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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #55: Jerry Azumah

Zoom was the best football player in UNH history. Nobody could catch him on a football field. A kid from Worcester, he set a whole mess of UNH and 1-AA (now FCS) records. He was the first 1-AA player to rush for 1,000 yards in four seasons. He also set 1-AA career records with 6,193 rushing and 8,276 all-purpose yards. He was an elusive speed back with surprising power, and a hellacious kick returner. His senior year in Durham he set school and conference records with 2,195 rushing yards and 22 TDs en route to winning the Walter Payton award as the best player in 1-AA. I have very fond memories of watching Azumah tear it up at the old Mooradian Field at Cowell Stadium.

The Bears drafted Azumah in the fifth round of the 1999 NFL draft and turned him into a cornerback. He excelled there with ten interceptions in his seven-year career, including a memorable 2002 playoff moment against the Eagles in which he picked off Donovan McNabb and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown. That was, by the way, the last touchdown scored by the Bears at old Soldier Field. Azumah’s real impact in the pros was as a kick returner. He would make the Pro Bowl in that capacity after a stellar 2003 campaign, and set a record for kick return yardage in the Pro Bowl (228, since broken).

Azumah retired in 2005 and has turned his charismatic energy to broadcasting on Bears postgame shows and to philanthropy. He’s given back at UNH and through the Bears community programs, as well as starting his own foundation, the Azumah Student Assistance Program (ASAP), providing disadvantaged student athletes in Massachusetts and Illinois with scholarships.

Jerry was UNH ‘99 and I was ‘97, so we crossed paths here and there. I always found him warm, funny, and focused. We once bumped into each other at the Gas Light in Portsmouth during his NFL years and had a drink together for a few minutes. He expressed surprise at how many guys in the pros were broke. They’d sign these huge deals and then blow all the money on cars or jewelry or drugs or their posse. Not Jerry. He took care of his mom back in Worcester and then he saved his dough. Even off the field, nobody was going to catch Jerry Azumah.

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