BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Former Avon running back Sampson James is embarking on his college career just 45 miles from his high school and his former coach.
“This is my hometown, my home state, so it means more to me,” James said of playing football at Indiana University.
James couldn’t have gotten to where he is without the help of his high school coach.
“He’s just a great guy, great leader,” the Hoosiers freshman running back said of Avon head football coach Mark Bless. “And now he gets to come down and watch me play, that will be amazing.”
Shortly after wrapping up his Avon career playing for Bless, he enrolled at IU, but the transition wasn’t without some struggle.
“When I first got here on campus, I didn’t know where many things were. I was taking the long way to class, and I didn’t know many guys,” James admitted. “I wasn’t really that comfortable.”
But adversity is something he’s overcome before.
“Coach Bless, I have been living with him since my sophomore year of high school. He took me and two of my brothers in. We have a really strong relationship, like father, like son,” James said.
Bless and his wife took the boys in when they were in need of a safe place to live.
“I remember the phone call that my wife got, and she said, ‘Yeah, we will come pick them up,’” Bless explained.
Coach Bless told me the brothers had stayed with him and his wife a few times before, but this time was different. They knew it was time to make things more permanent.
“We had always preached, football family, Avon football family,” Bless said. “My wife did a great job stepping up to the plate saying, ‘We are going to live by our word.'”
“Just opening up his home for me and my brothers was a huge thing,” Sampson said. “It puts me in the right direction to be where I am now.”
Where he is now is with a new football family, but his Avon family will always be behind him.
“We are very proud of where Sampson is at. He’s worked extremely hard,” Bless said with a smile. “And now that he’s got opportunities in front of him, we feel like we have helped place those opportunities in his life.”
“I don’t just want to come out here and be average, I want to be the best,” James said. “That’s what motivates me to do extra, to do more, to push myself to a limit I didn’t think I had.”