It’s all in his hands

  • By Mike Allende / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, August 16, 2005 9:00pm
  • Sports

SEATTLE – Shelton Sampson knows he has a reputation for having butter fingers. He knows that, despite his clear athletic ability, people aren’t convinced that he should be a guy the University of Washington should count on to run the ball.

But he also knows that he isn’t the player that those people have in mind. He says his reputation for not being able to hang onto the football is unfair and he’s ready to prove it.

“I only fumbled once last year,” the 210-pound junior running back from Lakewood’s Clover Park High School said. “The thing is, it’s like a resume. If you fumble once, it’s like you fumble all the time. That’s all that people remember. But my ball security is real good now. I know exactly what I have to do now. I understand how I need to run, how to protect the ball, how to pass block. I understand things a lot better now.”

Though skepticism surrounds Sampson’s reliability, there’s no doubting his athleticism. Sampson has caught the eye of coaches with his speed, which isn’t surprising. In high school, Sampson won three-straight 110-meter hurdles state titles, beating Nate Robinson as a senior. On a team without many breakaway threats, new offensive coordinator Tim Lappano has vowed to find a way to get Sampson on the field.

“He’s too fast for us to not use in some way,” Lappano said. “That may mean we’ll hand him the ball, it could mean putting him in the slot, it could mean moving him out wide. But he’s too dangerous of a threat to keep on the sideline.”

That all sounds good to Sampson, who says he’s just looking for a way to help the team. In 2003, Sampson was third on the team in rushing yards (274 yards), averaging 4.8 yards a carry and scoring eight touchdowns. Last season, he had 189 yards and two touchdowns.

“However I can get on the field with the ball in my hands, that’s what I want to do,” Sampson said. “I’ll go to the slot if that’s what they want. I’ll catch the ball, I’ll run the ball, whatever they want me to do. I’ll run through the middle, I’ll run outside. I just want to be as much of a threat as I can be and help the team as much as I can.”

Sampson is expected to be a part of a deep and versatile running backs group that includes Kenny James, Louis Rankin, Johnie Kirton and fullback James Sims Jr. Sampson and Rankin are seen as the speed backs, the guys with the ability to break big plays. That is, as long as they can hold onto the ball.

Sampson said much of his reputation stems from his struggles as a freshman, but says he’s solved the issues he faced then. Much of it, he said, was thinking too much about what he was doing instead of just playing.

“Now I know the plays, I know what I’m doing and things are second-nature,” Sampson said. “And now I run with more purpose. I understand that when I have the ball, I’m the only one who is responsible for everything. I need to protect it, that’s my job. I’ve got that drilled into my head.”

Sampson’s new running backs coach, Trent Miles, said solving fumble problems is a matter of working on it both physically and mentally.

“You can do drills to teach a guy to hang onto the ball better,” Miles said. “We do those. And you can work on mechanics. A lot of times guys hold the ball wrong. And a lot of times, it’s a mental thing. You fumble once, you start thinking about things too much and all of a sudden you aren’t concentrating on what you should be concentrating on. It’s just a matter of working on all those things until you’re comfortable.”

It’s also about regaining trust. Last year, Sampson’s carries dropped from the previous season. That’s why having a new coaching staff that says it doesn’t care about the past, and hearing from his coaches that they want him to be a part of the offense this year means so much to him.

“It’s like a breath of fresh air,” Sampson said. “It’s like everyone here has a clean slate and we can just build from there. It gives you a lot of confidence to know that you have a chance to prove yourself and that people have confidence in you. I know I have the ability to help this team, and now I know how to use that ability.”

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