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Originally published July 1, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 1, 2008 at 12:22 AM


Former Husky Shelton Sampson still chasing his NFL dream

Shelton Sampson wants another shot. A half-dozen years ago, the speedster from Clover Park High School in Lakewood was projected to become...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Shelton Sampson wants another shot.

A half-dozen years ago, the speedster from Clover Park High School in Lakewood was projected to become a star running back at Washington and make a run at the NFL.

It didn't work out.

But Sampson hasn't given up his dream of playing pro football, and is back on the field this summer, playing semipro football with the Seattle Stallions. He came up empty after a recent tryout with the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League, but his unwavering belief in his ability was reinforced by advice from his mother and grandmother.

"They told me, 'Exhaust all of your abilities until you can't do it anymore, until you see fit to be doing something else,' " Sampson said recently. "I feel this is a really good opportunity."

Stallions coach Merle Davis is convinced he can play at the next level.

"I don't see him being with us too long," Davis said.

Dave Miller, coach at Lakes High School in Lakewood, remembers devising defensive game plans to stop Sampson, a three-time state hurdles champion at Clover Park.

"If he got in the open, you were in trouble because he's so fast," Miller said.

The 5-foot-11 Sampson weighs 230 pounds, but he still can break a long one. He says he clocks 40 yards in 4.4 seconds, a key reason he might still interest the NFL.

"With that kind of athleticism, he might have a shot, no doubt," Miller said. "He's got that speed everyone's looking for."

Sampson showed he still has jets when he broke what would have been a 57-yard touchdown the first time he touched the ball in the Stallions' season opener in June at Ingraham High School, their home field. His run was called back on a procedure penalty, and Sampson's final numbers in that victory were modest: five carries, 27 yards; two receptions, 10 yards.


Still, Sampson was playing the game he loves.

"It felt really good," he said of his return to the football field. "It was really cool to be in a game situation again."

In his first three Northwest Football League games, Sampson lead the team with 236 rushing yards on 39 carries, a 6.1 average, with one touchdown for the 3-1 Stallions, including 145 yards on 24 tries June 21 in a loss to the unbeaten Puget Sound Titans.

Sampson, who earned a bachelor's degree in visual arts from Washington, does a lot more than play football. He admits it's not easy to balance practice and games with his varied business ventures; he missed the last Stallions game because of a work commitment. Sampson is involved with marketing at the Xazz Salon, a South Seattle spa, and has created a clothing line with a friend called Heart on My Sleeve (H.O.M.S.). He also is a vocalist with the group Flock.

Not quite the lifestyle he envisioned when he came to UW as a touted Rick Neuheisel recruit. But then his experience as a Huskies player wasn't what he expected, either.

Neuheisel was gone by the time he arrived, and after showing promise his first two seasons under Keith Gilbertson, he never seemed to fit into Tyrone Willingham's plans.

As a redshirt freshman in 2003, with Gilbertson at the helm, Sampson led Huskies running backs in touchdowns (eight) and average per carry (4.6), playing in all 12 games, including a 131-yard, three-TD effort on just six carries against Oregon. He played in every game again as a sophomore, but his role diminished considerably when Willingham took over in 2005.

Sampson left the team five games into his junior season after being asked to move to cornerback. He returned that winter and was back at running back in the spring. But he played in just two games his senior season, both on special teams.

"I'm a strong believer that things happen for a reason," Sampson said. "But at the same time, I think everything is a test of your faith and how you develop in different situations."

Sampson calls his UW career "a learning experience" that helped teach him patience. He believes his work with younger Huskies is paying off now.

"The most important thing is that the team is where they need to be right now," he said, "and if I had a hand in helping develop the situation, with the players who were there when I was there as far as work ethic, I did my job."

Sampson turned the page on his career almost by accident, turning out for the Stallions after checking their Web site.

"There's no reason for me to just be sitting at home, waiting for a team to come pick me up," he said. "I feel like I need to be out there. Not only just getting some film, but just being able to be out there playing ball. I just really want to play.

"I'm pretty sure something good is going to come out of the situation, and I'm going to be in the front row for the ride."

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