<span style="">Scott Fujita is a starting linebacker and an established NFL veteran, but he's more proud of his contributions off the field.
Community work, family, education and children are the pillars in Fujita's life. So when the New Orleans Saints standout gets a chance to combine them, any of them, he goes at it with the same vigor and unbridled passion he releases when tackling a ballcarrier barreling down on him, full speed ahead.
Giving Back to the Big Easy
Fujita joined the Saints as a free agent in 2006, eager to make an impact beyond just football.
"Nowhere is what you do in the community more important than what you do there (in New Orleans)," Fujita said. "I've been around the country a lot with different teams, and just getting out and spending time talking to people has the most outreaching results than anything else you can do. Just hearing their stories and being back in New Orleans playing football has done a lot for me."
Fujita lives in downtown New Orleans, a central location which allows him to interact with people several times a day in a city that has come a long way since being ravaged by hurricanes in 2005. Of all the volunteer and outreach work he does to make a difference away from the gridiron, his favorite is working with youth.
"Working with young kids is fun, because you get some of the most outlandish questions in the world, which are always great," said Fujita, who visits schools to talk about education, sports and healthy lifestyles. "When you get kids in the high school age, you feel like you're actually having a chance to help mold them to a certain extent and get them really serious about school as they prepare to go on to college.
"That's the most important thing—the more you can stress school to these kids and take care of that education, that's the best thing I think we (athletes) can offer them."
The entire Saints team won the JB Award for Community Dedication in 2007 for helping to uplift the downtrodden residents of New Orleans and getting the city back on its feet. For Fujita, winning honors and being recognized around the league for his achievements are reminders of his memorable "Welcome to the NFL" moment.
Fujita, who holds Bachelor's and Master's degrees from the University of California-Berkeley, said, "Everyone in the world has dreams and I didn't think all this would happen or I'd be in the league, but I just took care of school and played sports on the side and it kind of worked out this way. My 'Welcome to the NFL' moment … was my first preseason game and first time ever stepping onto the field. A 10-year veteran in front of me pulled me aside. I was just about to go onto the field and he said, 'You earned this. You deserve the right to be here.' I'll never forget that."
In his six NFL seasons, Fujita has led his team in tackles three times. He has played for the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans—where he's under contract through March 2010. Though the 2008 season will be just his third with the Saints, he already knows he wants to stay with the team—partly because of what he and the city have been through together.
"For me, throughout my life, I have countless great examples from people about how to make the best out of a bad situation," a pensive Fujita reflected. "With New Orleans, there are so many people who have been through so much more than I've ever been through in my life. I have no reason to complain about anything."
No 'I' in Team
Linebackers are often rated by their number of tackles, sacks and interceptions. While Fujita regularly tops the 100-tackle plateau and usually chips in with a few tallies in each of the other two categories, he doesn't hang his hat on individual benchmarks. Instead, the team comes first.
"I'm pleased, but never satisfied. It's going to take a lot to completely satisfy me," he said. "All those things like the Pro Bowl are nice, but a lot of that is a hype contest at the same time. I just want to do my part and be the best player I can be for the team. Everything else will just fall into place."
The Saints, coming off an appearance in the 2007 NFC Championship Game which Fujita called "about as close as you can get," took a step backward last season due to four consecutive losses to start the year. But the defensive captain sees his talented team getting back on track in 2008.
"All the pieces are really in place," Fujita said. "It's just continuing to find the right guys that fit. That's what Coach (Sean) Payton wants to do. I think he started that … as soon as he was hired—bringing in high-character guys and putting together a good, solid locker room. That's what's going to win championships," he added.
As the city has grown on him, Fujita has become an increasingly important part of the Saints' future. His interest in wildlife and the outdoors could lead to a post-playing career in nature photography or archeology, but he's still got plenty of good football years left in the tank.
"I've got a couple years left on this deal and ideally I can finish my career in New Orleans," Fujita said. "I'm glad they made a commitment to keep me here. I just want that and once I get a Super Bowl ring, I can retire peacefully."
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