Daniel Sams gets closer to home with shift to McNeese State

When Daniel Sams found himself at the bottom of Kansas State’s wide receiver depth chart during spring practices earlier this year, he was fairly certain he wanted to transfer.

What cemented his resolve to switch schools, however, was a phone call from his great grandmother, who dialed Manhattan, Kansas from south Louisiana shortly after her daughter died.

“She said ‘Do you think you’ll ever play closer to home?’ ” Sams said of the conversation he had with great grandmother, Alma Young. “She told me she had been thinking about that for a while. It hit her hard to lose her daughter. So I prayed on it a lot. It was the right thing to do, to transfer.”

Fast forward a couple months, and the player who once was one of the most-coveted football recruits in St. Tammany Parish history finds himself at McNeese State in Lake Charles — a three-hours-and-change drive from his childhood home in Slidell. The Salmen High product is back at quarterback, where he split time as a starter at Kansas State, and is working out with the Cowboys this summer.

He, and indeed the entire McNeese State fan base, is expecting big things when he lines up under center this fall.

“To add a quality athlete with the type of experience he has as a starter in the Big 12, that’s tremendous,” McNeese State coach Matt Viator. “We’re looking forward to getting him on the field.”

Changing the course

There was a time during his days at Salmen, however, that it looked like Sams might not find his way to a Division I school the caliber of Kansas State. After posting video game-type numbers earlier in his prep career, he was expelled from Salmen late in his junior season for a non-football related incident.

He spent the following spring at Jumpstart Academy, St. Tammany Parish’s alternative school, before being reinstated to Salmen during his senior year.

Though Salmen coach Jerry Leonard and school officials had no misgivings about reinstating Sams, some of the college programs that were recruiting him vanished during his absence from the field. Kansas State and coach Bill Snyder stuck by the young player, however, and he committed to the university that March.

Leaving Kansas State, and the faith they showed in him, admittedly was as difficult as the tribulations he experienced when he couldn’t play for Salmen.

“I had to take things more seriously,” Sams said. “It was a maturation process, you can call it. I had some growing up to do. But that had nothing to do with me leaving Kansas State.”

The problem in Manhattan was two-fold: Sams felt he wasn’t best-suited at receiver, and even though he apparently was offered a chance to move back to quarterback (and back up starter Jake Waters in 2014,) he had his eyes set on a move of a different kind. That’s primarily because he missed his family, which only was able to make it to one game per season during his two years of play at Kansas State.

So, after the Wildcats’ spring game, he informed Snyder of his intentions to return to Louisiana. The veteran coach asked him to remain, but Sams’ heart was set on a return home.

He’s now living with his uncle, Andrew, in Lake Charles. Andrew and fellow uncle, B.J. Sams, played at McNeese State, as well. Parents Sherrell and John Griffin maintain the home base in Slidell.

“My family, they can’t wait (until the season starts),” Daniel Sams said. “This is going to be fun, having the chance to play in front of them all the time … This is a new beginning. But I wouldn’t change a thing. I learned a lot at Kansas State; to be a man. But yeah, this is a fresh start.”

New horizons

Sams appeared destined for success at Kansas State, especially after he rushed for 807 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. He also completed 38 of 52 passing attempts, totaling 452 yards and four touchdowns in 2013. He was splitting snaps, however, and he saw the field less often as the season progressed.

That’s when he asked Snyder to switch positions in a search for more playing time. At the bottom of the receiving depth chart, he didn’t see much more work in the spring practices, though.

The desire to contribute continued to burn.

“Quarterback is where I’m most comfortable,” Sams said. “I feel I can excel anywhere on the field, but quarterback is where my heart is. I want (all the pressure) on me to make the decisions. That’s the kind of player I am.”

Viator has seen that promise, even though Sams only has been working out with the Cowboys since early June.

“I think he’s a tremendous young man,” Viator said. “That’s what we heard from the coaches at Kansas State, the people we talked to. They liked him as a young man. We’ve heard nothing but good things and have seen nothing but good things since he arrived here.”

Sams said he’s looking forward to a host of things as a quarterback at McNeese State. He’ll have a chance to earn a starting spot as three-year starter Cody Stroud has graduated. That’s another reason Sams chose the Cowboys from the mix of schools seeking his services after he departed Kansas State.

He’ll have two seasons to prove the move was a good one.

“(What I’m looking forward to most) is just finding the right chemistry with my teammates,” Sams said. “I know a lot of them from the LSU camp we went to in high school, things like that. I’m just looking forward to things coming together. I’m ready to prove myself on the field.”