New Coug, a war vet, 'blessed' to be playing

CHAS SAMPSON

PULLMAN – Chas "Sam" Sampson, like all of his Washington State teammates, was an exhausted, sweat-covered mess at the conclusion of another tough practice under the relentless Palouse sun Tuesday afternoon.

No doubt some players left the field complaining about the heat or the practice or any of a million other things that young men tend to complain about.

Not Sampson. You see, barely three years ago, Sampson was fighting for his country – and fighting for his life, basically – in Iraq.

"It's one of those things, you never know when it's your last day," Sampson said.

Sampson, 25, spent more than four years in the Army. He wound up in Iraq for 14 months in 2007-08, servicing vehicles and picking up dead bodies while dodging bullets and bombs in weather conditions that ranged from 120-degree heat and dust storms in the summer to snow and freezing temperatures in the winter.

"It's tough," he said softly.

Sampson, a 6-foot-4, 303-pound defensive tackle, is shaking off the rust while playing football for the first time since his senior year of high school in North Carolina in 2003. He's listed as a junior, but Sampson said he never made it past the practice field while failing to gain academic eligibility at NCAA Division II Winston-Salem (N.C.) State during the 2004-05 seasons.

"I didn't have any focus at all … I'm a lot more mature now," Sampson said.

After finishing his Army duty last August at Fort Lewis outside Tacoma, Sampson decided to return to school and play football. He visited Washington and WSU, then decided to walk on with the Cougars during unofficial summer drills.

"I just love what Coach (Paul) Wulff stands for," Sampson said, "and some of the stuff that the coaching staff believes in, I totally agree with.

"I love the drive and the purpose here. I feel as though I can be more of an asset here. Whether I'm a first-stringer or the fifth-stringer, it doesn't matter. I think I'm going to be an asset here."

Sampson said his desire to resume playing football helped cement his pending divorce ("She wasn't supportive"). Sampson said it's "real tough" being away from his 4-year-old daughter, but he's determined to make the best of his second chance at college football.

"I'm so blessed," he said, "to have this opportunity again."

PRE-WORKOUT STRETCHING TIME FOR THE BIG MAN.

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