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Running mate

Mohamed Sanu

The Bengals rookies made one of their first forays into the community this week after their morning workouts, starting at the Ronald McDonald House at Cincinnati's Children Hospital on Monday before heading over to the Cincinnati VA Medical Center on Tuesday.

They've all shown up. Both days. From the 17th pick in the draft, Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, to the free agent the Bengals signed off a rookie camp tryout in Kansas State outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur.

And yet there was one guy that seemed like a natural to make the visits. The kid with his mother's name tattooed on his chest. It could be a campaign poster since Aminata Koroma is running for parliament in her native city of Freetown in Sierra Leone as she tries to help her All People's Congress party reach the goal of 30 percent of the 112 seats in the nation's legislature held by women.

"Right now," she says, "there are less than 17 women."

"They love her over there. They wanted her to do it," says Mohamed Sanu, the wide receiver from Rutgers. "I always saw her doing things like that growing up. It's a great thing to do. Give back to those around you."

With each catch during the past three weeks of the Bengals voluntary workouts, Sanu is emerging as solid go-to guy with his big body and big hands to match his family's big dreams. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden doesn't know how much Sanu will end up playing or where. But he does know he's dealing with a guy much older than his 22 years.

Forget the studying and the answers Sanu spits back in the meeting room.

"He just has a natural instinct to be a big, friendly target; he knows what he has to do to get open," Gruden says. "A lot of guys when faced with a route adjustment round it off and it allows the route to get jumped for an interception. But he's got the ability to stick his foot in the ground, make the right shade or angle and get that 12-yard completion."

Sanu plays like he grew up. Smart. Tough. Aware. Gruden says there are times he almost gets too methodical and needs his tempo stirred.

"But he's come in here running the right routes, playing all the positions, and that's impressive," Gruden says.

Sanu's playbook is written across his upper chest in script.


"He showed you?" she asks. "Words can't express how that feels. To be number one in his life like that."

A week from Tuesday is a big day for both of them. Koroma heads back to West Africa to continue campaigning for the Nov. 17 elections. It's also the day the Bengals begin their three-day, five-practice mandatory minicamp that closes the spring workouts.

"She goes back and forth. She loves her country," Sanu says.

She left for the first time in 1975 at age 26 for the United States, but always visited her family as often as possible. Sanu lived there for three years before settling in South Brunswick, N.J., where his older brother and sister helped raise him while their mother worked different shifts at two nursing homes during the day as a licensed nurse practitioner.

"She was always working and I saw her maybe every other weekend," Sanu says.

The Sierra Leone she knew had always been buffeted by civil strife, but that didn't stop her from visiting her parents during the civil war from 1991-2002. It was there during one Christmas holiday she remembers rebels invading Freetown and forcing her into neighboring Guinea so she could fly back to Jersey.

"There are no winners in a war," she said. "Things are better now. More peaceful. And we're making progress with things like women's rights. Women had been marginalized for a long time and it wasn't great when I was growing up. But we're making progress and there is a lot of support for the idea that more women should be involved in decision-making."

Like the tattoo says, Sanu is in awe of his mother and why not? She can speak three languages (English, Krio, Temne) and she'll make campaign speeches in all three. Which is three more than many of her American counterparts.

"Sometimes as many as three," she says when asked how many speeches she'll give in a day.

Koroma, 62, who often wouldn't arrive home from nursing until 11 p.m., has gone overtime back home. She sponsors orphanages and scholarships.

"It's not like here where there is a public school and you don't have to pay until you go to college," Koroma says.

Which is why her son is one of the rookies that showed up. Both days.

"I like hanging out with kids and making them smile. I like being that role model; whatever it takes," he says. "It's just how she is. That's how I am, too."

It's written all over him.

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