While the Coastal Carolina football team knew it would be losing defensive leader Quinn Backus after last fall, the unit figured to be buoyed by the expected return of standout senior safety Richie Sampson after a shoulder injury cut short his 2014 season.
That isn’t a certainty now, though.
Sampson said he will not practice with the team this preseason while giving his shoulder more time to heal, although he remains optimistic – or at least hopeful – that he will be able to get on the field at some point in 2015.
“The shoulder is progressing, it’s feeling a little bit better, but talking to the doctors, they think it’s best to give it some time until school starts and until then just work as a student intern and try to help out the guys and really just keep progressing with my shoulder and keep rehabbing,” Sampson said as the rest of the Chanticleers held their first preseason practice Monday.
“I’m working towards [playing this year]. That’s my main goal. I’d say the shoulder’s close, but along with that my whole entire body [has to] rehab as well – you lose muscle, you lose strength. … I’d love to be able to play this year and I think it’s a possibility, but right now, we’re just kind of seeing how it goes and hopefully it speeds up a little bit.”
Sampson was lost for the season in the seventh game last year, at Presbyterian, when he sustained a torn labrum in the same right shoulder he had surgery on as a freshman.
Before that, he ranked second on the Chants through seven games with 40 total tackles and had a team-high six pass break-ups along with an interception and four tackles for loss.
His presence would be especially key this fall for a secondary that must replace its top cornerback in Denzel Rice and two other starting safeties in Pernell Williams and Sampson’s fill-in Imir Sanders.
Incurring the injury to the same shoulder, though, Sampson said he was told from the start that he could face a longer recovery this time.
“Being my second surgery and it was an open procedure this time, they said things could go a little bit slower and they might want to be a little more cautious with it,” he said. “It’s progressing still, but we just have to be cautious with it because it’s my second one.”
Sampson does have the option to redshirt the season and postpone his final year of eligibility, but he reiterated his preference is to play this year as the Chants look to compete for an FCS national championship.
For the time being, he is staying involved by helping out the coaches during practice.
“It’s just good to be back out here with the guys first and foremost because there’s times throughout the process where you kind of feel a little bit down and you really want to be out there,” he said. “But the thing you’ve got to know is you’re going to be out there again eventually, so [I’m] just looking at the process and all my teammates have supported me. It’s just good to be out here really.”
More than just a number
Redshirt-freshman offensive lineman Brock Merritt switched to No. 73 this season in honor of former Chants left tackle Chad Hamilton, who previously donned that number while taking on a mentoring role with the rookie last fall.
“He was a great role model to me and I looked up to him every day and he took me under his wing, so I just wanted to do it to honor him,” Merritt said.
Of course, he first asked Hamilton if the 2014 FCS All-American would be okay with that.
“He said he would be delighted if I took it,” said Merritt, who switched from No. 76
Hamilton’s is one of the key voids the Chants have to fill along with two other starting offensive line spots. Listed at 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, Merritt is hoping he can compete for one of those jobs this year.
All the while setting the bar high in choosing to take over Hamilton’s No. 73.
“Yes sir, the legend needs to live on,” he said.
Speaking of jerseys
Chants head coach Joe Moglia had mentioned earlier this summer that at the players’ request, the program was considering adding names to the back of its jerseys this fall.
But that’s not a done deal yet, he said coyly Monday.
“Not yet, but the new uniforms are not in yet. So we’ll have to wait and see on that one,” Moglia said.
Sun Belt distraction?
While many Coastal Carolina fans are caught up in the university’s ongoing discussions with the Sun Belt Conference, junior running back De’Angelo Henderson said it wasn’t really on the players’ minds at this point.
“At the end of the day, it is what it is,” Henderson said last week at Big South media day in Atlanta. “It’s not my position to speak on that because it’s not my job, so whatever happens with that happens.”
And whatever does ultimately happen on that front, he doesn’t expect it to be a distraction.
“Not at all. I don’t even think half the team knows about it,” he said.