Great things are happening in Isuikwuato, Nigeria.
Healing is happening. Faith is happening. Hope is happening. And happiness is happening.
Brothers Sam and Emmanuel Acho—both among the leading tacklers on the Texas defense this year—are helping to bring such things to the people of Isuikwuato. Their father, Dr. Sonny Acho, created Living Hope Ministries almost 20 years ago, and organizing medical mission trips to Nigeria has become an Acho family tradition and a primary focus of the organization.
When they were younger, Sam and Emmanuel regularly joined their parents on trips to Nigeria where their parents were born. A few years ago, the brothers began going on the medical missions, including their most recent trip this past summer.
Accompanying the Achos is a team of about 40 doctors, nurses and missionaries. The group performs surgeries, administers medication, delivers clothes, and preaches God’s word and message to thousands of people living in poverty.
“Going to Nigeria just really shows the power of God,” says Sam, the junior defensive end and elder brother by 27 months. “It shows how amazing God is and how blessed we are to be here.”
The Achos arrive in Nigeria holding two large bags. One bag contains their clothes and personal items—enough to last two weeks. The other, of equal size, is full of medicine and medical supplies. Fellow Longhorns teammates Tray Allen and John Gold went along on the most recent trip.
The Longhorns players handed out medicine, moved patients from one area to the next, and ministered to the kids. One of their main jobs was helping to control the massive crowds. Thousands of people show up to receive treatment and medication, so the scene can get chaotic.
“When you have over 5,000 people trying to get in one door for treatment, it gets pretty hectic outside,” says Emmanuel, the sophomore linebacker. “I remember 3,000 people one time finally got impatient and bum-rushed the door. It was up to me, Sam and Tray Allen to try to hold off 3,000 people.”
Many people walk for days and even sleep overnight seeking treatment from the doctors and surgeons. The Achos are always deeply moved by what they experience on the trips. Emmanuel says the faces of all those people stick in his head. The trips also remind them how blessed they are.
“We go see some kids living in the village that my dad grew up in,” Emmanuel says. “When I see that, I experience the fact that those little kids could be Sam and I, but instead we’ve been blessed to be here playing for the University of Texas.”
“The first time I went on this mission trip … I was going to school, learning, playing sports and enjoying my life,” Sam says. “I came back with a completely different perspective on life. I really realized how blessed I was. It makes me thank God every day for putting me where I’m at.”
As Dr. Acho describes, some hospitals in this area of Nigeria are really places where people go to die instead of getting adequate treatment. So their ultimate goal is to build a permanent clinic in Nigeria where people can get quality treatment year-round, not just when the Living Hope Ministries team visits. The organization is currently raising money for the clinic through its website at www.LivingHopeMinistries.us.
Sam and Emmanuel are also regularly involved with local charitable events and visits. Every Friday before home games, a group of Longhorns visits the kids at the Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin.
“One of the ladies [at the hospital] said that there was a kid there who said that when they saw us, their pain went away. That really just touched me personally,” Sam says.
Sally Brown, wife of Coach Mack Brown, got to know the Acho family on their recruiting trips to Texas and has since become good friends with the brothers. “Both boys represent Texas Football very well,” Sally says. “It is important to have young men like the Achos that inspire others. I called Sam recently to see if he would come by and meet a little girl from Nigeria who was in Austin to receive medical care. Both Sam and Emanuel dropped what they were doing and came and played with her. They are constantly kind and giving to others. They really are my heroes.”
Big Sam, Little Sam
Sam’s middle name is Onyedikachi, which means “one who is like God.” Emmanuel’s middle name is Cinedum, which means “God is my leader.”
The brothers look the same, sound the same and generally act the same. Sam wears No. 81, and Emmanuel mirrors him with No. 18. When they are on the field together, they often line up just a few feet apart. Still, they have their differences. The brothers weren’t always as close as they are now. In fact, the Texas Acho combo came close to never happening.
