COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — When Curtis Samuel was taking a subway — after taking the bus — to football practice in high school, he never doubted he was talented enough to play at a top program such has Ohio State.
His only concern was whether the Buckeyes would find him in Brooklyn.
With the help of a family that kept his priorities straight and a well-connected high school coach, Samuel went from hearing the rumble of the elevated subway train next to Sid Luckman Field to the roar of 100,000 Ohio State fans at the Horseshoe.
Samuel has emerged as No. 6 Ohio State’s most dangerous offensive weapon in his junior season. Playing the hybrid receiver-running back position that Percy Harvin once filled for Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer on a national championship team at Florida, Samuel is having a Harvin-type season. He is averaging 137 yards from scrimmage per game, 9.5 per touch, with eight touchdowns.
That Samuel has performed so well in this role should be no surprise. He has been playing it since high school. Erasmus Hall coach Danny Landburg was first told about Samuel by Curtis’ stepfather, Roy Armstead, when Curtis was 7 years old and playing Pop Warner.
Samuel’s talent was easy to spot. He was hurdling fences for the heck of it and outrunning all the other kids.
“I never knew I was fast. But everybody said I was fast. That was really exciting to hear that,” Samuel said.
For Nicole Samuel, Curtis’ mom, football was at first just a way to get her energetic son out of their apartment.
“Curtis walked at 7 months. From 7 months on he was moving around. He was flipping. He was talking a lot. He was just busy. All the time,” Nicole Samuel said.
Curtis’ older cousin, Rashaun Samuel, played football and Rashaun’s mother suggested to Nicole that it would be a good outlet for Curtis.
“He was unbelievable,” Nicole said. “And from then he just took off.”
Landburg could see a future Harvin or Reggie Bush.
“At first he said. ‘I’m a running back,’” Landburg said. “I said, ‘No, you’re more than just a running back.’ His body type is not the type you want to pound 20 times a game.”
The 5-foot-11, 197-pound Curtis Samuel broke his ankle during practice when he was a sophomore in high school and watched from the bench at Yankee Stadium as Erasmus Hall lost the city championship. He vowed to make up for it and led Erasmus to the title as a junior.
Sid Luckman Field, named after the Brooklyn native and Erasmus Hall alum who went on to become a Hall of Fame quarterback for the Chicago Bears in the 1940s, is a very different setting from those in which many four- and five-star recruits play in under Friday night lights.
First off, most of Erasmus Hall’s games are played Saturday afternoon. And the best way to get to the game is mass transit. A quarterback with a decent arm could stand on the midfield logo at Luckman Field and hit the F train with a football as it rattles by every five minutes or so.
Samuel said ignoring the trains was easy during games. It was harder during a four-hour practice. “It’s like right next to you. It’s real loud.”
The commute from Erasmus Hall in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn to Sid Luckman is about 25 minutes, Samuel said, if the buses and subway are running on time. After practice, it was another 40 minutes to get home.
“I’m thinking in my head, a kid from New York City is not going to get a look from a big-time school like that,” Samuel said.
Generally, recruiters don’t find many blue chips in the Big Apple. In Samuel’s recruiting class he was one of two New York City players, both from Brooklyn, to make Rivals.com’s list of the top 250 players in the country. The 2017 class has one New York City player in the top 250.
Landburg made sure Samuel was not overlooked. He knew Meyer’s offense was the perfect fit for Samuel’s skills, and Samuel was good enough to get Meyer to come to Brooklyn.
“I actually love Brooklyn,” Meyer said. “Love the delis there.” He liked it so much he went back for freshman safety Jahsen Wint, another Erasmus Hall alum.
Meyer said he never worried about Samuel making the transition to Columbus.
“There was no doubt once you got to know … who was surrounding him,” Meyer said.
Nicole Samuel said her son is fortunate to have numerous positive role models from his father, Curtis Council, to cousin Rashaun to Armstead. Though it’s the women in Curtis Samuel’s life that have been inspirational.
“A lot of kids don’t make it out of New York City or Brooklyn just playing sports,” Samuel said. “There’s a bunch of other distractions they get into. My mother kept me level-headed and on the right path. I love her to death for that.”
Samuel calls his 28-year-old sister, Denisha, his “rock” and “heart.” Denisha calls Curtis her little big brother.
“I went (to Columbus) for the game (last) Saturday, and I took the bus back by myself. He’s like, ‘When you get back make sure you call my phone no matter what time it is,’” Denisha said.
Samuel said he misses Brooklyn and his family — even all those bus and subway rides.
What does he like best about Columbus? “I really love the fans,” he said.
It certainly beats listening to the F train go by.
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