Sample began playing football when he was only 4 years old. When he got to Shiloh, he initially was seen as a quarterback or running back. As a sophomore, he played inside linebacker before moving once again to outside linebacker as a junior. As a senior, at a top weight of 245 pounds, Sample was asked to play the defensive line.
In high school, Sample felt he compared well to his peers in Gwinnett County. But the recruiting interest from the Power 5 schools never materialized. Regardless of his stature as one of his defense’s best players, he didn’t see any interest from the major college teams.
It wasn’t because of a lack of effort, as Sample’s parents took him to numerous football camps, including driving nine hours to attend one at LSU. Holding a few offers from Group of 5 and FCS programs, he committed to Georgia Southern as a member of the 2017 class. However, late in the recruiting process, Tulane, with coach Willie Fritz finishing his first season, entered the picture with a great need on the defensive line.
Fritz didn’t promise anything to Sample. But he saw enough from his high school tape to believe Sample potentially could play early for the Green Wave. Sample was sold, switched his commitment and joined the Green Wave program.
“You never know how big a guy is going to get,” Fritz said. “I believe he was around 230 (pounds) when he played high school football, and he was maybe 240-245 when we recruited him. We knew he could definitely be a defensive end, but could he be an inside guy, could he grow into that? Good movement, played hard. And he had all the intangibles.”
As a senior last season, Sample was listed at 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds.
Sample saw playing time early as a freshman and became a starter when a veteran in front of him went down to a torn ACL. As a sophomore, he was a starting defensive lineman and ultimately emerged as one of the team’s overall leaders.
During his first three seasons at Tulane, Sample was more of an interior lineman up front, playing three-technique -- lining up on the outside shade of the guard -- and four-technique -- lining up over the tackle. Under former defensive line coach Kevin Peoples, Sample saw great growth in this area. But when Fritz hired Byron Dawson to take over for Peoples, Dawson suggested Sample should move to the edge. Dawson approached Sample about the move and couldn’t have been more impressed with his response.
“This is what his response was: ‘Coach, whatever is best for the team,’” Dawson said. “That shows you what kind of team player he is. He’s a ‘we’ guy. To have a guy that would change up what he’s doing for the team, I think that just shows the character of Cam Sample.”
Sample’s final season culminated in an invitation to the Senior Bowl, an all-star showcase he grew up watching. During the week of practice, Sample was asked to move back inside and play three-technique. Sample did and took on offensive linemen bigger than him throughout the week of practice. Sample’s strong hands and quickness won out more often than not as he went on to earn the Senior Bowl’s Defensive Player of the Game honor.
“He has great get-off, great leverage, great hand strength, grip strength, get off blocks,” Fritz said. “That’s just part of the kid. Another kid would have said, ‘Wait a minute, I’m a defensive end.’ He didn’t say a word. Three-technique, he’s the game MVP.”
At XPE Sports, Sample participates in two workouts each day -- one at 7:30 a.m. and another at 1:30 p.m. Then he attends an online class later in the afternoon as he’s in his final semester wrapping up a finance degree.
Sample will have one more chance to impress pro scouts at Tulane’s Pro Day on March 30. He said his goals are to improve his 40-yard dash time and to impress scouts further during defensive line drills.
Fritz believes Sample should be in high demand, noting he can play in multiple defensive schemes. Fritz even said he was “bragging about him with the new GM over there, who is a Tulane guy.” In January, the Falcons hired general manager Terry Fontenot, who played football at Tulane.
Sample has heard NFL teams view him as a base strongside defensive end who can play inside as an interior rusher on third down. Regardless of where he plays along the defensive line, Sample is ready to show he always was the caliber of player he’s showing.
At Shiloh, he may not have been the blue-chip recruit. But the slights he once saw aren’t nearly as prevalent anymore.
“I think it added to that chip on my shoulder,” Sample said of once being an overlooked recruit. “Even from high school, we played in a really good region. We weren’t one of the better teams. But playing against teams, I had faith that I’m better than some of the guys I’m playing against, knowing my talents. That transition to college always kept me hungry. It added fuel to the fire, that’s for sure.”