PULLMAN – Chas Sampson knows this won’t last. His second experiment with college football could play out over the next two years, or his body could break down at any moment.
He can’t be sure either way. That’s why the Washington State walk-on – at 25, the oldest player on the roster – started sketching out the next five years of his life while he was still at Winston-Salem (N.C.) State.
He would go into the Army, he decided, and start building toward a career. Then he would come back to football.
And the next time, it would be at the Division I level.
“Almost five years later, here it is in the making,” Sampson said of his plan after a sun-splashed practice on Friday.
Sampson last played football in 2003, his final year of high school in North Carolina. The defensive tackle spent two seasons at Division II Winston-Salem, but he was academically ineligible both years and decided then the course he was on wasn’t sustainable.
So he enlisted in the Army and spent 15 months in Iraq and Kuwait. His 4 1/2 years in the military were valuable, not only for the perspective gained but because he knew he would get his remaining college paid for.
Going to school without a financial burden was a key part of his long-term strategy. Because he was ineligible at Winston-Salem, he had to pay for tuition out of pocket.
“I’m real big in research and studies,” he said. “What I found out was two negatives with college graduates: One, they have a lot of debt and (two), they don’t have jobs. I didn’t want that.”
Sampson was last stationed in Fort Lewis near Tacoma, and when he finished his tour of duty, he opted to stay in Washington to play football. He talked to coaches and players from the University of Washington and WSU before making the choice to play where he felt more comfortable.
At 6-foot-4 and 304 pounds, Sampson has the size and athletic ability to contribute this season, WSU defensive line coach Todd Howard said. He’s been operating with the second and third teams in practice.
“We just need to get him consistent with our techniques,” Howard said. “He’s consistently working and getting ready everyday.”
But Paul Wulff, the Cougars’ fourth-year coach, is interested in more than just Sampson’s skills on the field.
“His background and his maturity and his life lessons are always valuable when you have somebody like that on your team and program,” Wulff said. “I know he can help our football team in a lot of ways, other than just literally on the football field.”
Sampson hasn’t been overwhelmed by what he’s experienced in 2 1/2 weeks of fall practice. He said it’s on par with the level of football he grew used to in North Carolina. Plus, he’s passed more daunting tests the past few years.
“No disrespect, but this is fun to me,” Sampson said. “… It’s a lot better than actually dodging bullets. If I had to dodge an offensive guard or offensive tackle versus a bullet, I would take those odds any day.”
The Cougars were scheduled to practice twice today, but Wulff canceled the afternoon practice to keep his players rested. They’ll go at 8:30 a.m. and then take part in the Lentil Festival parade in Pullman. … WSU was again without defensive end Lenard Williams (ankle). … Wulff said he’s still waiting to hear from the NCAA Clearinghouse about the eligibility of freshmen Alex Mitchell and Rahmel Dockery.