Ndamukong Suh’s donation stands alone

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As a Nebraska Cornhusker, Ndamukong Suh made his mark as one of the country’s premier defensive tackles in 2009. Photo courtesy UNL Athletic Department

Story by John Neidel, NewsNetNebraska

$2.6 million. It is the largest gift pledged by an athlete to his or her alma mater before signing a professional sports contract. Yes, Ndamukong Suh’s donation is unprecedented.

As Suh plays his first season in the NFL with the Detroit Lions, his generosity leaves a giant footprint on the University of Nebraska. Not only will his name grace the same strength complex that turned him into one of the most dominant defensive players in college football history, but his donation to the University of Nebraska Foundation will create an endowed scholarship for engineering students that will live on for generations.

Suh graduated last December from the Charles Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction, and the scholarship he is creating will give priority to out-of-state students, particularly those from his high school in Portland, Ore. The University of Nebraska Foundation receives donations of all sizes from people young and old. However, when a donation comes from a person who is so young and so revered in the state of Nebraska and around the country, it creates a lot of excitement.

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Ndamukong Suh has helped lead a revival of the Detroit Lions’ front four during his rookie season. Through the first four games of the NFL season, Suh had 13 solo tackles and three quarterback sacks.  Courtesy: Detroit Lions Photo

Dorothy Endacott, the assistant vice president and director of communications for the University of Nebraska Foundation, has seen the impact Suh’s donation has had on the foundation. “When we mention this gift in our campaign news letters or in other materials, it always gets the most traffic,” Endacott explained. “People are very interested in him and what he’s doing and his gift to Nebraska, and so it’s generated a lot of interest in our campaigns.”

One person who was interested to hear about Suh’s generosity was Vernon Pohlmeier, a 1967 graduate of the University of Nebraska’s College of Engineering. “He’s a one-of-a-kind athlete in terms of not forgetting where he came from and paying back to society a portion of his benefit,” Pohlmeier said. “It’s really unusual to see somebody of that caliber, from a character standpoint, and yet with all the ability that he has, not have the money destroy his character.”
The benefits that Pohlmeier speaks of are not lost on Ndamukong Suh. “I didn’t feel like I had to, but I definitely wanted to give back to the university that gave me so much,” Suh told the Lincoln Journal Star.

Eddy Rojas, the director of the Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction, hopes that Suh’s generosity will inspire donations from other engineering student athletes who go on to play professionally. “In our school we have other football players that may be drafted in future years, and Suh is setting a nice example,” Rojas said. “So, perhaps they will also consider making donations to the college.”

Like Endacott, Rojas also sees the impact that such a large donation can have when it comes from someone as well known as Suh. “It is extremely important to have people like him who have that national profile and recognition because that may be incentive or encouragement to others to say, ‘You know what, I never thought about this. I should give back as well because there is a significant need right now for scholarships.’” Rojas added that he believes Suh’s gift will inspire many others to make donations in the future.

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Suh started 39 of 53 games during his five-year career at Nebraska, recording 215 tackles (125 solos) with 24.0 quarterback sacks for minus 187 yards, 57.0 stops for losses of 252 yards and 39 pressures. Photo courtesy UNL Athletic Department

In addition to Suh, other professional athletes have opened their checkbooks and made significant contributions to their alma maters. In 1997, the NBA’s Steve Smith, who entered the league in 1991, donated $2.5 million to Michigan State University for a student-athlete academic center. At that time, Smith’s was the largest donation ever made by an athlete to his or her university. However, nobody before Ndamukong Suh had ever pledged such a sizeable donation before even suiting up for a professional team.

In 2007, the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees and his wife, who both graduated from Purdue University in 2000, gave $2 million to their alma mater for a student-athlete academic center. Carmelo Anthony, who played basketball at Syracuse University for only one season in 2003 before declaring for the NBA draft, donated $3 million in 2006 for Syracuse’s new basketball practice facility. However, the largest single donation to one’s university belongs to the NBA’s Richard Jefferson, who donated $3.5 million in 2007 to the University of Arizona to help build a new basketball/volleyball practice facility.

While all of these gifts deserve applause, Suh’s is truly unique. “It’s unusual that somebody at that stage of his career is going to be making this donation,” Rojas explained. “It means a lot to our students because it is going to allow folks to come to the University of Nebraska to fulfill their dreams when they would otherwise not be able to without that financial support.”

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