When Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila heard the Packers had signed Samkon Gado, a Nigerian-born player, to the practice squad, his interest immediately piqued. He grabbed a couple of maps of their ancestors' homeland and headed to Gado's locker to chat about their origins and other topics.
"The first time we had a conversation, we were talking about some private stuff," Gbaja-Biamila said. "From there we hit it off."
Beyond their love of the gridiron and their skill at playing football, Gbaja-Biamila and Gado have several connections. Both of their families come from Nigeria, both worked their way up from practice squader to starter on the active roster and both remain very spiritual.
"We had some similarities that were undeniable," Gado said. "He's quickly becoming my best friend on the team."
Gbaja-Biamila stops by Gado's locker once every two or three days to ask him how he's doing. He's invited him to his house. He has taken him under his wing, advising him on a range of topics from dealing with the media to the necessity of purchasing a sport utility vehicle to handle Wisconsin's weather.
"He's really gone out of his way to be a friend and a teammate," Gado said. "And I really appreciate that."
Gbaja-Biamila also inspired Gado with the story of his professional career. The Packers released Gbaja-Biamila after training camp in 2000. Two days later they signed him to the practice squad. After spending the first six games of the year on the practice squad, he was placed on the Packers' active roster and he racked up 1 1/2 sacks during seven games of action. Three years later he made his first Pro Bowl.
"I told him my story," Gbaja-Biamila said, "and it kind of encouraged him."
Indeed Gado has ascended up the depth chart with similar speed. The Packers signed him to their practice squad on Oct. 17. Less than two weeks later, Gado received his first NFL carry against the Cincinnati Bengals. He earned his first start and surpassed 100 yards rushing for the first time in his NFL career against the Atlanta Falcons two games later.
When practicing for the scout team in October, Gado wowed Gbaja-Biamila with his speed and burst. As Gbaja-Biamila became friendlier with the running back, he began rooting for him to land a spot on the active roster.
"I was praying that God would keep him around to make the team," Gbaja-Biamila said. "He's a nice guy, very down to earth, very humble, well-spoken. He has no ego."
The players share that modesty and a deep spirituality. Gado regularly attends Wednesday night bible study sessions at Gbaja-Biamila's house, which includes Aaron Kampman, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Dendy, Adrian Klemm, Ryan Longwell, Donald Driver, Brady Poppinga and Mark Tauscher.
Their relationship will not end after the season. Gbaja-Biamila resides in the Green Bay, Wis. area year-round, making his home in Oneida, Wis. Gado currently lives in Ashwaubenon, Wis., and the two have discussed working out together during the offseason.
Another offseason pursuit could include a trip to Nigeria. Part of the Hausa tribe, Gado was born in Kufai, Nigeria in the northern section of the country. He moved to the United States at the age of nine, a year after his father, Jeremiah, came to Columbia, S.C. to earn a doctorate degree in divinity at Columbia International University.
Gbaja-Biamila, is a first-generation American. He was born in Los Angeles, but both of his parents grew up in the southern part of Nigeria in Lagos as part of the Yuroba tribe before coming to the United States. He has never visited Nigeria, but that may change.
"I was hoping he could go with me," Gbaja-Biamila said. "He knows the area."
Bible study buddies, future workout partners and travel companions. The speedy pass rusher and the bruising running back have become fast friends.
"I trust him," Gado said. "I feel I can talk to him about so many other things than football."