by Chris Warner

pic Mike Tyson once said that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

After Sammie Stroughter’s junior season at OSU in which he caught 74 passes averaging 17.5 yards each, he had a plan to excel in his senior year and move on to the NFL. The punch in the face came in the form of an injury and a serious bout with depression that kept him off the field.

Stroughter (Straw-ter) was granted a medical redshirt and returned to the Beavers to catch 70 passes and return punts at over 10 yards a clip. The 5-foot-9 receiver/specialist talked with PD about how having heart has helped him overcome adversity both on and off the field.

Sammie, I know you’ve probably been really busy, and I’m wondering if you could just go over your schedule over the last couple of week.

Oh, just traveling a lot. I was in Florida. Had to leave there and come to Oregon for our pro day. That was yesterday, and I’m leaving to go back to Sacramento, with the family, to work out over there.

Has it mostly just been working out for a while? Have you been talking to teams as well?

No, it’s just been working out. I haven’t been talking to that many teams. Just working out, and working out some more. Just trying to always get that edge.

What teams have you been talking to?

Not that many. None, really. I sat down and had a private meeting with the Steelers, Arizona Cardinals, and then the Patriots down at the combine.

There we go. That’s what we’re looking for.

Yes, sir.

And what are the kinds of things that you talk about?

Just an adaptation from college to what should be in the future. You know, the pros and different things. Scheduling, how you read a playbook, and you know, trying to pick apart each other’s brains and getting to know each other a little better, also.

You think those went well overall?

Oh, yes, sir. I have no qualms at all. I didn’t shy away from anything.

Now, you had your pro day on Friday.

Yes, sir.

But you were content to stick with your combine numbers?

Oh, no, no. I ran my 40 again and jumped my (vertical).

Oh. How did those go?

The vert didn’t (go) so well, but my 40 went very well.

What was your time?

I got 4.45, 4.47, 4.48. I know one guy got 4.50. They were all over the place, but I made sure I was in a 4.4 range.

Was it 4.53 at the combine?

Yeah, 4.53, or 4.54 I believe.

For you, that’s a little disappointing, isn’t it?

Yes, sir. But, you know, talking to scouts and everything, just running without (anybody else on the field), the game-skill time is weighed. But (the 4.53) was very disappointing for me.

Do you think game speed is different than combine speed?

Oh, of course. You really can’t tell who’s a player at a combine. You know, I sat down and talked to a lot of scouts that say, “These testing things are just something that we can have, and it’s a tool to rank.” But when it comes down to it, it’s the player that’s on the field, the people that are going to come out and play. You can have somebody that tests out the waters, put them on the field, and they don’t run, you know? You can have somebody run a 4.3 at the combine, but put them within the lines and tell them to run a dig (route), and they’re going to run a 4.7 or 4.6.

Are those some of the drills you did on Friday (during pro day)?

Oh, yes, sir. I ran routes. That was still (vs.) air, you know? It wasn’t within the lines of a competition or anything like that, with a defense.

How do you feel about adjusting to an NFL playbook?

Great. I feel like I’m capable, because I come from a pro-style offense, with Coach (Mike) Riley and his playbook. I think I’m a step ahead, because Coach Riley, it wasn’t too long ago, he used to coach the San Diego Chargers (Note: Riley was head coach from ’99-’01). So, he ran a pro-style offense. Similar terminology goes on. I’m eager and can’t wait.

When you were in high school, said you were All-Regional as an athlete. What does that mean to you?

Just versatility. That means a lot, not being labeled. People, especially in the game that we play, football, always try to label and compare you. But you know, when you have that “athlete” tag, that means you’re versatile, you can play a (few) more positions. I hold that with great honor.

With the teams that you spoke with, do you think height is an issue at all?

