People who get to know George Asafo-Adjei, the Kentucky offensive lineman known as “Big George” whom the New York Giants recently selected in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft, are affected by him.
A member of the Kentucky athletic department’s public relations staff told me the 6-foot-4, 306-pound Asafo-Adjei is a “big teddy bear.”
Kentucky offensive line coach John Schlarman went further.
“He’s a great human being. I mean a great human being. Not a good one,” Schlarman said recently by phone.
“He’s the type of guy if I wanted to take my wife on a trip I’d leave my four kids at home with him and I wouldn’t have to worry about them for a week.”
Perhaps nothing illustrates the effect Asafo-Adjei has an people who get close to him better than his relationship with Kentucky President Dr. Eli Capilouto.
Capilouto is the 69-year-old leader of a major university. He’s white, let’s just get that out of the way. Asafo-Adjei is a 300+ pound football player born in the Bronx, with a hard-working mother who struggled to make ends meet for her family.
They have little to nothing in common, other than the reality that they crossed paths at Kentucky. Yet, the two struck up a friendship that Asafo-Adjei treasures. During Asafo-Adjei’s time at Kentucky, the two could often be seen walking around the university campus or having lunch together.
“Very different, very opposite looking human beings. That just shows you it don’t matter what you look like, it don’t matter who you are, what status you are. Respect is respect,” Asafo-Adjei said. “He had respect for me and I definitely had respect for him.
“It was very special to me. I’m very grateful for him being open to me. It was a great experience. Me and him are still gonna be cool. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
Asafo-Adjei said his relationship with Dr. Capilouto began freshman year.
“He just took me in. I could just see that he cared about me and he always wanted to make sure I was OK. He always kept up with me. It helped a lot, just to be comfortable,” he said.
“I honestly think he just stopped by. He probably was hearing a lot of stuff about me in the media and whatever. He just stopped by and saw me. That’s really where it started and we just had a great relationship after that. We just built that bond and it kept growing.”
Asafo-Adjei hasn’t been reticent about discussing his background. Born in the Bronx to a hard-working mom who didn’t have much and, since they moved to Cincinnati when Asafo-Adjei was 7 or 8, has often worked three jobs.
“My mom works hard, she has worked hard since I was born. She has been working three jobs, literally three jobs every day,” Asafo-Adjei said after he was selected. “She probably gets 4 hours of sleep every day, we went through some rough patches in life, but we overcame thanks to God. He’s taken me out of that situation, and he has taken our family out of that situation. I’m happy for our blessings. I don’t have a father in my life, that’s been much harder as well. I thank God, God is good and he answers prayers.”
Perhaps that is why people like Dr. Capilouto have been drawn to him. Why he speaks so freely about wanting to make life better for other people.
“He’s a guy that could have very easily gone down the wrong path. But that’s not him. I don’t think George would have ever done that because that’s not in his heart,” Schlarman said. “He’s a great person. But, he had every reason to go down that path and he didn’t.”
Asafo-Adjei wants to make a difference in the lives of those who are less fortunate.
“I want to give back to any poor countries and any poor communities around here. It’s eye opening to see those people don’t have anything, but they are the happiest people in the world. Anyone can take something from that, just seeing them struggle I want to give back to them so bad.”
Asafo-Adjei was selected as one of a handful of Kentucky athletes to make a trip to Ethiopia last year.
“Those people don’t have nothing, yet they’re way happier than us,” he said. “It puts perspective on things, that maybe we care a little too much about materialistic and what people think about us and those kinds of things. It definitely gives you a great perspective on life.”
Big George has a big chance
“I’m going in there to take a job,” Asafo-Adjei told media the night the Giants drafted him. “I’m going in there to make a name for myself.”
It is far too soon to know if Asafo-Adjei can do that. What we do know is that there is an opening at the position Big George will play — right tackle.
“He’s a big, powerful man. He’s got really good length. You can tell he’s a very physical style player,” said coach Pat Shurmur. “I think that’s important at the position.”
Shurmur said the Giants are “for sure” going to give Asafo-Adjei a chance to show he can play right tackle in the NFL rather than move him inside to guard.
Often, linemen drafted as late as Asafo-Adjei was (232nd overall) are considered developmental players. Guys who could use time on a practice squad to develop their bodies, their techniques and their understanding of the game before being relied upon to play. The next few months will show if Asafo-Adjei is one of them.
Schlarman believes that “Physically there’s no doubt that he’ll [Asafo-Adjei] be ready.”
How quickly he learns the playbook, his assignments, NFL techniques and adjusts to the speed of blocking NFL pass rushers will determine whether or not he makes the team and, ultimately, cracks the lineup.
“He’s off the charts in terms of his physical attributes,” Schlarman said of Asafo-Adjei, who ran a 4.9 40-yard dash and did 31 bench press reps at the Kentucky Pro Day. “His strength, his explosion, all those types of characteristics.
“I think if he would have gone to the combine and had those types of results he probably would have gone earlier in the draft.”
At this point in his development, Schlarman said Asafo-Adjei is a better run blocker than pass blocker who “gets really good movement at the point of attack … when he gets on guys he can drive, he can move his feet.”
If Asafo-Adjei doesn’t succeed in the NFL, Schlarman said it won’t be from lack of effort.
“He’s going to put in the extra work. He’s a guy that brings his lunch pail every single day,” Schlarman said. “He’s blue collar. Comes every day, has a great attitude, works extremely hard.”