The biggest play of his life: NC State punter spends spring breaks changing lives in Kenya

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NC State punter A.J. Cole has traveled to Kenya for several years on spring break - and helped enrich lives in the process.

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NC State punter and rising senior A.J. Cole III is changing lives in Africa.

Cole, who is from College Park, Georgia, spent his last five spring breaks visiting Mountain Park Academy in Nakuru, Kenya.

"Those kids are like my friends," he said. "It's not any kind of, I go over there to like, help them or anything like that. We have relationships."

The average income in Nakuru is about a dollar a day, and only about 10 percent of high school students go on to college.

"I mean, it's outrageous," Cole said. "They know that education is their best chance at a good life. They know how competitive it is so the level of sincerity in the classroom is completely different."



Cole recognizes how much he can do with the N.C. State football platform. Since June of 2015, for $25 a month, he has sponsored a young man named Benedict. Through the sponsorship, Benedict can live on the school's campus instead of having to walk several miles to and from school each day.

"Seeing people show up to church in soccer cleats because that's their best pair of shoes ... the list goes on and on," Cole said. "For some people, that may just be 25 dollars a month that is a minus category in their checking account. To me, that just made a significant difference in their life."

ACTIONS INSPIRE A COACH

Cole's passion inspired one of the Wolfpack's football coaches, Aaron Henry, to go with him to Africa this past spring break.

"I know as a coach, we always talk about setting examples for our players," said Henry, who coaches the nicklebacks. "I thought how cool would it be for me to follow one of my players to Africa and have an incredible experience."

For Henry, it wasn't just Africa that was eye-opening, but Cole himself.

"Those kids remember him, and they are screaming his name before he can even make it onto the campus when they see him coming down," Henry said. "You would think that A.J. is running the show. It's like he is running a Fortune 500 company and you don't know his age ... he's not 20, 21, 22 years old."

The experience encouraged Henry to sponsor eight children.

"We fed them bread and soda one day," he said. "Like a loaf of bread and a soda pop, and to see these babies standing in line for a loaf of bread and soda, it was like the coolest thing in the world because when you get back here ... we throw away food like it's nobody's business here.

"I get it we are in another country, but those people are so thankful for everything," Henry added. "The greatest example was I gave this young man a piece of a Snickers bar - and he had to be like 5 or 6 years old - and he broke the little piece of Snickers bar that I gave him into like six different pieces. And in that moment, it was like a self-check to me. I complain when the water is too hot or too cold. They just want water, clean water."

'THOSE ARE THE PEOPLE THAT CHANGE THE WORLD'

Cole learned about the Kenya Project through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and started visiting Africa in high school.

Cole's mission is to get as many children sponsored as possible.

"I've never like, gone to bed hungry," Cole said. "That's something that so many people over there and so many people across the world go through on a daily basis. It's easy to live your life in America and not really think about that."

Cole hopes to have a career in the NFL after he's done at N.C. State. But no matter what he does, Henry said Cole's impact on the world won't be forgotten.

"He's a really good ballplayer, a really good punter, I think that helps him - it's going to work out in his favor," Henry said, "because that young man is absolutely anointed ... a young man like A.J., those are the people that change the world after they leave this university."

If you're interested in sponsoring a child or donating to the Kenya Project, you can do so by clicking here.
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