars or people who are famous, people who have money, are kind of stuck up and to themselves. But he was really down to earth. You couldn't even guess he was a football player."
Few appreciated the hands-on mentorship Asomugha provided more than Adarious Payton, 16. The Bishop O'Dowd High School football player needed to hear Asomugha's perspective on the importance of education.
A naturally gifted student, Adarious holds a solid B average while hardly trying. But he said he's starting to realize cruise control is not the best way to drive to college. Talking to the students at the prestigious Boston schools and chatting with Asomugha opened Adarious' eyes to the competitiveness of academics and the effort it's going to take.
"I go to a private school, so my obstacle is being able to compete with everyone else," he said. "I feel like I have to because if I don't, I'll let myself down, and my (grand)parents down because they're paying for it."
His household is ultra-competitive when it comes to education. His mother yanked him off the basketball team his senior year at Narbonne High School-Harbor City because he got a D on his progress report.
"It wasn't even my report card," he recalled. "I was out two or three weeks until we convinced her to let me play. I didn't think I was going to play again."
All of his siblings, even his parents, who emigrated from Nigeria in the mid-70s, have at least a master's degree. Asomugha's corporate finance degree from Cal pales in comparison with his family's academic accomplishments.
But where he doesn't fall short is on the field of generosity. Six more kids from EOYDC will now vouch for him.
Contact Marcus Thompson II at email@example.com.