Football springs rookie

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

Two of Stanford Samuels' three best friends from his youth are doing hard time in U.S. prisons.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers rookie defensive back says that isn't shocking at all.

"I had three home boys who were all two or three years older than me," the charismatic 25-year-old said yesterday. "Two of them are in jail -- one doing 15, one doing life. The other one ... I'm not going to comment about him.

"It's not anything special. That's typical for that area and most inner cities around the United States."

Maybe the shocking part of this story is that Samuels isn't behind bars, too. If not for a stern father, above-average intelligence and an ability to intercept footballs, there's a good chance that's where he'd be today.

Samuels grew up in inner-city Miami, where having a good "set" -- he raises his fists and does a boxer's pose -- is essential.

"I always had a good set, so I never really had to worry about it," the 5-foot-10, 193-pounder said.

When Samuels describes his childhood, he doesn't refer to bad influences. They were just influences, because there weren't many good influences for comparison.

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"In any child's life, especially a male, you look for someone who looks like you, who's an older version of you, and you look up to them," Samuels said. "To us, it was the drug dealers in the neighbourhood, it was the hoodlums and thugs in the neighbourhood.

"When we were young, that's what we aspired to be."

Luckily, Samuels had positive influences in his life that were pulling him in different directions.

When his teachers realized that he was smarter than most of his classmates in Grade 2, they sent him to a school for the gifted twice a week.

"The gifted program really allowed me to see a different level of life," Samuels said.

His enrolment in higher education didn't take him off the streets, however. It's never that simple in the middle of Miami.

His friends called him "nerd boy," but they didn't desert him. Luckily for Samuels, his father, Stanford Sr., didn't let him stray too far, either.

"I had a father who was big and strong and badder than me or anything I saw in the street," Samuels said. "He did his best to try to keep me in line. But what daddy don't know won't hurt him, so there was always that going on.

"But, at the same time, I had to be good at what I did if I did anything, because my daddy didn't play. He didn't play at all. If (social services) would've been at my house the times I got in trouble, he might've been in trouble."

When Samuels got to Carol City High School, he played on a team that lost only three games in four years and won two 6A state titles. His coach, Walt Frazier, slapped another layer of toughness on Samuels.

"He didn't allow you to lay down on the field, no matter what was hurt. 'You tore your ACL? Get up and hop on the other leg. Don't lay on my field.' That was his attitude."

His football abilities took him to the NFL factory known as Florida State University, where he got five years of eligibility thanks to an appendectomy, shoulder surgery, a torn ACL and two injured thumbs.

Stanford III, now six years old, was born early in Samuels' college career, which forced him to mature even more, and he was careful around his friends.

"I wasn't going to, but they wouldn't allow me around them if it wasn't at my house," he said. "They'd come and see me, because they were doing things that I didn't need to be caught up in."

Now, after a failed free-agent tryout with the Indianapolis Colts last summer, Samuels is in the CFL and showing plenty of promise with two interceptions.

"I had started to put my hand in different business ventures -- all legal now, of course -- but I knew that I was too talented as far as football goes to be sitting at home," Samuels said. "Somebody enjoys watching me play. So when this opportunity came up, it was a blessing.

"And now I'm here, on the field, enjoying it."


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