“Everything happened pretty quickly,” he said. “And now I have a lot to live up to.”
Sampah, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound blur that teammates call “Flatline” for the violence of his hits, will play the first game of his junior season Friday night against Osbourn. He’s been itching to get back on the field since the Vikings lost to Westfield in last season’s state semifinals, ending their season at 12-2. But he knows that when he lines up Friday night, things will be different. The attention and hype heaped upon him this offseason guaranteed that.
For many of the nation’s top high school recruits, the days leading up to kickoff can be about grounding yourself after the glitz of the offseason recruiting trail — the gleaming facilities, the promises, the handshakes. The transition back your high school team can be difficult — and sometimes alienating for the team and the player.
But those around the Vikings say that’s not something Sampah has to worry about. Because it’s his team that’s helped him keep all this under control.
“Antoine is such a team guy that he doesn’t have to get back to Woodbridge football,” Vikings defensive coordinator Endor Cooper said. “He never left.”
Sampah started drawing notice in Woodbridge two years ago, not long after he began high school. Woodbridge Coach Gary Wortham was told there was a linebacker on the JV team he had to see. So he attended the team’s second game of the season.
“He didn’t play very long,” Wortham said of that game. “Because as soon as I saw what I saw I pulled him out of the game, sent him inside, moved him out of the JV locker room and into the varsity locker room.”
He was a starter on the varsity team a week later and, despite the Viking’s disappointing 3-7 record that season, he picked up his first college offer that March: The University of North Carolina. Virginia Tech offered a week later.
His sophomore year was a true breakout season. Sampah totaled 156 tackles as the Vikings stormed through Prince William County. When asked what Sampah did well in 2017, Vikings senior cornerback Taylor Harris staggered backward and laughed.
“Flatline?” he said. “That boy’s a hit man. That boy’s a dog. He’s young but he’s gonna be great.”
Sampah was part of a defensive unit that gave up an average of just 10 points per game. The Vikings made amends for 2016’s struggles with suffocating wins over Battlefield, Hylton and Lake Braddock. The semifinal loss to Westfield was tough, but the optimism surrounding the program was palpable in the wake of that loss to the Bulldogs.
But first came the spring and summer. Sampah had schools to visit and pitches to listen to, but he didn’t do it alone. Instead he traveled with a coach and a few teammates.
Assistant coach Gary Wortham Jr. made it a point to bring multiple players to schools that were interested in Sampah or another top Viking recruit like defensive end Jalen Howard (who committed to Villanova this summer).
“We don’t go anywhere with just one person,” Wortham Jr. said. “Our mentality is, the only people that can say no in recruiting is [the colleges]. They can say they don’t like a guy, we’re not going to put a label on someone like ‘you’re a D2 player’ or ‘you’re a D3 player.’ We’re going to expose you to everybody.”
They had the same approach with players like Dashaun Jerkins (now at Vanderbilt) and Kyree Campbell (Florida). It’s the Woodbridge way. Everyone wants a seat in the truck that travels from school to school.
“Knowing that I had a group of guys with me, everyone on the visits, was great,” Sampah said. “We all want the same thing.”
With two years of high school football still ahead of him, the linebacker has plenty of time to make decisions. That timetable also means the noise that surrounds him now is only bound to get louder. But in the final week of August there are no indications that it will permeate the walls of Woodbridge High School, where Sampah is surrounded by teammates, preparing for Friday night.
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