MARLTON, N.J. – David Akers had a vision, and it had nothing to do with field goals, football games or a Super Bowl.
The five-time Pro Bowl kicker for the Philadelphia Eagles is a devout Christian who aspires for a life in ministry after his NFL career is over.
So at a time when players have been told to be careful with their spending because of the uncertainty regarding the collective bargaining agreement, Akers opened his checkbook for a cause that's important to him and his family.
On Feb. 27, Akers sponsored a concert at Cherokee High School featuring tobyMac, Brandon Heath and House of Heroes. tobyMac, a five-time Grammy Award winner who has sold more than 10 million albums, is the Jay-Z among Christian rappers.
A musician of such stature could've easily sold out a much larger venue than the 1,500-seat performing arts center at a South Jersey high school.
But Akers, who lives in nearby Medford and attends church services at Marlton Assembly, wanted it to be a local event.
"I have a passion for youth," said Akers, who worked as a substitute teacher in between stints in the NFL early in his career. "I wanted to do a free outreach as part of my giving to the church, and I wanted to make sure it was right there in the community I live in.
"Sometimes we don't go out and take care of things in our own community. We let things slide. We are all called in the Bible to serve one another. If I can go to the ends of the earth and share it, why do I have trouble going to my neighbor and serving that person? So we started doing things for the community."
Akers is a big fan of contemporary Christian music, so this type of concert was a natural fit.
"It speaks to me very well with a lot of things I've gone through in my life," Akers said. "You can have positive, uplifting music instead of some of the things our kids listen to that's so negative. You should watch what you hear, who you hang out with because it's a slippery slope and all of a sudden, you don't stand for what you thought you stood for."
Tickets for the concert — modestly priced at $15 — were gone in a matter of days. The proceeds were donated back to the church. Overall, Akers spent $40,000 on the entire event.
Chump change for a star athlete?
Not quite in this case. In 2009, Akers lost most of his life savings when the investment company that held his money was sued for defrauding its investors and went into receivership.
Add in the fact that Akers just completed the final year of his contract and is unsure where he'll play next season or how much he'll make, and that's quite a donation.
"The money I spent, if one soul was able to enter into heaven because of it, it's worth it," Akers said. "I look at that as me glorifying God through the platform he's given me. I really believe God put me on this platform to go out and serve and to do better for his kingdom. As a steward, that's my job to go out and do that."
With help from many volunteers, Akers began planning this event several months ago. Back then, there was no way to anticipate that one of Akers' children would endure a serious health issue. Akers and his wife, Erika, have two sons, Luke and Sawyer, and one daughter, Halley.
Two days before the Eagles played the Green Bay Packers in a wild-card playoff game, the couple learned that 6-year-old Halley had a rare form of cancer on one of her ovaries. Doctors told the family to return Monday to discuss surgical options.
On Sunday afternoon, Akers had plenty on his mind when he took the field against Green Bay. He entered having made 25 of his previous 27 field-goal attempts. But on the first drive, he missed a 41-yarder. Early in the fourth quarter, Akers missed from 34 yards. Those were uncharacteristic and costly misses.
The Eagles lost 21-16 when Michael Vick's pass into the end zone was intercepted in the final minute. Even one of those field goals would've helped, though the Packers probably would've played a few of their offensive series differently with a smaller lead.
"I'll take the blame," said Akers, refusing to make excuses. "I have no problem doing that, but I realize there's so much more that goes into a game."
The Akers were back at the hospital the next day to speak to doctors. Halley eventually had surgery to remove her left ovary. The tumor was malignant, but early tests revealed the doctors got all the cancer out. Still, Halley's condition needs continuous monitoring and she'll undergo periodic blood tests and ultrasounds.
"When I lost that money, I thought it was tough. But I'd write a check like that tomorrow to make sure nothing happens to my child," said Akers, who still wears the blue hospital band on his left wrist.
"A lot of people look at an NFL player and think there's never anything cloudy in their life. People give them money, they do this, they do that. I say, 'Look, man. I lost a ton of money when a financial institution lied to us, lied to the government. The CBA is up and it's my time to be a free agent and hit the market and I can't control that. My daughter dealing with cancer.....'"
Akers' voice trails off and his eyes water a bit when he talks about Halley.
"I just thank God for the blessings for the way we were able to catch it," he said.
Through it all, Akers kept going forward with plans for the concert. His goal was to have each person coming bring a nonbeliever as a guest. Akers addressed the crowd during intermission and shared his testimony. He said it was the first time his wife actually heard him preaching because she's usually with the children when he talks to various groups.
"When David went on stage to share what was on his heart, you could tell how special it was for him to see a sold-out crowd from his own community there," said Tim DeMoss, a friend of Akers who helped organize the event.
"That had been the vision all along, to reach local kids and families. David shared a lot of thoughts, ultimately encouraging people to trust God with their lives and to live for Him.
"Considering all he and his family had been through, and the fact someone of his stature was speaking, the message was that much more believable and powerful. He was open, honest, and even humorous at times. He definitely didn't come across as better than anyone else but rather as a servant, desiring to lift others up."
The 36-year-old Akers has overcome many obstacles to become one of the most successful kickers in NFL history.
He was cut by three different teams before signing with the Eagles in 1999. Akers went on to set the franchise record for points, field goals, extra points, games played in the regular season and in the playoffs. He was selected to the NFL's All-Decade team for the 2000s, and only Morten Andersen (seven) and Jan Stenerud (six) have made more Pro Bowls.
During his time in Philadelphia, the three other teams in the NFC East — Dallas, Washington and New York Giants — have used 31 kickers.
Akers has spent 12 seasons with the Eagles and is the longest-tenured athlete in the city. But his future is uncertain, despite coming off consecutive Pro Bowl seasons and showing no signs of slowing down — he set a career high with 23 touchbacks last year.
The Eagles designated a transition tag on Akers, meaning the team could match any offer he would get from another organization. However, that tag may not be valid under a new CBA.
Akers was disappointed by the move and still hopes to sign a long-term deal with the Eagles. But he's discussed with his family the possibility that they may have to move and they're prepared for a new challenge.
"The last two years and being able to go to the Pro Bowl and to be able to perform well when things are really bad in other aspects of our life, I felt like God was saying, 'I got you," Akers said.