BOULDER - A giver by nature and a self-described "big kid at heart," Andre Gurode wanted to give back. But he wanted to do it differently. He decided to return to basics, finally asking himself, "What could be more basic for kids than kickball?"

CU's former All-America offensive lineman - he primarily was a guard for the Buffs (1998-2001), but now is a center for the Dallas Cowboys - is sponsoring a Kickball Tournament on June 5 in Dallas. The event is bookended by a black tie event on June 4 and a wrap-up brunch on June 6, all to be held in Dallas and part of a kickoff weekend for Gurode's new endeavor, The Center of Attention Foundation.

Gurode, reared in Houston, shares a mind-set - that being the idea of giving back to kids and community - with many former CU athletes. In the San Francisco Bay area, ex-Buffs linebacker Hannibal Navies, with help from former CU defensive back Rashidi Barnes among others, recently conducted a camp that combined football instruction with tutelage in ACT and SAT testing. Navies, a 10-year NFL veteran, established the Hannibal Navies Foundation seven years ago.

"I truly understand the importance of adults spending quality time to work with and mentor youth," Navies said.

Ditto for Gurode, who has been involved in more than a dozen charitable enterprises during his eight years with the Cowboys. He initially began sponsoring a basketball team and also backed an individual or two. "But I wanted to go bigger," he said, and four years ago he "started kind of kicking around the idea" for a foundation. The Center of Attention Foundation was born.

This year, the center focused on helping children in foster care; next year, attention is turned toward children who have asthma. As a summer fund raiser, Gurode "wanted to do something unique, and the first thing that popped into my head was kickball.

"When I told a few people about it, they laughed. But I went forward with it and put the idea out. The radio response and the response in the community has been overwhelming . . . nobody has done anything like it."

In the Dallas area, response to anything even vaguely Cowboys related usually is off the charts. Gurode will have help from "20 or so guys from the Cowboys," some of whom will play, some working in support roles. "It's all been pretty interesting putting it together," he said. "Guys saw it on paper and said, 'Hey, I played that as a kid.' It should be a lot of fun - and it will be great for the kids and the foundation."

Football and year-round conditioning allows scant free time for NFL players. Gurode was in the midst of OTAs (organized team activities) when I caught him by telephone this week. Training camp looms in mid-July, with the preseason schedule creeping in a few weeks after that.

Gurode has become a fixture in a Dallas O-line deep in talent and experience. He is about to enter his ninth season, as are projected starters Kyle Kosier (guard) and Marc Columbo (tackle). Leonard Davis (guard) is heading into his 10th season, while Doug Free (tackle) is the group's youngster, approaching season No. 4.

Gurode played for three O-line coaches at CU - Steve Marshall, Tom Cable and Terry Lewis. On occasion, Marshall called Gurode "the best offensive lineman I've ever coached." The coaching trio's consensus: 'Dre could do much, much more than merely make a living in the NFL; he could stay awhile and make his stay very profitable.

And that's what's happened in Big D. The Cowboys made Gurode their 37th pick (second round) in the 2002 NFL Draft. That made him the club's highest selected O-lineman since 1981 (Howard Richards, No. 25) - and Gurode has justified the Cowboys' confidence in him by being voted a three-time Pro Bowler (2006, 2007, 2008).

I asked him for an NFL highlight and he immediately went to "playing in that first Pro Bowl . . . the others (2007-08 Pro Bowls) were pretty special, too - just getting that recognition from your peers. Making that journey to all of them, that's been an honor."

Durability has Gurode's calling card. His only significant injury (knee) at CU came during his freshman season and sidelined him for half a dozen regular-season games. But he returned for the final three games and the Aloha Bowl, a 51-43 win against Oregon. Entering last season, Gurode had started 93 of 109 games for the Cowboys and was still recognized as one of the NFL's most proficient centers.

His only NFL surgery has been an arthroscopic knee procedure after last season. But there have been stitches - among them, 30 to his face after a shameful and widely publicized incident in 2006. On Oct. 1 of that season, Tennessee Titans nosetackle Albert Haynesworth kicked/stomped Gurode in the head after Gurode's helmet came off in a post-play pileup.

At least one report had Haynesworth pulling off Gurode's helmet before the incident. Gurode said at the time that the pair had not exchanged words or done anything that he believed might have led to the incident. Haynesworth, ejected from the game after a subsequent penalty and since traded to Washington, was suspended for an unprecedented five games without pay, reportedly costing him more than $190,000.

At CU, Gurode never was a "look at me" kind of player. In fact, for as good as he was, the less attention he received the better. But in the wake of the Haynesworth incident, Gurode found himself in an unsolicited, unwanted spotlight.

"Having all that stuff happen, having so much attention, it wasn't what I wanted," he said. "Through talking to my pastor and praying about it, I got through it. I spoke to him (Haynesworth) a couple of times afterwards; he called me a few days later and apologized."

Gurode wouldn't call the incident part of a sometimes vicious game, primarily because it's not.  "It was just an incident in which he lost complete control, I guess," he said. "But I've moved on and I think he has."

Haynesworth later called his actions "disgusting" and said he had "disgraced" the game, his team and his name. "I'm not a dirty player. I don't play dirty; I have respect for the game."

The 2010 season will find Gurode & The 'Boys trying "to improve on what we did last year . . . the whole goal is to improve," he said. Dallas finished 11-5 in 2009, defeating Philadelphia (34-14) in the NFC wildcard round before losing badly to Minnesota (34-3) in the divisional playoff round.

For many, NFL means "Not For Long." Things can change on one snap, but as Gurode sees it now, the end of his career is not in sight. He's under contract with the Cowboys through 2012; if things continue to go right for him, he sounds as if he'll play at least that long.

"I'll do it as long as I can," he said. "The Lord will tell me when to hang it up and I'll walk away from it."

Until then he'll give it all he can, which also means giving back as best he can.

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU