Four-and-a half months ago, Samkon Gado was a former backup at a Division I-AA school and an anonymous practice squader hoping to make it on an NFL active roster.
Three 100-yard rushing games in the NFL later, sunglasses and hats will not keep the autograph hounds away. That star-induced adulation has followed him from Green Bay, Wis., to his hometown of Columbia, S.C.
"I walk into restaurants, and people know who I am," Gado said. "The last two months have probably changed almost everything about my life."
The Packers' 2006 offensive scheme, however, will serve as a return to the familiar. Gado played in the new zone blocking scheme, which will be installed by offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski and offensive line coach Joe Philbin, while in college at Liberty University.
Gado's head coach at Liberty, former quarterback Ken Karcher, played under Jagodzinksi's mentor, Alex Gibbs, while with the Denver Broncos in 1987. Karcher liked the zone blocking scheme so much that he installed it at Liberty. Gado's experience in that system has him pumped for the 2006 season to begin.
"I've been running the zone blocking schemes for four years," Gado said. "Once I heard that connection, I just couldn't wait to start. That has a lot to do with my excitement in getting ready for next year."
Gado already has begun those preparations. While most players take time off following the season to rest their bodies, Gado, who ended his season by spraining a knee ligament in Week 15 against the Baltimore Ravens, has worked out intensely.
"Because I missed the last two-and-a-half weeks of the season," Gado said, "I felt like that was rest enough."
Gado spends two days in the gym each week, focusing on Olympic lifting. He follows those muscle-building sessions by running on a treadmill. He also spends three days-a-week on the track, working on general conditioning and speed.
"I'm trying to get at the highest level of conditioning I've ever been in my life," Gado said.
He displayed that same drive during his rookie season. Often players spend Tuesday, their off day, as far away from the stadium facility as possible. Even when he was on the practice squad with no chance of seeing action in that week's game, Gado, however, lifted weights and broke down film with running backs coach Edgar Bennett.
The hard work paid off. He not only earned a spot on the active roster but also became the starting running back in Week 10. Gado went on to rush for 582 yards and scored seven touchdowns. As the 2005 season wore on, the raw rookie improved his vision and patience in letting holes develop.
In 2006 Gado wants to take it another step. He yearns to become better at reading his blocks, protecting the passer and holding on to the football. Once he returns to Green Bay in March, he will perform daily drills to hammer home the correct form of using his forearm and hand to grasp the football high and tight near his shoulder. Gado fumbled four times in a three-game stretch last season, but he has set a goal of going without fumbles in 2006.
"I want to put the fumbling issue to rest," Gado said. "I want to greatly improve on that."
In the mean time he spends his offseason working out, visiting with friends and family and speaking at various engagements. Those speaking opportunities, all made possible by his new-found fame, have taken place all over the country. He has traveled to churches and schools throughout the southeastern United States and has trips planned to Ohio and California.
Gado has quite a message to impart. He lived in Kufai, Nigeria until the age of nine. In 1990 his father, Jeremiah, came to the United States to earn a doctorate degree in divinity at Columbia International University. Through a church in South Carolina, a donation was made one year later, allowing Samkon and his mother, Grace, to join him in America.
He went on to letter four times at Liberty while earning conference all-academic honors with a 3.66 GPA in health promotions and becoming a member of the university's honors program. Gado started only two games at Liberty but still made it to the NFL, signing as an undrafted free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs. After finishing his NFL career, he wants to become a doctor and return to his native Nigeria as a medical missionary.
Medical school, however, will have to wait. Gado's thoughts revolve around football now. Since the season ended, he watched other NFL teams compete in the playoffs while champing at the bit to join them in action.
"Just watching the playoffs makes me want to compete that much more," Gado said. "I'm so excited. I just cannot wait to start the (organized team activities)."