The "Box" can be complicated.

It has no tangible barriers.

Its grip can be strengthened by manipulations so subtle, you might not even know it has a hold of you.

It can be a lifetime of established familiarity or socio-economic realities that make exploration beyond it seem like a fading dream that can never be grasped.

Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is no fan of the box. He understands how its power can sometimes impede even the brightest prospects and keep them from reaching their potential.

He decided to do his part to combat that.

In 2007, Asomugha, then a member of the Oakland Raiders, didn't know what to expect when he took a group of high school sophomores from the city across the country to Atlanta to tour some of the colleges.

He just knew that he had a group of bright students who needed to be taken out of their personal boxes - even if only momentarily - to see that there truly was a world of infinite possibilities for them to continue to reach for.

This wasn't only a speech or a classroom visit.

This was a real-life experience that gave them a taste of what their hard pursuit of higher education could lead to.

"Each tour is something different for me," said Asomugha, who runs the Asomugha College Tour for Scholars through his charitable foundation. "I've come to realize that the students who finish the tour are completely different from the ones who start it.

"It feels like so much becomes opened up to them. A lot of them have never been outside of their area or on a plane before. But then they get over their shyness and uneasiness. I start to see them transform, and that is one of the greatest joys for me."

After he signed as a free agent with the Eagles last year, Asomugha, who earned his degree from the University of California, Berkeley, knew he wanted to involve Philadelphia in the ACTS program.

Originally, he thought he would make Philadelphia the next tour stop, joining Atlanta, Boston, New York, Washington and New Orleans.

He didn't think that would have enough impact, so he decided to include high school students from Philadelphia.

Working with the Eagles Youth Partnership, Asomugha found students from the franchise's After School Activities Partnership and Philadelphia Futures, the latter a local organization dedicated to helping high-potential, but economically disadvantaged students make their way to college.

"I knew about the ACTS program," said Sarah Martinez-Helfman, executive director of EYP. "I was so excited when Nnamdi told us he wanted to include Philadelphia and asked if we could help direct him to students who would meet the criteria."

Those criteria include a grade-point average of 3.2 or higher, involvement in his or her community and extracurricular activity in high school, plus an expressed interest in and drive toward higher education.

Asomugha was supposed to take three students, but after his personal screening of the candidates, he was so impressed, he could not cut it to three, so he added a fourth.

From Philadelphia Youth Chess (an ASAP program), Asomugha accepted Lishahy Camp from Philadelphia High School for Girls and Vincent Mills from Central High.

Philadelphia Futures brought in Christopher Felix from Northeast High School and Kerby Phillippeaux from Samuel Fels.

On Tuesday, the students flew from Philadelphia to Chicago for the 2012 ACTS tour, which included visits to Northwestern, DePaul and Loyola.

"Being selected to participate in the 2012 ACTS tour is opening new doors for us by taking us outside of our comfort zone," Felix said. "Being away from Philadelphia and everything I am used to will help teach me how to deal with new situations.

"I'm honored that Nnamdi recognized my academic potential. I have goals for myself, and I won't let him down.

"My mom is so excited about this opportunity. She works tremendously hard to provide for me and my brother. She did not have these kind of opportunities when she was growing up. She shares in each of our successes."

Asomugha said that on past tours, he was surprised at how overwhelming many of the students found the experience.

Then he thought back on his own experiences in visiting and picking a college and realized it all made sense. He said it takes some processing to feel comfortable and gain confidence in a new environment.

The environmental aspect of his tours is important to Asomugha. Experiencing the culture of a new city is just as important as touring its universities.

In New York, Asomugha took the students to a Broadway show, and they met former President Clinton at the William J. Clinton Foundation.

The Washington group went bowling in the White House, and the Boston group sat courtside at a Celtics game.

Visits to art and history museums are always part of the program.

"During our orientation, the kids and their family and guardians get to know me and the other chaperones," Asomugha said. "But one of the things I stress is that when we talk about higher education, we always relate it just to schooling.

"But while this is a college tour, I think just the traveling and seeing something new can be a next level of education in itself."

It doesn't stop after the 5-day tour. This is also a mentoring program. Through social media, Asomugha keeps in contact with most of the past participants.

After this tour, more than 75 kids will have participated in the ACTS program. All of the ones who graduated from high school have gone on to pursue higher education.

"College in itself can be an overwhelming thing," said Asomugha, whose foundation also awards college scholarships. "And when we first start, this can be overwhelming for the students, but I've found out that it is something that they embrace.

"It shows the character that they have. It stimulates their interest. It helps them understand that it's going to take work."

For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/Smallwood.