People used to call Emmanuel, “Little Sam.” There was a bit of big brother/little brother syndrome between the two when they were growing up.
“Emmanuel, physically, has always been a little shadow of Samuel,” Dr. Acho says. “Samuel was bigger and was able to do more things. It was a good competition.”
Emmanuel actually started playing football before Sam, but it wasn’t long before Sam joined his little brother on the football team at St. Mark’s in Dallas. By the time Sam was a senior, the recruiting frenzy was in full force. Their father recalls all the recruiting letters pouring in. “Before we knew it, we had schools knocking on our doors, media coming to our house, and people writing about us,” he says.
The secret recruiting weapon that won over the Achos and was the catalyst in bringing the Acho brother combo to the 40 Acres was Sally Brown. Sam and his father were on a recruiting trip visiting with Coach Mack Brown and Bobby Kennedy, and Sally asked why Sam’s mom, Christy, didn’t come with them. Sally gave Dr. Acho her card and said that Christy could call her any time.
“We love Mrs. Brown to death,” Dr. Acho says. “The first time I came there, she was one of the reasons why I thought [Texas] might be a good place. They’re very down to Earth, very loving, very kind, very family-oriented. That’s exactly how I raised the kids. That was very important to me.”
With Sam headed to Texas, the family knew the next focus was to choose a school for Emmanuel. Texas was considering him, but he wasn’t as highly recruited as Sam was a year earlier. Emmanuel saw college as a chance to separate himself from his brother, and his parents knew it would be difficult to convince him to become a Longhorn along with his brother.
“At first I didn’t want to come [to Texas] because of my brother,” Emmanuel says. “I wanted to rebel and go away from where he went.”
But after a lot of discussion and prayer, the family finally decided that the brothers playing together at Texas would be the best situation. The two say they have matured a lot and have become closer than ever since coming to Texas. The bothers have seen themselves grow as players, as representatives of the Texas football program, and as men of God.
For the 2009 regular season, the Acho brothers accounted for 92 total tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, one interception and five forced fumbles. Sam’s eight sacks led the team.
Sam says the main reason Texas is one of the best defenses in the country this year is because everyone is playing as one strong unit. “We’ve done a great job of being a team defense,” he says. “You have no individual wanting to take all the credit for himself. We always try to help each other make plays.”
Sam recalls a game when tackle Lamarr Houston took on a double-team block that opened a lane for Sam to make a sack. A few plays later, Sam returned the favor and Houston got the sack.
“We’ve really needed both of them to step up and have a great impact this year, and they have,” defensive coordinator Will Muschamp says. “They both are tremendous athletes, but even more importantly, do a great job preparing for every game and working hard in practice. Sam and Emmanuel both have great ability and football instincts which are allowing them to be very productive players for us.”
Their skills on the field are matched by their talents and hard work in the classroom. Sam was named to the 2009 ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America First Team. He maintains a 3.62 GPA as an honors business major. He also is a semi-finalist for the Lott Trophy, which is given to the defensive IMPACT player of the year. Sam and Emmanuel both received first-team honors on the 2009 Academic All-Big 12 football team. Emmanuel says that one of his biggest goals is to be an Academic All-American.
The brothers know that their status as leaders on the Texas defense has put them in a very visible position that’s allowing them to do bigger and more important things during their time in college.
“A goal that Emmanuel and I set is to use our abilities on the football field and use that platform to let people know about Christ and give God the glory,” Sam says.
Sam and Emmanuel are building their legacy in the football program, but they are doing it with integrity and a humble spirit as much as they are with tackles and third-down stops. Their impact is hard to miss.
“It doesn’t take long to see what great kids they are,” Coach Muschamp says. “They have a great family, have been brought up right, and are two very bright and respectful kids. You couldn’t ask for two better representatives of your program than Sam and Emmanuel.”
This article was originally published in a fall 2009 issue of Horns Illustrated.
Super M-Acho Men
August 22, 2010 By