Jim Gazzolo column: Sam gets chance to beat odds

Published 9:39 am Thursday, May 2, 2024

It’s never the destination that defines one’s character but rather the journey.

If that is true, Andre’ Sam has proven himself to be a winner.

As a senior at Iowa High School in 2017, the wide receiver/defensive back was one of the better players around. However, the college football world didn’t consider him fast enough, strong enough or big enough.

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Sam could beat opponents but had a tougher time overcoming the stereotypes of college scouts and coaches.

Wanting to play he took the lone offer he had, to be a walk-on at the local school, McNeese State.

At the time the NFL seemed too far off to imagine. Still, the dream continued to fuel Sam’s fire.

Last Saturday night, despite another setback, he realized his dream was still alive.

Hoping to be drafted, Sam instead got a phone call after all the picks had been made. It came from the Philadelphia Eagles, and once again he was promised a chance to keep playing football.

This time though, he would be paid for his efforts.

Sam signed a contract for a reported $150,000 with a $20,000 signing bonus. It isn’t first-round money but it’s a lot better than most recent college graduates get.

And Sam has the chance to earn his pay doing what he loves best, playing football and proving people wrong.

He did that during his five seasons at McNeese before moving on to Marshall and finally LSU, where he was a big part of the Tigers. That was always the school Sam had his eyes on and he made the most of his opportunity on college football’s biggest stage.

Those who figured Sam would be overmatched in the SEC just didn’t know what he had already overcome just to get to that point.

Sam’s path was always about defeating struggles.

He had done so when it came to the death of his brother, who was a McNeese quarterback. Sam would say he began to play even harder to honor his brother.

There was also a speech disorder that made him shy away from talking to media. By the time his days at McNeese were ending, Sam had become a vocal leader and was more than comfortable during interviews.

He even became a role model for others with the same issue, showing them what they can accomplish through hard work and a willingness to meet challenges head-on.

If he never played another down on the football field, that alone made him a true winner.

“He has overcome so much and has become such a leader for us it is amazing to see,” said Frank Wilson, back when he was the Cowboys head coach (2020-21).

Wilson is now on the staff, back at LSU, with recruiting duties so it figures he had at least a small hand in Sam’s move to Baton Rouge.

That, though, is just part of what Sam has been through.

While at McNeese he had to overcome seeing his team put on NCAA academic probation, miss a fall campaign that was shut down by COVID and see the destruction of his community by a pair of hurricanes.

Saying he wanted to be a part of the rebuild, Sam stayed through all that and three coaching staffs before finally leaving for Marshall and then LSU.

Sam made a huge impact on McNeese and the community he calls home.

Now he gets one more chance to prove all those who passed on him wrong again.

It’s still a long shot for him to make it big in the NFL, or maybe even a team, but that won’t stop Sam from trying.

And after all he’s overcome you may not want to be against him either.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at