Chapter Twenty-four: Sam Finally Realizes that  he is Not to Blame

As Papa Sam progressed through his schooling, a lot of changes are taking place. He is maturing not only physically but mentally and emotionally.

Events that would have overwhelmed him or confused him just a few years ago, he is now able to process and handle them in a more appropriate manner. Case in point, his mother’s emergency hysterectomy just four years ago, he had blamed himself for it. Now with age and maturation, he has been able to work things out and finally come to the realization that he was an innocent in the whole matter. With this realization came a greater clarity of thought. He also realized that if he could figure this out, then so too could his father. So maybe he is looking at this all wrong. Maybe his father doesn’t hate him after all. Even though he had taken a major step forward, he still had a ways to go.

The question is, why did he find it so hard to talk to his father and express his feelings? Well, for one, his father was a veritable God to him. He had done things that no other man had done before, and to top it off, he was a two-star general and commanded thousands of troops. Even though Papa Sam finally realized that his father did not hate him, he was still intimidated by him. Remember, sometimes you have to take baby steps before you can run.

One thing is for certain, even though Papa Sam had worked some things out, he was not about to let up. He knew his father would not stop either, so that is precisely what he was going to do.

Before he moved onto high school, his old track coach broached the idea of Papa Sam trying out for the football team. The coach figured since he had great speed and good hands maybe he could be a wide receiver. So that is what he did, he tried out for the junior varsity football team at his new high school. Thanks to his sheer speed, the coach overlooked his inexperience and made him a starting wide receiver. His football coach Tom Jenkins figured he could always teach the kid to catch a ball. However, you can’t teach raw speed. He was simply the fastest player on the team. Besides all the positions and maybe the kicking team, the wide receiver position was the easiest one to pick up. All he had to do was learn a few routes, pay attention to the snap count, and catch the damn ball.

It turns out that of the three sports he competed in, Papa Sam enjoyed football the most. It was simply the most exciting and fun. He had played baseball for three years and had pretty much reached his peak. He was a solid player, but he realized that he would never be good enough to make the majors. While he was fast, let’s face it, Nevada was not Georgia or California. So, being the fastest runner in the state in Nevada didn’t exactly carry a lot of weight. So his national ranking was somewhere between “no man’s land”, “who in the hell cares”, and “what’s your name.” He knew he wasn’t going to win any Olympic medals or get any endorsements. However, he was good enough to get some scholarships, though.

But football was an entirely different animal. He might actually be good enough to play at a higher level if not as a wide receiver then maybe as a corner, hell, maybe even a backup quarterback position. He did after all have a pretty decent arm, and he would be one of the fastest qarterbacks in football. His 40-yard time was just under 4.6 which made him one of the fastest high school football players in the country. So it was only a matter of time before he made the varsity team. All he needed was experience and repetitions to get his routes down. Besides what better way to impress your father than to streak down the old gridiron to catch a winning score.

After playing in a few games and scoring a touchdown in all three games, the varsity coach Edward Stamos finally took notice of him. He talked to coach Jenkins who agreed to let him go. Jenkins realized that his quarterback was simply not good enough to showcase Papa Sam’s skills. He had to admit the kid had really taken to the sport. He could really play the game and besides, he was a smart player.

It took a week’s worth of practice and study before Papa Sam started playing. In his first game, he only played in the second half. He had two catches and both times, he broke them for big gains. He would have scored a touchdown on both if the defense hadn’t been playing deep on him. Apparently, the opposition coach had heard about the new kids’ blazing speed and had made some adjustments to his defense. Well, coach Stamos would be better prepared next time because he was going to spend time teaching his new star player how to avoid being tackled. Since he was so new at the game, he hadn’t learned all the finer points. Sometimes, raw speed is just not enough.

Coach Stamos had a secret weapon. He’s a friend of Harold Carmichael, arguably the best wide receiver in the 1970s. His team, the Philadelphia Eagles was playing the Dallas Cowboys at Dallas and he had two 50-yard line tickets to the game. Provided he had his parent’s permission, he was going to take Papa Sam to see him play. What a better way to learn than from the master. Besides after the game was over, Carmichael had already graciously agreed to show his star player a few of his favorite moves.

Grandpa Gordon, of course, knew the advantage of learning from the best immediately signed off on the trip. Mama Clara was a little more hesitant, but she eventually agreed as well.

Despite losing to the Cowboys 7-14, No 17 Harold Carmichael still managed three catches for 45 yards. He did have a nice pass completion for 23 yards. This was the first time Papa Sam had ever been to an NFL game and he had a great time watching it. He was amazed at how the players performed. The movements of the players on the field were like watching a ballet. Some of the skilled position players were just so graceful on the field. Even though No. 17 only had an average game, Papa Sam could see that he was a truly great player.

No. 17 wasn’t in the best of moods after the loss to the Cowboys but he kept his word and came back out on the field. He had taken off his pads and and now he was ready to spend some time showing Papa Sam a few of his best moves and plays. He even had the backup QB come out to throw some passes so that they could run a few routes.

