KANSAS CITY, Mo. —The phone rang at 4 a.m., which is usually not a harbinger of good news for anyone. For Chiefs rookie guard Jon Asamoah, it was a call long overdue.
Asamoah, then during spring practice of his senior year at Illinois, was told that after an excruciating, eight-year wait, his father, Samuel, would be receiving a kidney transplant.
"Luckily, when he got the transplant, we had a scrimmage at the University of Illinois-Chicago, 10 minutes from the hospital where he was," Asamoah said. "I was able to go from the scrimmage the day after he had the transplant and stay with him."
The transplant was a success. And whenever Asamoah runs into a little adversity, such as the Chiefs' current two-game losing streak, all he has to do is think about his father's journey: battling diabetes, receiving dialysis treatments up to three times a day, working his way up the transplant list and waiting for the right match for a kidney.
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Then, Asamoah remembers what's important.
"It's tough losing games, but you've got to keep fighting, just like with my dad," said Asamoah, who started at right guard in the overtime victory against Buffalo in place of Ryan Lilja and stepped in at left guard last Sunday at Denver when Brian Waters suffered a groin pull.
"Things get tough," he said. "My mom and I never thought negative when we could have really thought negative with my dad's situation. Things were not looking good for a while, but we said, 'Forget this, we're going to keep fighting?' "
Even while Samuel Asamoah, 58, struggled with diabetes and kidney failure, he maintained great interest in Jon's progress both academically and athletically.
Samuel left Ghana in 1975 and attended Eastern Illinois University, where he met Jon's mother, Geraldine. Both have master's degrees, and Samuel became a teacher before taking ill; Geraldine works with the disabled in the Chicago area.
"If I wasn't focused, if I didn't keep my grades up, if I didn't do what I needed to do, he would have come down on me," said Jon, who maintained a 3.8 grade-point average at Illinois, was selected to the National Football Foundation's 16-man Scholar-Athlete team and was honored with the 2010 Big Ten Medal of Honor for proficiency as a student-athlete.
Asamoah, a third-round draft pick, has proved to be a quick study at both guard positions for the Chiefs after starting 37 consecutive games at right guard for Illinois. Changing sides might sound simple enough, but each has its own nuances, including different footwork, placing the opposite hand on the ground and remembering the plays are numbered odd to one side and even to the other.
"My first year of college, I was at left, and I switched over to right for three years," Asamoah said. "Since I've been here, I've been working both sides. I'm getting comfortable ... you just flip everything in your head."
He's also received plenty of advice from Lilja, a veteran of two Super Bowl teams at Indianapolis, and Waters, a four-time Pro Bowler.
"The most important thing both of them have taught me is stay level headed at all times," Asamoah said. "It's not even about technique or anything. They told me I can make every play I need to make. They said, 'You just need to stay level headed. Don't get too high and don't get too low when something bad happens.' "
The Chiefs will find out today about Waters' status for Sunday's game against Arizona, but coach Todd Haley said he's liked what he's seen in Asamoah at both guard spots.
"We've got guys who are beat up, and we got a chance to get Jon some critical, critical snaps, and I thought he went in, and by no means was perfect, but he did a lot of good things," Haley said. "That's the versatility of the player. Some guys can handle it, some guys can't, but he's doing that."
While Asamoah appreciates the atta-boy from his coach, he's just as interested in his dad's critique. Because of Samuel's condition, his father didn't get to many of his college games, and when he did, it was a major production because of all the dialysis equipment, wheelchair and other medical supplies his parents hauled from Chicago to Champaign.
They plan to visit Kansas City during Christmas, though the cold weather might make it difficult to attend the Tennessee game on Dec. 26.
"Sometimes he has trouble getting around, but his spirit is better, and he's more active and alert than he was for a long time," Jon said. "He loves watching the games. He's learning more and more since he's been in this country. He didn't grow up watching football, so sometimes he has some interesting perspectives. They've got the Direct TV package now so they watch every game.
"Things have gotten better. We're lucky (the kidney) came before things could have got worse. We stayed positive, we kept saying, 'It's coming, it's coming, God is looking out for us, it's going to happen one day,' and then we got that call."