Samson Abbott: From soccer player to football star

Samson Abbott went to St. Paul’s High School in grade nine with the intention of being the team’s star soccer player. It’s funny how things turn out sometimes.

Abbott had participated in soccer since he was four years old, but had never played a down of football. That is, until grade nine, when he was approached to play on the junior varsity team for the Crusaders.

“I was about 6’1” when I was in grade nine, so I was a pretty tall kid,” he says. [The St. Paul’s coaching staff] asked me if I wanted to play offensive line. I did that, and honestly I didn’t like it very much, so I went up next year and tried defensive line. I liked that a lot more.”

The rest, as they say, is history – thanks in part to Abbott’s rugby coach at St. Paul’s, who, while on a trip to Dallas in grade 10, convinced him to give up his soccer ventures in order focus on the gridiron, where he was a growing star.

“[The rugby coach] looked over at me and said ‘Sam, you’re not a soccer player. Look at you man, you’re about the heaviest soccer player in your league by about 40 pounds.’”

Abbott enjoyed a successful run in grades 11 and 12 as a member of the vaunted AAA Crusaders squad. The team went a combined 20-0, including two provincial championships. But Abbott was slightly hindered in the recruiting process early on, as he was cut from the provincial team in grade 11, and, after making Team Manitoba the following year, had to bow out due to an injury a few weeks before the start of the Canada Cup.

Abbott during his time with the St. Paul’s Crusaders. Photo by Trevor Hagan.

Thankfully, his AAA head coach Stacy Dainard put in a good word with a number of schools, and it didn’t take much for teams across Canada to become interested in Abbott’s services. He also got some exposure from Recruit Ready, which is widely regarded as one of the best all-year round football training programs in the country.

Abbott was contacted by programs all across Canada as well as North Dakota and North Dakota State in the NCAA, but opted to settle on Alberta for the 2014 season. The first conversation he had with the recruiter from the U of A came over the phone at the end of the 2013 provincial championship, and at first, he thought it was a joke.

“I thought I was getting prank called by my friends.”

“I had never played football before high school and coach Dainard had sort of hinted that I may be getting some calls from people but I never really took him seriously, because, again I’d missed Canada Cup and the year before that I’d been cut from the team. All along the way, I’d had better football players than me in my years at St. Paul’s.”

Nonetheless, Abbott’s talent level was hard to ignore, and he continued to prove this fact during his time with the Golden Bears. As a redshirt, he gained valuable experience playing against Alberta’s number one offence, which included 2017’s Hec Crighton winner Ed Ilnicki. The following two years he made his presence felt as a standout on special teams, and also led the team in sacks as a rookie in 2015. He also enjoyed a small stint with Alberta’s wrestling team – winning a bronze medal in his first and only tournament.

Abbott (first left) poses for a picture with a few fellow engineering students/teammates during his time with the Golden Bears. Photo by Amber Bracken.

By the end of the 2016 season however, Abbott knew he needed to come back home.

“I had family in Manitoba at a lot of different stages of their life,” he says. “I talked to my parents, and they just felt like they’d like me home. And I wanted to come home, so I let the U of A know that I wouldn’t be coming back.”

As someone who spends a fair bit of time in the gym, Abbott hit things off pretty quickly with Bison football strength and conditioning coach Cole Scheller upon his return home. Seeing the facilities as well as the dedicated training program made his decision to commit to the team a relatively easy one.

“I absolutely love working with Cole and the gym here is amazing,” he says. “As a guy who loves to work out a lot, I came in on my visit when I was coming back and saw that, and I knew I made the right choice.”

Abbott had to sit out the 2017 U SPORTS season due to transfer rules, and chose to play for the Winnipeg Rifles of the Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL). He continued to train with the Bisons both before the Rifles season began, as well as after it ended, however.

Abbott’s time playing in the CJFL was memorable. His five sacks led the team and was just one short of first in the Prairie Football Conference. The Rifles went 4-4 in the regular season before losing a tightly fought battle in the conference semi-final to the eventual national champion Saskatoon Hilltops.

Despite the result, Abbott enjoyed his time with Winnipeg, stating that it was a nice shift from an Alberta program that had struggled to find the win column during his three years, going from 3-5 in 2014, to 2-6 in 2015, and 1-7 in 2016.

“I think the big benefit for playing junior, is just playing,” he says.

“I’m the happiest I’ve been in three years playing games and being competitive in them. That’s huge. I think it’s pretty easy to forget why you like football when you’re always losing. And to go from a team like Alberta, to a team where you’re a big part of it and you contribute a lot and you’re always in games, that’s big.”

Looking ahead to the 2018 season, Abbott is more motivated than ever. The engineering student knows exactly where his strengths lie and he’s looking forward to finally strapping on the pads with his hometown team.

“First things first I just want to contribute. I’m a pretty big guy and I move pretty well for how big I am, and that lends itself to pass rushing and it lends itself to special teams, which are two things I think I do pretty well.”

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