There’s no doubting that Oklahoma right tackle Dru Samia came in ready to make an impact, but becoming the first true freshman to start at tackle for the Sooners might have seemed like a stretch before he arrived on campus.
Quickly, Samia started to seem more like a veteran than a freshman going through his first practices as a collegiate player. Redshirt senior Josiah St. John noticed Samia move from the middle of the meeting room to the front row during training camp.
Samia had the playbook almost memorized before the first practice, scoring higher on the opening play test than anyone but senior Ty Darlington. At just 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds, Samia had to come in mentally ready because he doesn’t possess overwhelming size like redshirt freshman Orlando Brown, Oklahoma’s 6-foot-8, 300-plus pound left tackle.
Soon, offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh noticed Samia was handling the responsibility as well as anyone he’d ever been around.
Samia wanted to win every rep from the start of training camp. He wanted to know every play perfectly. He wanted to be on the field, because it wasn’t always that way.
During his junior year in high school, Samia was ruled academically ineligible for a portion of the season.
“That was like the lowest low that I’d felt in my entire life at that point,” Samia said. “I feel like I needed that to get my butt in gear because I had these offers and I had schools kind of looking at me. I’d get none of that if I didn’t handle my stuff in the classroom.”
Samia says he’s still a bit immature off the field, which is believable since he’s shy of his 20th birthday. He looks back at that suspension now if he’s ever feeling lazy about studying or doesn’t want to look over his playbook or watch film.
He remembers how he let his team down. He looks back at the moment that ultimately kick-started his collegiate career, forcing him to open his eyes to the programs that were recruiting him.
“I just never want to feel like that again,” Samia said. “That helped me be more mature.”
Now, he carries his iPad filled with Oklahoma’s offensive plays with him everywhere. Samia has always been his own worst critic, although he said that he has eased off himself a little bit. He still calls his uncle, who he worked with extensively in preparation for coming to Oklahoma.
The phone calls are a little more laid back now. They still go over flash cards of plays, but Samia is recognizing his own mistakes – although his uncle, who played college football, will still get on him when he has a misstep.
Samia beats himself up when he gets something wrong on the practice field, and he’s willing to stay after practice to work out his mistakes.
“You can’t just leave practice after you messed up and expect to come back the next day and have everything fixed,” Samia said. “You have to work on it to get it fixed.”
Samia came in knowing that he had to be perfect because he knew at the collegiate level “everybody is big, everybody is fast. You can’t just rely on being big and strong.”
For him, it’s more about who does the little things correctly.
By the time Oklahoma went on the road to Kansas State, Samia had earned the starting right tackle spot and has helped stabilize the Sooners’ offensive line after St. John started four of the first five games.
Samia has started all seven games since, and Oklahoma hasn’t lost.
“He’s also a really mature freshman in how he handles everything,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said earlier this season. “He came in physically ready to play which doesn’t usually happen. . . . He’s bright. He’s able to pick everything up.”
From Samia’s first day at practice, he took it seriously – going right into what he calls “double days,” something he perfected with his uncle even before coming to Oklahoma.
All that preparation and mental focus and yet Darlington still said he wasn’t surprised to learn that Samia was academically ineligible at one point in high school. Darlington called Samia a paradox, someone who can be very responsible and beat himself up in his studies but then “do something dumb” like not showing up on time or missing a workout.
Darlington also wasn’t surprised to see the gains that Samia has made, saying he could be one of the best linemen in program history before it’s all over.
Samia pushed himself hard and came in ready to play because he has already experienced the pain of not playing.
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“He was impatient with himself,” Darlington said. “I think that ushered his development a little bit. . . . That kind of dedication is abnormal, but it’s also what makes people great.”