Humbled and Matured, Sampson Returns to Tigers

by - Correspondent -
Sampson's interception against Georgia Tech last year sealed the game for the Tigers.

Listen to an interview with Sampson and Bowden on SportsTalk with Dan Scott on Wednesday on WCCP-Fm, 104.9.

CLEMSON - Eric Sampson sat on a small orange box in Clemson's volleyball arena Tuesday evening, wearing a grin as wide as the floor outline as he met the media following the Tigers' first football practice.

Sampson, as expected, officially was reinstated to the Clemson program by head coach Tommy Bowden prior to Tuesday's workout. And wearing a relieved look normally reserved for a man who had escaped the gallows, the junior linebacker knew exactly where he was heading once the interview session was complete.

"I'm about to go see coach Bowden right now," he said, "and thank him for letting me back on the football field."

It has been a long seven months for Sampson, who was "permanently dismissed" from the football program following what he termed a series of "silly mistakes" that dated back to at least last Halloween.

He was dismissed from the team in December, and four days later was arrested for simple possession of marijuana. Yet rather than transfer to another school, Sampson enrolled in Clemson for the spring semester and took his chances on earning a shot at redemption.

Tuesday, Bowden said the possibility of Sampson coming back came "about two weeks" after he was dismissed from the team. Apparently a closer look into the circumstances surrounding Sampson's dismissal showed that at least one of the supposed major infractions might not have been as bad as originally thought.

"That incident, and an accumulation of academic deficiencies, led to his being dismissed in the first place," Bowden said. "Once I learned more about the other situation, that caused me to reconsider."

Sampson also apparently was involved in a fight on or around Halloween of last year, which apparently figured into the initial decision.

Pushed on his exact infractions Sampson declined to comment, though he did talk briefly about his arrest. He said he was returning from a Greenville club when he was arrested, charged with simple possession, and ended up paying a fine of "$440."

Despite his hesitancy to further discuss the infractions, Sampson was more than willing to accept the blame for his problems.

"I feel like a grown man that lost his family. It hurt," he said, constantly wiping sweat from his face with a dry towel. "I had to think about the things I wanted to do with my life, and the mistakes that I made, and learn from my mistakes. I had to be a man and 'fess up to my mistakes and go on.

"It was terrible, childish mistakes that a 20-year old shouldn't be making."

Once given a small light at the end of his self-made tunnel, Sampson made the most of the opportunity.

With only sporadic help from Vickery Hall available to him, Sampson enrolled in and passed the first semester of summer school. Second semester finals are today, and he expects to clear that hurdle with little problem.

"I hit the books real hard," he said. "Over the summer (Bowden) put it all on me. I didn't have no class checks or nothing. He put all the responsibility on me, and I had to show him - without people checking on my classes and everything - that I could do the things on my own as a grown man.

"Coach Bowden is a reasonable man. He knows I ain't perfect. I missed a couple of study halls, but I made them up. It was all on me."

He also worked out alone, trying to stay in shape in the event he was granted a second chance.

As for his teammates, Sampson said they've all been supportive of his efforts to work his way back into their good graces. In fact, over the past month as least two teammates have been quoted as saying Sampson already was back with the team.

When it became official Tuesday, Sampson said the message was simple.

"They know I made a mistake," he said. "Now they said I need to work hard and get back with the ones (first team)."

Asked where he worked on the depth chart Tuesday, Sampson laughed.

"Four, five six. Somewhere in there," he said. "Way down the line."

And finally, the lesson he learned through all this?

"Nobody on the team supersedes the team," Sampson said. "Coach says it every day. He's talking, and some people may not be listening, but he means it."

Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Florence Morning News. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.

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