That’s something I can’t change, though. Most likely. (But) you see Steve Smith, you see Wes Welker. There’s great examples – Hines Ward, Keary Colbert…Sinorice Moss, Santana Moss – there are great athletes up there that are short, but within the lines they have that intangible that you really can’t compare. And that’s the heart, you know? Somebody, he could be 5-9, but he plays 6-5…(my height’s) something I can’t change. I have no qualms about it. I believe in my abilities, given the opportunity.

In terms of receiving, what do you think is your best position on the field?

I played outside a lot, but I believe I work better in the slot. Coach Riley used to move me around a little bit, and I had a lot of fun with the slot. Just mismatches all the time. Having a linebacker going up against a receiver, but a slot receiver at that. But I also played kickoff return for two years. I played punt return for the last five years…so that’s not groundbreaking for me. I’m already accustomed to it, to the return game, and playing gunner, playing special team also.

If you were going to coach somebody to return a punt, what are the two or three most important things you’d tell that guy to do?

It’s not what I could tell him to do, it’s more if the guy has it or not. Returning the ball is very, very volatile, you know? It’s something that you really need – a person needs heart, first and foremost, and that’s something you can’t teach…If that guy doesn’t have heart, it doesn’t really mean anything…It’s more the type of person that they are, the blue-collar-worker type, things like that. It’s about understanding the way the ball comes off the foot. Eyes, hands, placement, and just making sure you get underneath the ball. Other than that, you know, you can’t teach the heart, the hard work, the things that it takes to get it.

In terms of heart, I know you’ve talked about this a lot, but for a little bit could you discuss some of the issues that came up in 2007 with your depression and how (you think that experience) might help you now?

It helped me a lot, just dealing with adversity, and being able to see people that I thought was close but that really wasn’t. I mean, to weed out the weak and keep the strong, and things like that. For me, the biggest thing – and it helped my character a lot – a lot of people want to see how people deal with adversity. I felt I faced adversity, face-to-face, and got through it, and have become a stronger person because of it. So that helped me out a lot, and that’s off the field, that’s not talking about on the field. You know, it allowed me to understand the importance of the game, but how football is a tool. It’s not everything, but it’s a tool. It’s a great thing. While I’m able to continue to play, I’ll play with everything on the line, like it’s my last.

Do you feel like it was the kind of thing that was going to happen, and it might be a blessing that it happened when it did?

Of course, that’s what a lot of people were saying, were speculating, “Oh, it’s just a matter of time.” It was just more, you know, you’re not having your avenues to vent, and different things to deal with, your coping mechanisms. It’s going to crash down.

It’s something I don’t run away from. I’m proud of it because it made me the person I am now and allows me to enjoy life that much more. And it allows people to know, and to see, that the Lord is real, you know? He got me through this, and I’m smiling. People talk to me now and say, “You’ve been through what?” That’s a big thing for me, and I’m proud of it. It made me the person I am now. I’m stronger because of it, and it allows me just to enjoy life.

What have you heard in terms of your draft status?

I pay no attention to it. I’ve heard it all. I’ve been teammates with guys like Yvenson Bernard and Mike Haas. Seeing those guys having high hopes, because they thought that (when) you prove yourself in college, you’re going to put yourself in good position, and it ended up slipping away, going (in the late) rounds. It’s out of my control. All I know is, if I get an opportunity, wherever I go, people will know who Sammie Stroughter is. I can’t wait. I’m anxious. I try to pay no attention to the draft, none of that. It doesn’t mean anything…A lot can change from here to April 25 or 26. I try to have no worries about that. Whatever happens, happens. It’s in God’s hands, and I’m blessed.

You’re blessed, no matter what?

Oh, yeah. Of course. I’m blessed no matter what. I’m thankful for the opportunity that I have. I can’t stress about anything, or read a magazine that says (this or that). I’m thankful for the opportunities that I have, and live each day. I’m going to continue to work hard. I know what kind of person I am and what kind of player I am.

Sounds good, Sammie. I appreciate your time today.

Yes, sir.

Hope to see your name called (on draft day).

I hope so, too.

Take care. Thanks very much.

Take care, sir.