For many prep players, 2013 Nature Coast Technical graduate Franklin Everette Sampson Jr. is a symbol of hope.
Sampson, 18, recently signed with the 21st-ranked junior college football program last fall - the Dean College Bulldogs in Franklin, Mass.
Dean College is a private college that grants associate degrees in 15 majors and baccalaureate degrees in five majors.
Dean College, a member of the Northeast Football Conference, has captured four conference titles (2007, '08, '09, '11) across the past six seasons at Longley Field - about an hour from Boston. In 2012, the 'Dawgs finished 7-3 under skipper Todd Vasey.
The 6-foot-3, 175-pound Sampson benefitted from a sterling 103-tackle performance as a senior safety for the Sharks.
He defensed eight passes and notched two interceptions for head coach Charles Liggett. After the season, Sampson was named All-County in football.
At NCT, Sampson played JV football as a freshman and sophomore, and started at safety and wide receiver as a junior until dislocating his right shoulder against Central.
"I felt a pop and then it started hurting real bad," recalled the New Port Richey-born Sampson. "Looking back, it was real disappointing. I really couldn't lift my arm. Because of it, I missed most of my junior season."
As a senior, "It was about 80 percent healed during last season," pointed out Sampson, whose mother Frankie resides in Brooksville while his father Frank was a standout athlete at Zephyrhills High School. "Even after some hits, I'd feel it. But at least I could lift my arm and got my full range of motion back."
The shoulder injury denied Sampson a chance of returning to the basketball court, where he played at the junior varsity level as a freshman and sophomore.
Instead as a junior and senior, Sampson concentrated in the high jump, triple jump and long jump in track and field.
This past season, Sampson demonstrated his versatility as an athlete advancing out of regionals and placing 13th in states in the triple jump.
Sampson's athletic roots can be traced back to playing Hernando Youth League football in Brooksville.
When his family relocated to Texas he played one year of rec football - where he began learning the ropes of playing safety.
Upon returning to Brooksville, Sampson played two seasons with the West Hernando Cougars specializing as a defensive end and tight end.
As an eighth-grader under Ron Blackwell at Powell Middle School, he lined up at fullback, tight end and safety.
Football has been at the center of Sampson's world.
"I love the game and love to hit," pointed out Sampson. "I'm definitely a defensive player, who likes to tackle and defend the pass."
On his strengths, "Come game time, I'm focused and ready to go," declared Sampson. "I'm the guy who picks up the guys when they're down.
"I've improved the most in my awareness on the field and my ability to break on the football," detailed Sampson.
On his NCT football experience, "Overall, I felt like we had the talent and we should have made the playoffs," explained Sampson. "I think some guys could have given a lot more.
"Losing to Hernando last year hurt," added Sampson. "We could've beaten them, but we just made too many mistakes. It was a game where we played hard, but we had too many breakdowns."
The college recruiting process for Sampson wasn't extensive. It boiled down to Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach and Dean College.
He and his mother visited one school - Dean College.
"When I was there, I liked the campus and the surroundings," pointed out Sampson. "Coach told me that they could've used somebody like me last year and warned me that even when I arrive this year, there are no guarantees - that I'd have to work hard to earn anything."
On his decision to travel nearly 20½ hours across some 1,300-plus miles to Franklin, "I don't have any family or friends there," said Sampson. "I see this as a good opportunity to get away from home. I feel like I'm ready for the challenge."
Sampson, who graduated with a 2.0 grade point in the engineering cluster at NCT, aspires to become an electrical engineer.
"I see electrical engineering as a good paying job," said Sampson.
Before reporting to school on Aug. 15, Sampson wanted to thank "all my coaches, my mom and dad and the whole family for helping me graduate from high school.
"I have to thank God for him looking out after me and him being there for me making sure I heal from my (shoulder) injury," he said. "Before I go, I want to be remembered as a hard-hitting safety at Nature Coast. The one who had over 100 tackles in one season."
By the Numbers: NCT's Frank Sampson
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YR SOLO ASST TTK TBL SK QBP CF FR PB BLK INT
2011 19 16 35 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 1
2012* 53 50 103 1.0 0 0 1 0 8 0 2
TOTALS 72 66 138 1.0 0 0 1 0 10 0 3
* Denotes All-County selection