Today, we catch up with 1990 American Family Insurance ALL-USA football player Napoleon Kaufman of Lompoc, Calif., who played with the University of Washington and for six years with the Raiders of the NFL. Today, Kaufman is the pastor of The Well Christian Community Church in San Ramon, Calif. For more than 30 years, USA TODAY has recognized the nation's top high school athletes. We are digging into the archives and checking in with ALL-USA honorees from the past three decades.
Sundays were always important to former NFL running back Napoleon Kaufman, now only more so.
These days, it's the Rev. Napoleon Kaufman, as he oversees The Well Christian Community Church. Since he founded the church with his wife Nicole in 2003 with only 15 families in a 110-seat storefront building in a strip mall in San Ramon, Calif., it has grown into a 83,000-square foot building in Livermore, Calif., with more than 1,000 regular members, including WBA super-middleweight champion Andre Ward and Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson. The Well also oversees other churches: five in Lima, Peru; and single churches in nearby Concord and Hayward; Reno, Nev.; and Hiroshima, Japan.
"Football has taught me a lot about the ministry," says Kaufman, 40. "When it comes to ministering, you have to be a team player, you have to embrace a mission. It's no different from what a coach does. But the ministry is more important than scoring touchdowns."
Kaufman was a state champion sprinter at Lompoc, Calif., and made the 1990 ALL-USA football team as a running back. He played four years at Washington and is the Huskies' all-time leading rusher with 4,401 yards. In 1995, he was drafted in the first round by the-then Los Angeles Raiders and played his entire six-year career with the Raiders. His most productive season was 1997, when he ran for 1,294 yards and six touchdowns and had two touchdown catches and 403 receiving yards. He said he had at least a few more years of football in him when he abruptly retired in 2001 when he was 27.
"I didn't have any concussions," Kaufman says. "I didn't let a bunch of guys get a hold of me when I played. I was always doing a bunch of shaking and baking to make them miss. I had a great career, I did some great things. When I made the decision to walk away from the game, I did have some teams call me, but while I love football, serving people, serving God and helping people, that's my passion. I've never regretted that decision."
At first, his plan was to be a full-time traveling minister with Gateway City Church, then the Evangel Christian Fellowship, in San Jose.
"We had no intention of planning a church," Kaufman says. "My wife and I knew we wanted to go into a full-time ministry. Then, two years after I retired, we really felt called to plan a church in our local area. Through much prayer and dialogue with my pastor, we started this church."
Ward, who is training for a Nov. 16 bout with WBC super-middleweight champion Edwin Rodriguez, was one of the church's early members, joining in November of 2004, just a few months after he won the light heavyweight gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.
"My wife and I were in between churches at the time," Ward said. "An older couple that had just joined talked us into to going. It took us a while before we went. The first time we went, I told my wife, 'This is it.' In some ways, Napoleon's message is simple but it's also very deep."
Ward, who is an usher at the church, said he connected with Kaufman because the former NFL player understood the pitfalls that can befall professional athletes and because of his enthusiasm.
"I don't know if it was his minor, but I think he took a drama class in college," Ward says. "It comes in handy. He's very animated and has a ton of energy.
He's usually in the moment. I love inviting people to our church and telling people it's a safe place."
Kaufman has also been the Raiders' team chaplain the past two seasons, but most of his time is spent with his church, which includes a bookstore, a café, classes for special-needs students and Bible study, a computer lab and a production studio where he hosts a radio and television program, Times of Refreshing.
VIDEO: Kaufman's television show
He said he can't fully explain his church's growth at a time when many churches are shrinking.
"I can't give you just one reason," Kaufman says. "I know at the end of the day, we just try to pray and obey. I think the biggest surprise to me is the diversity, the multi-ethnic expression. Most people would say the most segregated day and time of the week is Sunday morning at 10:30. But we have blacks, whites, Hispanics, Chinese and Japanese. That's one of the things that has been a blessing for our church."