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Kaufman was born in Kansas City, Missouri and grew up in Lompoc, California which is located 55 miles west-northwest of Santa Barbara. He was one of the greatest high school running backs in California prep history at Lompoc High School. As a 135 pound sophomore in 1988, he rushed for 1,008 yards in leading Lompoc to the Southern Section divisional semifinals. As a junior in 1989, he had an even better season. Kaufman was named to the Southern Section All-CIF and All-State first team, compiling 2,954 all purpose yards and 39 touchdowns, averaging a remarkable 70 yards on kickoff returns. As a senior in 1990, at 5-9, 170, with 4.3 speed in 40 yards, he was named the Cal Hi Sports' California high school football player of the year. Despite injuries, Kaufman rushed for 1,960 yards and 28 touchdowns leading his team to a 13-1 record and a CIF championship. He was also named to the USA Today first team All-American team. In his high school career, he rushed for 5,151 yards and 86 TDs. Kaufman chose the University of Washington over USC, Colorado, and Arizona.
Kaufman was also an exceptional track athlete. As a junior, Kaufman was the CIF California State Champion in both 100 (10.57) and 200 meters (21.15) He also was an accomplished long jumper with a personal best of over 24 feet.
In 1991, as a true freshman at Washington, Kaufman returned kicks for the Huskies during the year the team won the national championship. Among his notable collegiate performances was the 1994 "Whammy In Miami" game between the Huskies and the University of Miami at the Orange Bowl, where the Huskies ended Miami's 58-game home winning streak, which dated back to 1985. Kaufman is Washington's all-time leader in rushing yards (4,106), 200-yard games (4), rushing touchdowns (34), and tied with Chris Polk for most rushes for 50+ yards (6). In a game against UCLA in 1994 Kaufman set the school's record for longest non-scoring rush with 79 yards. Along with Polk, he is one of only two Washington running backs to rush for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons (1992-94: 1,045, 1,299, and 1,390). He was named to the All-Pac-10 team in 1992, 1993, and 1994. In 1994, he was a second team All-American and is a member of the University of Washington Hall of Fame.
Kaufman was selected with the 18th pick in the 1st round of the 1995 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders, where he remained for the entirety of his 6-year NFL career, amassing 4,792 yardsrushing on 4.90 yards per carry. Kaufman scored a touchdown in his first NFL game against the San Diego Chargers. Kaufman rushed for 490 yards as a rookie backing up Harvey Williams. As the Raiders' primary running back in 1997 and 1998, he rushed for 1,294 and 921 yards, respectively, and had 65 total receptions during those two seasons. Kaufman split playing time with Tyrone Wheatley in the latter part of his career.
On October 19, 1997, in Week 8 of the 1997 season, Kaufman rushed for 227 yards, leading the Raiders to an upset of the undefeated Denver Broncos (the eventual Super Bowl champions that year) and setting the franchise mark for rushing yards in a single game. Kaufman broke the record of 221, set by Bo Jackson in his famous Monday Night Football performance against the Seattle Seahawks on November 30, 1997. 18 years later, Kaufman's record still stands.
During the latter part of his playing career, Kaufman was the Raiders' chaplain, and baptized two teammates in the whirlpool at the team's practice facility. He retired abruptly at the end of the 2000 NFL season to pursue a career as a Christianminister. Today he is the senior pastor at The Well Christian Community Church in Livermore, California, a church he founded with about 15 families in 2003; as of December 2015, the church had over 1,000 regular worshipers. His wife also serves as a pastor, two other former Raiders serve in leadership roles, and Hall of FamerRod Woodson is a member. He has three sons and one daughter and has been married since September 1996. He also coached a team in the PJFL league. Kaufman is currently the head coach of the football team at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland where his sons Napoleon Jr. and Nathaniel currently attend school. He also returned as the Raiders' team chaplain in the 2012 season, and still serves in that role as of December 2015.