By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
As the Chargers make a fresh start in their new home in Los Angeles, it’s also a fresh start for veteran offensive left tackle Russell Okung. In March, Okung signed a four-year contract with the Los Angeles Chargers, who had recently relocated after five decades in San Diego. The Houston native began his NFL career as the first-round Draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2010 out of Oklahoma State. He spent six years in Seattle, and was with the Denver Broncos for the 2016 season.
Now Okung finds himself in a position of being both a new kid and a veteran leader for a team that, under Anthony Lynn, who is in both his first year with the Chargers and his first as a head coach, has made both a geographic and culture change. Going into the 2017 season almost 70 percent of the Chargers players have NFL experience of three years or less.
“There’s definitely a sense of newness. There’s a shift in culture,” Okung said. “I like what they’re doing here. There’s a shift in how things are being done. I’m excited to be a part of it.
“I try my best to lead by example. I’ve been fortunate enough to have eight years in the league and I just come to work every day and do my best. Those are the expectations. We want your toughness and mentality, but you understand the competitive edge; Have purpose.”
Okung and his wife, Samar, whom he married during the past off-season, have happily settled into life in southern California. Samar is a real estate agent and Okung is leaving find their new home up to her. However, the couple is maintaining roots in Seattle where Okung’s Greater Foundation is based.
He explained the foundation’s focus and goals.
“What I saw as I was looking around is, there’s a huge disparity when it comes to minority households, and a huge gap between jobs and the people available to fill the jobs,” he said. “In this case there’s a shortage of skill sets. We took that and got connected with some really great people who are passionate about the future of our workforce.
“[We focus on] children getting into coding, STEM, teaching entrepreneurship, or even teaching adults – how do they build the skills? We’re in still in America. We can’t say a child doesn’t experience a high level of education but that’s the way it is.”
The Greater Foundation, which Okung co-founded with his Oklahoma State friend and teammate, Andrew McGee, offers a variety of programs that help expose children to learning about jobs that they might not have otherwise had access to. They connect them with a variety of companies and educational opportunities to increase their knowledge base and inspire them to pursue different avenues that they might not have previously. The hope is that through this type of endeavor, at-risk youth may find a path to become more successful and contributing members of the global work force and economy.
Hands-on with everything the foundation does, Okung is looking to expand the its reach.
“It started with under-served communities but it’s been able to grow beyond that. There’s a shortage of people. You look at what’s happening, take a macro view of things the minority is becoming the majority so what happens 20 years down the road and people haven’t been educated enough to meet the job shortage.”
Okung is now committed to making sure every ninth-grader in Seattle has some experience with the foundation’s entrepreneurial program.
“Some people call it ambitious,” he said. “But, we’re building it to scale. We’ve been patient and hiring the right sort of team. We want it to be as big as it can be. It’s important to us. And, as a football player, exceeding expectations is engrained.Lisa Zimmerman is a long-time NFL writer and reporter. She was the Jets correspondent for CBSSports.com, SportsNet New York’s TheJetsBlog.com and Sirius NFL Radio. She has also written for NFL.com.