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NFL Legend N.D. Kalu Passes On His Love of Football Through His Youth Camp

Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.

N.D. Kalu grew up in San Antonio, where youth football is practically a rite of passage. 

But a cultural gap kept Kalu from playing football until he was in sixth grade — even though he was eager to play. 

"Where I was, youth football is very, very serious at a young age," Kalu said. "I wanted to play from the time I could walk, but my parents being from Nigeria, they didn’t really know football. They thought it was this barbaric sport.

"Finally one of my neighbors explained it to my mother and she let me play. But I was kind of late, relatively speaking, getting started."

Kalu started playing in the YMCA league in San Antonio. He says he still clearly remembers the lessons his coaches taught about teamwork and togetherness.

"When I think back, playing at that age taught you to be selfless," Kalu said. "We had great coaches. Our coaches were the kind that if you jumped offsides, the whole team ran an extra lap. So I remember early on, they taught that team concept, that family concept. You were in this together; you weren’t by yourself."

Despite starting later on, Kalu quickly caught up with his peers. He was a star in both football and track and field at Marshall High School, and earned a scholarship to Rice University. In 1997, he was selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. 

During his 12-year NFL career, Kalu had two stints with the Eagles as well as with Washington and the Houston Texans. The big defensive end was a key member of the Eagles teams that made three straight NFC Championship Games in 2001-2003. 

After retiring from the league in 2008, Kalu became an analyst. He lives in the Houston area and co-hosts a daily radio show “In the Trenches’’ on Houston’s KBME.

In 2011, he started a free football camp that he runs every summer with his former Eagles teammate Bobby Taylor. Though the camp has been disrupted in recent years during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kalu hopes to continue running it for years to come. 

"A while ago, Bobby and I were being invited to camps and getting paid for it," Kalu said. "We would go, and wanted to help out with the kids, but generally it was just giving a speech at the end of the camp. Then we found out how much it cost the campers to go to these camps.

"So we decided we wanted to do something different. Let’s do something affordable — which is now free — and let’s give them some real lessons on how to play the game and what the game teaches you."

The camp stresses both fundamentals and fun. It includes several former players, and some of Kalu’s teammates from Rice who became successful in the business world. 

"That aspect shows the players that they can have goals and dreams, but if they don’t make it to the NFL, they can still be successful," Kalu said. "It’s been such a blessing, not just for the kids, but for us. We have so much fun interacting with the kids."

Photo: AP/Scott Boehm


  • Youth Football
  • NFL Players and Legends