Arrow-right Camera

Color Scheme

Subscribe now
Eastern Washington University Football

Back for a 7th season, Darrien Sampson provides veteran leadership for Eastern Washington secondary

Eastern Washington’s Darrien Sampson is returning for a seventh season after receiving a medical redshirt.  (Courtesy of EWU Athletics)
By Dan Thompson The Spokesman-Review

On a foggy day last November, Darrien Sampson was recognized among 12 Eastern Washington football players who were about to play their last college football game.

A veteran who played 41 games for the Eagles, Sampson was among the handful of 2018 high school graduates who, because of some combination of COVID years and redshirt seasons, were still around the program in 2023 for a final year of football.

“I thought it was going to be the end of me being here at Eastern,” Sampson said last week. “I just thought it was time to graduate, move on a little bit.”

But Sampson hadn’t had much of a final season for playing. As he recovered from a knee injury sustained the year before, Sampson only played in three games – including the season finale against Northern Arizona, a 49-42 loss – and so he asked EWU coach Aaron Best to give him a couple of weeks to think about whether he might want to come back for one more year.

Granted a medical redshirt, Sampson is back again with the Eagles during spring ball as the team holds a month of practices to get ready for next season, which begins August at home against Monmouth (New Jersey).

“I told (Best) I wanted to come back and grind with the boys again,” Sampson said.

He’s not alone in doing so. While Sampson is the only 2018 high school graduate on the team, there are seven 2019 grads on the 2024 spring roster who could have chosen to be done but opted instead to come back.

That list includes defensive end Brock Harrison, linebacker Adam Cohen, safety Trevion Shadrick-Harris, defensive tackle Jacob Newsom, offensive linemen Luke Dahlgren and Matthew Hewa Baddege, and transfer safety McKel Broussard (UTEP).

“I think they naturally didn’t want to leave on the note that we had last year,” Best said. “There’s a lot of cohesiveness, a lot of competitive energy that wants to be exhausted.”

The Eagles are coming off back-to-back losing seasons of 3-8 in 2022 and 4-7 in 2023. It’s unfamiliar territory for the Eagles, who the year before reached the second round of the FCS playoffs and finished 10-3.

Last season’s record didn’t improve much on the year before, but Best and Sampson pointed out the team still made significant progress.

“(We had) a lot of one-score games (in 2023),” Best said. “We were not as competitive as we wanted to be, but we were way more competitive than we were in 2022. I think those guys felt a little taste of that. We’re not where we want to be, but we’re on the way to getting to where we intend to be. And so I think they wanted to finish that out in ’24 and see how that plays out with a bunch of young guys that look to take over at some point when they are removed from the post.”

Sampson’s return gives the Eagles a veteran leader at a cornerback group that lost Marlon Jones Jr. (who transferred to Vanderbilt) but also returns redshirt junior DaJean Wells (28 games, three starts), and senior Cage Schenck (41 games, including six starts at nickel). There’s also redshirt junior Alphonse Oywak (eight starts in 18 games). plus sophomore Isaac Redford and redshirt freshmen Jonathan Landry and Zion Jones.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys, but they’re also learning a lot and they’re very talented,” Sampson said. “They’ve got bright upside. I am hoping spring ball really helps them grow into real vets, and by fall we’ll see them out there in some decent playing time.”

Eastern Washington Eagles defensive back Darrien Sampson talks with the media Monday, July 24, 2023 at the 2023 Big Sky Conference media day at the Northern Quest Casino in Airway Heights, Washington.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
Eastern Washington Eagles defensive back Darrien Sampson talks with the media Monday, July 24, 2023 at the 2023 Big Sky Conference media day at the Northern Quest Casino in Airway Heights, Washington. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

Sampson, a captain for the Eagles last year, started 13 games in 2021, making 29 tackles. He played all seven games in the COVID spring 2021 season and 10 games during fall 2019, but otherwise he’s been limited to no more than four games in his other three years with the program.

After the past two, he received medical redshirt waivers from the NCAA to come back for another season.

“I know this is going to be the one for me,” Sampson said. “I want to take every day in, knowing that my time really is coming to an end.”

Part of the reason Sampson opted to come back was because so many of his teammates were going to do the same.

None of the other now super seniors walked on Senior Day like Sampson did, but at the time Sampson wasn’t certain the NCAA was going to grant him a second medical redshirt.

That so many teammates chose to come back is only fueling Sampson during the spring as the Eagles look forward to the season’s start in August.

“This is a real brotherhood team,” Sampson said. “Those guys were a part of my process, too.

“I think it’s good that we’ve got veteran guys sticking around, because we’re all hungry for one thing, and that’s winning.”