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An athlete, author and motivator, Texas ex Sam Acho getting multilayered role at ESPN

After a college, pro career marked with inspirational message for teammates, Acho going to worldwide leader; ‘I was shocked. Floored is probably a better word.’

Texas ex Sam Acho, the 2010 Big 12 Male Sportsperson of the Year drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, has signed a multiyear deal to be a lead studio voice on college football Saturdays on ESPN2.

Sam Acho was building his personal brand long before athletes could profit from their name, image and likeness. While at Texas, he was a positive dynamo. He kept that spirit throughout and beyond his NFL career, too.

Now at 32, Acho, who has always sounded wiser than his years, is entering what appears to be the perfect marriage for the second act of his adult life. 

The Texas ex and nine-year NFL pro has signed a sweeping, multiyear deal with ESPN. Acho will be a lead college football analyst on ESPN2, according to the network, in addition to doing NFL commentary and calling games on ESPN radio. A little Acho here, there, everywhere.

“I was shocked. Floored is probably a better word,” Acho said in an exclusive interview Wednesday with the American-Statesman. “I honestly broke down into tears. This is something I’ve been hoping to do for years, probably a decade. Football, great. Loved it. Awesome. But I wanted to be on TV. I love communicating, love being on stages, love connecting with people.”

Acho’s first ESPN assignment will be working Big 12 media days next week in Arlington. The network plans to keep him pretty busy afterward. That’s assuming he doesn’t work himself into oblivion first.

In June 2020, Acho and several Chicago-area pro athletes raised $500,000 to turn a liquor store into a pop-up grocery store. It was open three days a week in an area that had only two grocery stores blended with 17 liquor stores in a half-mile radius.

“Fast forward to June of 2021,” Acho said, his voice crackling with excitement. Acho’s nonprofit group Athletes for Justice raised $750,000 during a 24-hour radiothon. 

“Now what’s going to happen is that temporary food mart, which is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, will be covered and permanent,” Acho said. Chicago-area grocery stores have partnered together to sell food at cost to the community.

Acho has a weekly podcast, also called “Athletes for Justice,” and now has a book titled "Let the World See You: How to Be Real in a World Full of Fakes." The book has sold 25,000 copies, Acho said, and has some rather uplifting reviews on Amazon.

Texas fans probably figured a journey of self-discovery and personal enlightenment would be Acho’s ultimate destiny. 

A four-year letter winner from 2007-10, Acho was named the Big 12 male sportsperson of the year as a senior. He received the William V. Campbell Trophy as college football’s top scholar-athlete and graduated from the McCombs School of Business. 

Texas senior Sam Acho reaches up in an attempt to sack Florida Atlantic quarterback Jeff Van Camp during their 2010 game at Royal-Memorial Stadium. Acho went on to play in the NFL for nine seasons.

He played for four NFL teams, most notably Arizona and Chicago, and was a two-time nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award. He would later obtain his master’s degree at Arizona State. Acho is also the vice president of Living Hope Christian Ministries, which provides medical aid to Nigeria through mission trips. 

Acho was pursued by Fox Sports for an on-air role, but “it just didn’t feel right,” Acho said. He ultimately signed with ESPN. Acho’s younger brother, Emmanuel, currently works for Fox Sports.

Lee Fitting, ESPN senior vice president of production, said Acho is “a welcome addition.”

“Our viewers will quickly come to know and appreciate Sam’s trademark energy, his passion for the game, his dynamic analysis, and his ability to connect with commentators, coaches and players alike,” Fitting said in a statement.

Acho has a job and personal brand that some current college athletes probably want themselves. Getting there takes responsibility and accountability. College athletes can now get paid for endorsements. But Acho’s advice is to “Find your mission, figure out what that is, and then find a company that’s going to match it.”

“I think kids are smarter than we give them credit for,” he said. “You learn, you figure it out. Maybe you take the first offer, but you grow, you figure it out. These organizations, don’t let them see you as a jersey or a number or a decal on a helmet. Let them see you.”

Football wise, Acho worked the Texas spring game and liked what he saw on the field. He wasn’t totally sold on new coach Steve Sarkisian initially but now likes what he sees in the coaching offices, too.

“Yes, initially when Sark was hired, I wasn’t excited,” Acho said, noting that he’d heard rumors of Texas chasing bigger names like Nick Saban or Urban Meyer. “Then you meet him. Then you see what he’s doing with the program.

“Talk about letting the world see you. He talks about his mistakes with the team. All these (current players) said, ‘I’m excited to come to work now. I’m excited these coaches actually care about me.’”

Acho said when players truly believe the coaches care for them as individuals, the athletes play harder and only then there is true culture change. 

“Sark doesn’t play. Sark’s not here to please anybody. He’s here to win games and love his players,” Acho said. 

Sarkisian’s job is to put the players in the right position to be successful, same as ESPN will likely do with Acho.

“For me,” Acho said, “it’s the opportunity to have an impact.”

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.