- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2000

Chris Samuels went home this weekend, and home was a whole new place.

Home was a new four-bedroom house with all new furniture. Home was in a new town, Fair Hope, Ala., some 30 minutes from Mobile, where home used to be. Home had a river coursing through the backyard where Samuels planned to go fishing or if it was hot enough swimming.

And Samuels couldn't wait.

"I just want to go home, get away from everything," the Redskins' rookie left tackle said Thursday afternoon, hours before embarking on the season's only off weekend. "If I went on a vacation somewhere, I would be just partying, this and that. But if I go home, I'll just relax, eat my mom's cooking, enjoy myself."

Samuels earned the break. Ten weeks into his first NFL season, the 23-year-old proved he was worth the draft's third overall pick and the six-year, $30.6 million contract he subsequently signed. With the $10 million bonus the deal included, Samuels purchased the home he visited this weekend.

"I'm still cheap," he said with a smile, "but I'm not cheap to my parents, and once I get situated I'm going to help my brothers out."

Adapting to sudden riches is as much a part of the NFL experience as learning to block Hugh Douglas and Simeon Rice, and Samuels has succeeded at both. On the field, he has thrived at the offensive line's most valued position, and off it he has remained the same humble, pious, frugal kid just like his parents, James and Shirley, had predicted.

Being frugal, in particular, can be difficult. Every day at Redskin Park, a new group of salesmen try to pry open the wallets of the players most of whom have bank accounts like your grandfather and interests like your nephew.

Samuels has bought himself a car a sporty Mercedes almost identical to one of team owner Dan Snyder's but only one. And he lives near Redskin Park in a rather modest town house where he slept for weeks on an air mattress because he wasn't inclined to buy furniture.

Sitting and sleeping arrangements, of course, have been made since, but Samuels still fends off those who want him to buy more. When he purchased his home theater system, for example, there was a fancy remote control he supposedly had to have.

"They had a cordless phone that can control your lights and your stereo volume, and it was like a thousand bucks," Samuels said incredulously. "I was like, 'A thousand bucks?' I said I can get up and turn my own lights on, and get up and turn the stereo up and down myself. I'm not paying a thousand bucks for a cordless phone. That's stupid."

Veteran left guard Keith Sims, the team's most famous theater aficionado, probably has four of those cordless phones. But he knows Samuels would never go for something like that. Sims just laughs each Thursday when he sees the rookie bristle at buying lunch for the other offensive linemen, part of Samuels' ongoing initiation process.

"He's for real when it comes to [being frugal]," Sims said. "You would think that a guy who gets that kind of money would change and be flashy. Shoot, he balks every time he has to spend $60 on those sandwiches. That's his personality, and it's great I think it's going to serve him well for the rest of life."

Indeed, the rest of Samuels' life appears to be setting up well and not just financially. He was named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month for October, even though the month produced the only three sacks he has yielded since his sophomore season at Alabama. In other words, Samuels was celebrated when he wasn't even at his best.

Two of the sacks came in the Oct. 8 win at Philadelphia, but Samuels made an impressive comeback that day from a severely bruised knee. He missed less than a series because of the injury, continuing his battle against Douglas, the NFL's current sack leader. The following week, Samuels enjoyed one of his best days against Ravens Pro Bowl end Michael McCrary.

When Samuels was injured, he felt a buckling and a burning sensation in his knee. From teammates' descriptions of ligament tears, he was sure that he had suffered one. But the burning subsided on the sideline, and Samuels didn't hesitate to return.

"He's not going to go out with anything like that," right tackle Jon Jansen said. "He's a tough kid, and he plays through pain. He has proven that. That's a vote of confidence not only for us as teammates, but I think the coaches know that he's going to play with pain now."

His teammates and coaches credit Samuels' quick NFL adaptation to his enormous confidence a trait that's a bit surprising, considering his reserved personality. After receiving the rookie of the month award, for example, Samuels publicly and privately acted without a bit of cockiness.

"My agent told me, 'You got rookie of the month, you're this and that,' " Samuels recalled. "I said, 'Man, I don't feel like I deserve it.' He said, 'Don't be so hard on yourself.' I got to thinking, I really do deserve it, but I just see myself improving so much more, and I'm not near where I can be. I've just got to get there through hard work and experience and learning from my coach and my teammates."

But beneath the humble attitude is the fierce confidence Samuels knows he needs. It was developed in response to his initial shock at Alabama, where the star at Mobile's John Shaw High School nearly quit the Crimson Tide during his first two-a-days.

"I was the big man in high school," Samuels explained. "But when I got to college, I was so much smaller than the other guys. I wasn't really that strong and mentally tough enough to go out on the next level and play right away. I was kind of intimidated by those guys. I knew I had the ability, but I just wasn't confident enough.

"Over the years I worked hard. They had a good program down there to get you mentally tough offseason workouts, 6 a.m. programs, stuff like that. It all prepared me for this point in my life… . I knew I had the ability. The only thing that could hold me back was myself, doubting myself."

Now Samuels is using the Redskins' lifting program to reach another level. Worn down and fairly sick of working out three weeks ago, Samuels got a lecture from longtime strength coach Dan Riley.

"I was sore, banged-up. I was cheating through my sets," Samuels said. "D-boy, he don't miss nothing in that weight room. That's his territory. He said, 'You've got a lot of talent and a passion for the game, so you need to have the same in the weight room to help your performance.'

"Ever since he gave me that speech, I've reevaluated myself on my own. I started eating breakfast in the morning. I'm a whole new person now. I've got a second wind."

Samuels now weighs just under 300 pounds, allowing him to match speed with the agile right ends he often faces. In turn, Samuels has anchored the line since starting center Cory Raymer and Pro Bowl right guard Tre Johnson suffered season-ending knee injuries and while Sims rarely practices because of chronic Achilles' tendinitis.

"We knew what we were getting," coach Norv Turner said. "We knew we were getting a great athlete, [someone who is] very physical, a great run-blocker, a good pass-blocker. It's how you put it all together, and he's done that."

This week, returning from Fair Hope with a belly full of fish and plenty of rest, Samuels looks forward to the future of the Redskins (6-4), who have lost two straight. Some observers see the season slipping away, but he can't wait to find another home one deep in the playoffs.

"It's Super Bowl all the way," Samuels said. "That's the only thing I want. I don't care about the money, the women, the clubbing or all that. The main thing I want now is a Super Bowl ring. The only championship I won was when I was maybe 5 years old, playing peewee ball. That doesn't count we got a little plastic trophy. I need a ring."

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