Junior linebacker launches “Azeem’s Dream Foundation” to help kids avoid some of the pitfalls he saw befall others in his hometown of Compton, Calif.
No one can ever claim that Azeem Victor doesn’t possess passion.
Oh, they can urge him to rein it in, as Huskies linebacker coach Bob Gregory does when he reminds Victor to play football like a fighter-jet pilot flies – one inch out of control.
“Not two inches – one inch,’’ laughs Victor.
In other words, at a breakneck pace but not to a reckless extent. That’s the battle for Azeem, who just oozes fervor in everything he does.
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You see it in the way he plays middle linebacker for the Huskies, with a ferocity that makes him one of the leaders of a defense reputed to be Washington’s best since the Don James era.
And you can hear it when he talks about his primary off-field focus – helping kids avoid some of the pitfalls he saw befall others in his hometown of Compton, Calif. Victor has launched “Azeem’s Dream Foundation” with that goal in mind, and proudly lists himself as a “Community Ambassador” on his Twitter profile.
“I want to be that powerful source people can come to, and along the line, I want to build facilities for kids to have a safe haven to come to,’’ Victor said.
Victor’s football passion can be traced to role models like Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, whom he describes as “old-school guys” with an intensity he wants to emulate.
That, “and coming from a background where a lot of people don’t make it. When you make plays, it makes it that much better, knowing how far you came from,’’ he said.
One person who didn’t make it was his high-school teammate and close buddy Quentin Dimitris, who died in Compton of a gunshot wound in 2013, at age 18. Both were seniors in high school.
Victor’s Twitter profile concludes, “RIP Q.” There’s no doubt the memory of Quentin’s plight has driven Victor not just to a renewed commitment to keep his own life on the straight and narrow, in and out of the classroom, but also to help others avoid Dimitri’s fate.
“It’s just a factor of, what if I could have saved him?” Victor said. “And how many Quentins can I save in this world?”
So Victor tries to do as much as a college junior immersed in the rigors of schoolwork and major-college football can do. With teammates Kevin King, Brandon Beaver and John Ross, he embarked on a group-mentoring project in King County. And he says that his foundation is trying to help youngsters in all aspects of their lives, with tentacles reaching to Arizona and Southern California as well as Seattle. His grandmother, Chiquita Bell, is providing guidance.
“She has her own business, and she’s helping me start my own, so it’s a good thing,’’ he said. “My grandma always told me, if you want to do something, go and do it. I was never the type of person who wanted to work for someone. I always wanted to go and do my own thing. That’s pretty much what I’m trying to do.”
At some point, Victor may well have the more visible platform as an NFL player to give his philanthropic plans more heft. At 6 feet 3, 230 pounds, with speed, agility and a nose for the ball carrier, Victor projects as a potential high-round draft pick.
Last year, Victor became, in Gregory’s words, “a marked man” in the Pac-12 when a hit against Cal was submitted to the conference for review. A week later, he was ejected for a fourth-quarter hit on USC quarterback Cody Kessler, earning a suspension for the first half of the Huskies’ next game against Oregon.
Victor vows that the lesson has been learned, and he won’t stray an inch too far over the boundary. It can be a delicate balance, however, for someone whose game is predicated on aggressiveness.
“That’s actually something I’m working on now, toning it down, playing between the lines and doing it the right way,’’ he said.
One of the first things Gregory notes about Victor is how important football is to him, which leads to a high intensity level at practice.
“One thing about Azeem, he’s very passionate about the sport,’’ he said. “Sometimes, his emotions can get the best of him. He’s doing a very good job of trying to control that and channel it the right way.”
On and off the field.