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Emma: Bears' Sam Acho Excels On, Off The Field

By Chris Emma--

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) -- New Bears coach John Fox carries high praise for 26-year-old linebacker Sam Acho.

When asked about Acho's efforts in the Bears' OTAs, Fox immediately pointed to his work ethic and knowledge. Acho's a junkie for learning.

"He's a smart player, so he grasps things from the classroom and takes them out to the field," Fox said.

Little does Fox know that Acho credits his work and instincts to a different classroom.

A 6-foot-3, 257-pound linebacker, Acho boasts one of the sharpest minds in the NFL. In 2010, The Sporting News named him one of the 20 smartest athletes in sports. The Texas product credits his ability to absorb football information from the way he learned Shakespeare. He can memorize a playbook the same way he recites The Canterbury Tales.

"The ability to understand a defense and to learn a (Shakepeare) play and remember it, that's helped me on the field," Acho said. "The same work ethic I have in the classroom, I take that same work ethic and skill set on the football field."

Chicago signed Acho to a one-year deal on April 1, weeks after the free-agency period began in the NFL. He played four seasons with Arizona, posting 124 tackles in 51 games, but wasn't retained. Acho recalls dropping to his knees and asking for a new destination.

Two days later, Fox called Acho and the linebacker was a Bear. He feels it was destiny.

"I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason," Acho said. "I know I'm supposed to be here. It's beyond a shadow of a doubt."

A Dallas native, Acho's part of a crowded Bears depth chart filled with options to play outside linebacker and defensive end in coordinator Vic Fangio's new 3-4 defense. Names like Jared Allen, Pernell McPhee, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and more are vying for starting jobs. What Acho brings to the table is a strong knowledge of this system, having played in a similar scheme for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles while with the Cardinals.

Competition will be tough for Acho, something he's wary of. But the demands of a rigorous battle don't get to him.

Acho has gone on five medical missions to Nigeria with his parents, joining doctors and nurses to provide treatment to natives. He's fluid in Old English and can recite just about any Shakespearean line. And one of his greatest thrills of Chicago is helping in the inner city, joining running back Matt Forte in unpublicized aides.

"Especially in a city like Chicago, there's a need for a bright light," Acho said. "That's why I want to be here."

Football is just an occupation for Acho, but life means more. The details of a tough Bears depth chart and language of Fangio's defense don't compare to his work in Nigeria and now in Chicago.

Acho feels he can make a difference in Chicago, both for the Bears and a community in need.

"I'm so glad to be here," he said. "It couldn't have been a better fit for me."

Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.


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