NEW YORK — Playing cornerback was "the challenge of lifetime" says former Oakland Raiders star Nnamdi Asomugha. Now, he's tackling something new: Broadway. Asomugha is debuting in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, A Soldier's Play.
Since his NFL retirement in 2013 and being named the best Raiders player of the decade by Pro Football Focus, Asomugha started taking acting lessons. The "bug" stems from being plucked for a TV commercial followed by a small part on Friday Night Lights. He went on to be the executive producer of Netflix's Beast of No Nation, starred in the 2017 film, Crown Heights, and had roles on Nick Kroll's Kroll Show and Will Ferrell's Funny or Die.
Then, A Soldier's Play came along. Asomugha was ready.
"When I played football, I was known for how I prepared for games," he recalled of his 3 AM game plans and extreme dedication to the sport. "So, it's the same thing -- just crossed over."
Just like how every football game is different -- from the plays to the atmosphere in the stadium -- Asomugha says so is the nature of live theater, even though he recites the same lines in every single show.
"I've learned every [show] is different. For instance, you wake up in the morning, you get out of bed, and you brush your teeth. You don't do it the same way every day," he said.
The audience, just like the crowd at a game, can play a huge factor in his performance.
"When the audience is engaged, the show really takes off. It's just like in football, when the crowd is really there for you as a player, then that momentum just really hits," he explained. "It's crazy how it works, but it's true."
A Soldier's Play takes place on a racially segregated U.S. Army military base in Fort Neal, La. in 1944 during World War II. Asomugha, who is part of the ensemble of men in the army, plays Private First Class Melvin Peterson, a role that Denzel Washington originated in 1981. Years on a football field helped prepare Asomugha for the two hour dramatic murder mystery, which will be performed eight shows a week at the American Airlines Theatre in Times Square.
Director Robert Townsend believes that Asomugha's NFL career made his transition to broadway easier.
"He said, 'I'm completely blown away by the fact that you had this other life in the NFL for so long and seamlessly coming onto the stage,'" Asomugha recalled of their conversation. "'I have to imagine it has something to do with learning plays in football and being so in tune with the playbook that you're able to retain these words and bring them to the stage.'"
It's those words from Townsend that led Asomugha to realize why he was successful at this new venture.
One big difference between the NFL and Broadway? The pre-show ritual.
"You need a different level of energy going into football. There's nothing like pumping my chest, getting excited and riled up, high-fiving and chest bumping the other guys. It's more inward," Asomugha said. "How am I feeling? What's my energy? My pre-game, I guess you call it for this, is just taking myself back to 1944 to what an African American in the army might be going through and just try to put myself in that mindset."
Former Green Bay Packers defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila was "blown away" by Asomugha's performance, as was former Raiders cornerback Chris Carr. Then there is Asomugha's wife Kerry Washington, who also gave him the seal of approval. She has starred on Broadway in a few plays, including 2019's American Son. Asomugha was a producer on the show, which is now available on Netflix.
Washington and Asomugha live in Los Angeles with their two children. After Sunday matinee shows, Asomugha flies across the country to take them to school on Monday, his one day off a week.
On a plane heading home was where Asomugha watched this year's Super Bowl between his former team, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Kansas City Chiefs. He rooted for Andy Reid, his former coach, and the Chiefs. Asomugha played under Reid when he played for the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I wouldn't necessarily say that I was like, 'Let's go Chiefs' but I was definitely 'Let's go, Coach Reid!'"
He considers Reid to be one of the greatest mentors of his life.
"I just was able to see him every day and see what a leader looks like. Someone that can really lead in the face of adversity and be there for us when in actuality, he needed people to be there for him. It just made such a huge impression on me, which is why we're so close till this day," Asomugha said.
If there was one person from his football days Asomugha wishes could see him in this new light, it would be the late Al Davis, who owned the Raiders from 1972 until his death in 2011. He's the one who changed Asomugha's position to cornerback when he joined the NFL.
"He's just one of those sort of father figures that you would want to see you succeeding throughout life because you know that they were cheering for you from the beginning," he said of his hero. "He believed in myself, gave me opportunities to be successful and was part of my journey to becoming the best cornerback in the NFL."
Now, Asomugha is on a journey to getting recognition for his acting.
Asomugha isn't trading those old days for anything, though. When Asked which was more challenging: Broadway or football, he expressed "they're both extremely hard in their own ways" but playing cornerback tops the list:
"I think it's just like it's one of the most difficult things that you can do physically, mentally and especially to be good at -- it's very tough."
A Solider's Play runs on Broadway until March 15. For tickets, click here.
Leigh Scheps is the senior digital reporter for InsideEdition.com and Broadway contributor for CBS Interactive.