Senior defensive end Je'lin Samuels wasn't sure whether he would have a chance to play beyond high school, but his early season play solved that mystery.
Samuels, 6-7, 228 pound, of Pasadena (Texas) Sam Rayburn didn't play football as a sophomore while focusing on basketball at Westfield High School in Houston.
He then transferred to Rayburn with plans to play football his junior year, but he was relegated to the junior varsity squad.
"With the eligibility rules over here, they said I had to play a year of JV football," Samuels said. "I just really love playing the sport, and I was just happy to be out there."
College coaches aren't known to scout junior varsity teams for talent.
"It definitely took a lot of heart and effort in just trying to keep my head up," he said. "To be honest, I give a lot of credit to my godparents and my family around me. They really helped me keep my head up as well as the coaching staff."
Having an outstanding senior season was Samuels only hope of getting colleges' attention. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Sam Rayburn's first game wasn't played until Sept. 26.
"After my first game, I started getting looked at, but I didn't actually start getting offers until my second game," Samuels said. "Before the start of the season, I never had any coaches looking at me. None of that."
Incarnate Word was the first to extend a scholarship offer on Sept. 26. Wyoming followed with an offer Oct. 6, then Houston, SMU, Texas-San Antonio, Arizona State, Colorado and Ole Miss. He committed to SMU on Oct. 14.
Samuels received his ninth offer from University of Arkansas defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc on Nov. 9.
"Had a good talk with him, and he let me know Arkansas had offered me," said Samuels, who has since added an offer from Baylor. "I like the dude. I really like his vibe, and he's a really chill dude. He just seems like a really good coach that fits me."
Seeing his hard work pay off is humbling for Samuels.
"Before this, I was never in contact with any kind of coach," he said. "I never spoke to a coach."
Going from no communication with college coaches to talking to numerous coaches took some getting use to.
"I was getting a lot of phone calls and it was a bit overwhelming for me at the beginning, but as time went by I learned how to maintain and control it," he said. "I try my best to stay humble and take it slow and not rush anything."
He plans to major in kinesiology with hopes to be a coach one day. Education will be at the forefront of choosing where he attends college.
"I've really put an emphasis on my education and my life after football, because like my godfather always tells me, you can't rely on football or football will rely on you," Samuels said. "I'm going to get old, and I'm going to need something to fall back on."
A school's ability to help him develop his potential is also a focus.
"You can get to a big-name school and never really get looked at once you get on the field," he said. "You'll just be another number.
"I get told all the time that I have a lot of potential. Well, potential is like far from now. That means I haven't reached that potential."
Samuels plans to sign during the early signing period that runs Dec. 16-18 despite not visiting schools because of the NCAA dead period in place because of the pandemic.
"That's why I'm really trying to make the best out of relationships with theses coaches," he said. "I'm really paying attention to detail at this moment. So far I've been able to tell a difference in the ways different schools are recruiting me. I'm trying to make sure I pay attention to the little things during the recruiting process so I can make a decision."
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