After spending a short time on the field with Papa Sam, No 17 was considerably impressed . Especially when he blew by him and caught the ball. Granted, Carmichael wasn’t going at full speed. So, Carmichael ran another route at full speed this time, and the kid just managed to beat him by a step to catch the ball again.

No 17 walked over to the side line, shaking his head and asked his old friend coach Stamos what this kid’s age was? The coach chuckled and said, “He just turned 16. He has just started on my varsity team, and he has only played in 4 games in total so far between Junior and Varsity.”

All Carmichael could say was, “Damn!” He showed Papa Sam a few more moves and said that was all he had. Coach Stamos and Papa Sam both shook his hand and thanked the legend vehemently. On the Greyhound bus ride back to Las Vegas, Papa Sam thanked his coach again and said what an honor it was to spend time with such a great player.

Coach Stamos nodded in agreement and remarked that, “He is a definite Hall of Famer once he retires. ”

Papa Sam replied that, “he showed me so much in such a short time. I hope I can put what I learned to good use on the field.”

Coach Stamos said matter-of-factly, “Sam, I want you to know that I have never done this for any of my previous players. I have done this because I think you are a once-in-lifetime player. I have never seen someone with so much raw talent and such a strong work ethic before, nor am I likely to see one such as you again before I retire. I expect great things from you, so don’t disappoint me.”

“I won’t” Papa Sam exclaimed emphatically.

It had been a long day and they had a 27-hour bus ride ahead of them so they both pushed their seats back and quickly fell asleep. There were several food and rest stops along the way, so the return trip went by fairly quickly. They had both brought reading materials for both legs of the trip. The coach brought his playbook so he could work on new routes and running plays. The assistant coach was running the daily practices while he was away.

The journey was finally over. The coach had taken his car to the bus depot, so he dropped Papa Sam off at his house before he went home. They were both in need of some rest and a shower. The next day the coach wanted to see what Papa Sam had learned from his trip, so he had full speed touch only drills planned between his offense and defense. They were basically just running and passing routes. He was mainly concerned about his passing right now, but he couldn’t show any favoritism.

He knew he had a half way decent running game, though it could be a whole lot better. Now he was hoping to have a more balanced offense with Papa Sam added to the team. His run defense was a little weak, but his pass offense was as good as any he had coached before. So he was hoping for a good match-up on both sides. He had an accurate QB, but his arm strength was not the best. He was hoping with some weight training that would improve in time.

What he saw was totally unexpected. Where he expected close plays between the offense and defense in the passing game was a total shellacking. Papa Sam destroyed his pass defense. He caught every pass thrown to him and he made 10-20 extra yards every time he touched the ball. His speed was blistering, but now he had moves after the catch. He was making his defense miss him completely. They weren’t even getting close. His reflexes were amazing. He had never seen anyone improve so quickly.

Before Papa Sam had started playing on the varsity team, they had managed to squeak by and win their first two games. After he started playing, the team not only continued to win all their games, but the margin of victory continued to increase as he became more proficient on the field. Eventually, Papa Sam was scoring two-three touchdowns on each game. The coach even had him run a few plays as a halfback. Even though he was a little undersized, he still managed some nice gains.

They went undefeated that year and made it to state. They just lost out by a small margin in the first round. The problem was that their offense was a single dog and pony show with just Papa Sam as their only real deep threat. The coach realized that he needed more help for Papa Sam. While he was an exceptional player, he couldn’t carry the team all by himself. Coach Stamos realized he really needed a better running game, something he had been trying to develop for some time.

After only playing 7 1/2 regular season games, Papa Sam had 13 touchdown receptions and 950 receiving yards. The coach couldn’t have been happier. While he only had one touchdown reception in the state championship game, he had over 150 receiving yards which was incredible considering that he was getting double teamed the whole game.

Papa Sam’s junior year was a breakout year for him. He set all kinds of records in the state. Coach Stamos actually found a solid running game. This helped take some of the load off of Papa Sam ‘s shoulders. They made it to the state finals but lost in the last 30 seconds by a field goal.

In his senior year, Papa Sam suffered a season ending injury in the final game. He was having a recordbreaking game and was just about to score his fourth touchdown when he was taken down by a cheap shot. He missed out playing in the regional games and as a result, his team did not make it to the state finals for the first time in two years.

Despite his injury, he was still awarded several scholarships. With hard work he made a full recovery. But something changed in him after that injury. He realized that he didn’t like his odds of getting hurt again. It only took one bad hit to end his career. Lucky for him, he had solid grades. The only problem was that he only earned an academic scholarship to a local college. So it was a hard decision to make but he kind of had already made up his mind years ago to follow in his father’s footsteps. He had only used sports to get his father’s attention. Thanks to some fortuitous events that transpired in the next chapter, things were finally going his way.