Dolphins RB Drake was in sixth grade when Gore entered the NFL
Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake wants people to do more than scream and shout.
He also wants them to smile.
A winning football season would accomplish all three.
But even if the Dolphins lose every game this year, he has already helped light up the faces of kids all over North America.
Drake, the Dolphins’ third-year running backs, is an ambassador for Smile Train, an international children’s charity focused on treating kids with a cleft lip or palate – which affects one in every 700 youths worldwide. The facial deformity makes it difficult to eat, breathe, speak and hear, it also saps a child’s self esteem.
Kids with untreated clefts often live in isolation. Drake knows their stories well.
He spent a week in Mexico City in June to tour treatment centers, meet patients and even witness a cleft surgery. And he is raising awareness for a charity that pays for these relatively minor procedures.
For as little as $250, a kid’s life can be transformed.
“It really goes a long way in not just how a person feels, but also their motor skills,” Drake said. “When you have a hole in your gums, the top of your mouth, it affects your hearing, it affects your speech. That surgery really benefits a child’s life as a whole. It’s really cool to go down there.”
Drake and his family were not directly affected by a cleft lip, but he knows how self-esteem suffers when a child is afraid to smile. He had a gap tooth as a kid, and was self-conscious about his appearance.
When Drake returned stateside, he hosted a charity spin class in his native Georgia, raising enough for 10 surgeries in just 90 minutes. He also hopes to wear shoes highlighting Smile Train during the NFL’s annual My Cleats, My Cause event.
“When you impact kids, you impact the future,” Drake said.
The future has been on his mind a lot lately. And it should be. Drake did not grow up with much, but he could set himself up for life if his 2018 season goes how he plans.
This is his third year in pro football, a time when players inevitably start thinking about their second contracts. Drake is no different.
“I know the importance of this year, but I’m not going to put too much importance on it because this is a team sport,” he said. “I can’t go out there and do it myself. I have 10 others guys on the offense that are dependent on me to go out there and make plays and vice versa. At the end of the day, I’m going to go out there and make plays like I know that I can.”
When given the opportunity, Drake made plenty of plays last fall. After Jay Ajayi was traded and Damien Williams got hurt, Drake was the last running back standing. And he responded with the most rushing yards by NFL over the season’s final five games (644).
He has seven career all-purpose touchdowns; four have gone for 40 or more yards.
“I [am] really impressed with his abilities to run the ball inside the tackles,” said Eric Studesville, who took over as Drake’s position coach this offseason. “He’s obviously got speed to finish. Being here with him now, you see the other dimension, which his ability in the pass game to do some things in the pass game. Really, run different routes – a variety of routes – stretch the field and do some things. I’m excited about everything we can do to get some more touches for him.”
Studesville will have to figure out how to simultaneously expand Drake’s role and find reps for Frank Gore, who decided to make Miami the likely last stop of his Hall of Fame career.
Gore has shown this camp that there is plenty of life left in his 35-year-old legs, so the Dolphins’ running back approach will remain by-committee.
That seems fine with Drake, who has not been his team’s featured back since high school. He grew up in suburban Atlanta, where football isn’t just a game. It’s heritage.
He began playing at age 6, and it wasn’t long before he realized he was good enough to use the game as a financial ladder.
His family did not have money for college, so Drake knew football was his best shot.
He gave up baseball to focus on his best sport. Smart move, because he turned out to be really good, and Nick Saban noticed. Drake attended Alabama on a football scholarship, and was a key part of the Crimson Tide’s 2015 national championship team.
Drake is known for his size (at 6-foot-1, he’s tall for a running back) and speed (he ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine). But he models after his game after smaller, shiftier backs like Marshall Faulk and Warrick Dunn, because they can do it all – run and catch.
Faulk and Dunn went on to have lucrative, successful careers. And they used their fame to help others, which Drake seems determined to do as well.
“It’s cool to now, being in the position where I can use the platform to help kids also reach their dreams,” he said. “Not just from an athletic standpoint but all endeavors.”
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