PROVO — I didn’t think Joe Sampson was coming. Having covered BYU recruiting since 2003, I’d seen this sort of thing go down before.
Those that follow recruiting closely will remember the names of Walt Williams and Eddie Scipio among others — minority, non-LDS athletes who just never showed up at BYU after signing letters of intent.
Would Sampson join the list?
It certainly looked that way during January through June of this past year.
Sampson is a 6-foot-0, 205-pound defensive back from San Mateo Junior College in California. He was recruited by programs such as Utah, Oregon and Oregon State before deciding to commit to BYU.
He committed to sign with BYU in September 2010. He’s the cousin of former BYU corner Brian Logan, and committed with the intention of joining the Cougar program for winter semester.
In so doing, he'd allow himself the opportunity to participate in spring practices in preparation for the 2011 season. Given his only two years of eligibility with no redshirt option available, the plan was to get to BYU in early January in hopes of contributing immediately.
That didn’t happen.
Sampson didn’t show, and speculation ran rampant that he never would. Coaches expressed doubt, phone calls weren’t returned as it appeared apparent that he just lost his desire to enroll at BYU and join Bronco Mendenhall’s program.
“It’s not true, I never doubted that I’d be at BYU,” rebutted Sampson at even the assertion that he ever wavered in his commit. “Things just didn’t go like I planned, and it was frustrating, but no, I never for a second doubted that I needed to be at BYU.”
After several reporters learned from a source on the coaching staff that they weren’t expecting him to join the team, I received a text out of the blue. Sampson, in the text, emphatically stated that he was going to come to BYU and to tell everyone of that fact.
He went on to sign a letter of intent with the program in February, with the intent of enrolling in early May. Well, May came and went, and Sampson still wasn’t in Provo.
“It was extremely frustrating,” he said. “I was trying so hard to get all my classes and eligibility requirements in order, and I just couldn’t in time.”
Situations like Sampson’s aren’t uncommon for junior college transfers. There have been several JC players who went through the same NCAA clearinghouse issues such as Lee Aguirre and Chris Bolden, among others.
Sampson didn’t arrive in Provo until late July. Given his late arrival, he had little to no opportunity to acclimate himself into how things are done at BYU.
He signed with BYU as a safety prospect, which is the position Mendenhall readily explains as perhaps the hardest position to learn on defense. Given the steep learning curve, it was quickly determined that he would best be able to contribute this year at boundary corner.
Learning the boundary corner position isn’t an easy task either, however.
“The coverages BYU runs here are as complicated as they say, and it takes time to learn them,” said Sampson. “I had so much catching up to do, but I wanted it. I wanted to play. I only have two years here, and I wanted to play.”
He had a lot of help. Many of his teammates, particularly Corby Eason and Travis Uale, spent extra time with him, helping him get up to speed.
He also received a lot of help from his cousin.
“Brian (Logan) helps out a lot, and I mean a lot,” said Sampson. “He’s always talking. After the first game, he went over every single thing that I did, and I mean everything. It helped, it helped a lot. Brian has been a big help.”
Another big help has been his desire to work. Coming out of spring practices, the two-deep at every defensive backfield position looked to be secure.
Cracking the two-deep would take a lot of extra effort.
“Joe has shown that he knows how to work and that he has the desire to work, which has helped him,” said defensive backs coach Nick Howell toward the end of fall practices. “He’s talented enough, and he brings an intensity to the field that can help us. I’ve been pleased with his progression.”
Sampson broke the two-deep at boundary corner and has split time with starter Preston Hadley at the position in every game so far this season. Both players have received early praise from Mendenhall.
“I believe that we’re stronger at boundary corner than we were a year ago,” he assessed. “Joe has worked hard, and I’m happy with his progress.”
From the second Sampson took the practice field, he’s presented a very aggressive and physical type of play. During the first live scrimmage, he recorded two monster hits, which is a big help to the defense.
“That’s what football is, it’s a contact sport,” he said regarding his physical play. “If you’re going to hit someone, then you’re going to hit someone. That’s my job. I love that style of football, and it’s what I think I’m good at.”
Along with finding a good fit within the football program, Sampson has also found a good fit outside of it.
“I love it here at BYU,” he said. “Everyone took me in immediately and made me feel like I was part of it. I really haven’t had anything I could say that was hard to adjust to here. I’ve made some real good friends, school is going good and I’m just very happy to be here. It took a bit longer than I wanted to finally get here, but I’m here and it’s going good.”