Sam Looks to Bring Winning Pedigree to ASU

In a couple weeks, Arizona State will officially begin its fall camp as the Sun Devils get set to defend their Pac-12 South crown. Questions remain as to who the team will replace nine starters on defense, but one newcomer who hopes to contend for immediate playing time in 2014 is freshman linebacker Christian Sam, who also knows a thing or two about defending titles.

In Texas, high school football is a rite of passage. From east to west Texas, young men grow up dreaming of one day of starring under the famed Friday night lights of football fields all across the state. Christian Sam, a native of Dallas, TX, is no exception.

Sam starred at Allen High School, which has quickly become one of the top football programs in Texas over the last decade, having made the state playoffs in each of the last 12 seasons while also claiming its district title each year since 2006.

As a junior in 2012, Sam recorded 57 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, and 11 sacks while helping lead the Eagles to just the school’s second ever state championship victory.

The linebacker raised the bar even higher last season, notching 86 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, and eight sacks while earning All-Midlands Region honors as Allen repeated as state champs in convincing fashion, downing Pearland High School 63-28 in front of a reported national high school football record crowd of 54,347 at Dallas Cowboy Stadium.

“It was surreal,” said Sam reflecting back on his high school days. “The first time we won, I mean, that’s what you hope for but I never thought that one day I’d actually win one. We got to the game and I thought, ‘Wow.’ Then we won and I still couldn’t believe it. It didn’t hit me until we graduated and I was like, ‘Dang, we really won state twice in a row.’ It was amazing.”

Sam collected 5.5 tackles, a sack, and forced a fumble in Allen’s 2013 win, earning Defensive MVP of the game.

“It was better to win the first time than to repeat because I feel like we won the first time but had everyone coming back pretty much, so we knew we could do it the second time,” he added. “We were really going to be our own biggest problem to not win it, so that’s kind of how we went into the second one. We still worked hard, but I think it felt better winning the first one.”

Allen finished the season a perfect 16-0 and ranked second nationally to only Booker T. Washington High School (Miami, FL).

“We should have been first, but we know where we stand,” said the linebacker. “It’s all good.”

Of course, Sam isn’t the only member of the 2014 Sun Devils who comes from the Allen High School winning pedigree. Head Coach Todd Graham coached the Eagles from 1995-2000, reviving the program and helping start the funding for what would ultimately lead to a brand new, start of the art, $60 million stadium which seats 18,000 on the school’s campus.

Allen Eagle Stadium, which opened in 2012, also features a weight room, wrestling practice facility, and indoor golf facility.

“I didn’t even really know he coached there until he told us on our first visit in the summer, so I had no clue,” remarked Sam. “It’s nice to know he’s from the same area as us, so we can relate right there. He started the program. It’s nice to actually get to know the dude who started where we left off and now I’m with him now, so it’s pretty nice.”

Sam’s breakout play as a junior and senior at Allen immediately made him one of the more sought after talents in the 2014 class. A consensus three star prospect, the 6-1, 212 linebacker received nearly 20 scholarship offers, including offers from Baylor, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech.

Despite some speculation that he would stay in Big XII country, Sam announced his commitment to the Sun Devils in early August last year, ending the suspense.

“Really it was when they showed me the schemes and all the plays that can be made and all the opportunities that I could have, because really, that’s what life’s all about - opportunities,” said Sam, who was primarily recruited by Senior Associate Head Coach Paul Randolph and Running Backs Coach Bo Graham. “When I saw that, it really caught my eye. There are only so many schools in the country that have what I can do because I feel like I can blitz and cover. There are only so many schools that have what we have, the SPUR, so I felt like it was a great place for me to showcase my abilities.

“And then the coaches, I really liked them when I came to visit and all throughout the process. They kept up with me consistently, so that was real nice.”

Of course another major attraction for Sam was the potential to play early. The Sun Devils are replacing nine starters on defense this fall, including both the WILL and SPUR linebacker positions, which Sam covets.

“That was huge,” he said. “I always wanted to play college football, that was a dream, but it never hit me that I actually would. So when they told me that, I was just like, ‘Wow.’ I feel like I’m good enough (to start) but I’m going to keep working always. I know it’s going to be hard and take real hard work. It’s exciting to know that I can actually have that opportunity.

“I’m training right now with my team so that when August 1st rolls around, we can hit the ground running and see how things go.”

The freshman reported to campus early last month and has spent the first four weeks of his college tenure balancing the demands of offseason workouts with his teammates and summer school, where Sam says he’s considering a major in broadcast journalism or marketing.

“Summer school and workouts, it’s a lot of work but it’s only going to make me better as a person, a football player, and a man,” he said. “It’s a change from high school, definitely, but everything is going good so far.”

While Sam continues to get acclimated to his new surroundings in Tempe and anxiously awaits the start of Fall camp next month, one thing that hasn’t quite met his level of expectation so far has been the lack of respect he feels his new team has received from some members of the national media, which he looks to change on the field this season.

“I was reading something on Twitter (yesterday) and I saw ESPN, they had some type of question and it was like, ‘What are your projections for the Pac-12 South?’ and I didn’t see ASU in the top four,” he said. “I was like, ‘Wow, they’re really trying to doubt us.’ But you know, it gives me fuel to work harder. They don’t know who we have, so you know, come the season, we’re just going to have to show them.

I’ve never really been a goal-setter but one of the goals I have is to definitely start from day one and just take off from there. I want to be a Freshman All-American and help my team go to the national championship because as you know, that’s in Dallas and I’m trying to get back to my hometown and just help my team out and win. And get good grades, for sure.”

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