Asante Samuel Jr. has trouble learning from one former NFL player — his dad
They share so much. Both defensive backs, both 5 foot 10, both known as playmakers.
These two even share their name, Asante Samuel — Sr. and Jr.
But there is one thing neither is particularly comfortable sharing with the other:
When the Chargers drafted Samuel Jr. in the second round in April, the convenient assumption was that father helped make son, that two players so similar in style, so alike in technique just had to be close.
Turns out, that assumption was too convenient.
New Chargers coach Brandon Staley isn’t afraid to talk about the franchise’s lack of success. And he’s prepared to change their fortunes.
“People say, ‘Oh, he’s the son of Asante Samuel, so of course,’” Samuel Jr. said. “That’s kind of giving to his legacy and taking away from mine.… For some people, it’s like I’m trying to live off his name.”
Said Samuel Sr.: “It’s unfortunate that he still thinks that way. He’s making it difficult. He’s going to drive himself crazy. He should embrace it.”
These two do have a relationship, one Samuel Jr. characterized as “far-distance.” In separate interviews, they expressed love for each other.
But they haven’t spoken in months, each saying the other struggles to communicate.
Samuel Jr. is about to begin his NFL career, Sunday when the Chargers visit Washington. Samuel Sr. played 11 years in the league, intercepting 51 passes and making four Pro Bowls.
He said he has no plans right now to attend any Chargers games.
“I don’t know if he wants me there or not,” Samuel Sr. said. “It seems like he doesn’t want me there because of the energy he puts out.”
The Chargers have 11 players who use a name suffix. There’s one II and two IIIs. Samuel is one of eight who use Jr.
Not one of the others, however, is named after a man some observers argue belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a father who made cornerback the family business and passed the trade down to his only son.
Now 40, Samuel Sr. was 18 when he and his girlfriend at the time, Candice Doe, had their lone child together. They nicknamed the boy A.J.
The couple didn’t stay together and both have since established families with other partners.
When A.J. was a child, Samuel Sr.’s mother, Christine, helped raise him. In fact, she was the one who started him playing football, a decision made possible only after a bold audible.
“Granny Chris” changed A.J.’s birth certificate when he was 4, instead making him two years older and eligible to enroll in a Pee-Wee league at a park near their Florida home.
This is something else the Samuels share, since Granny Chris did the same thing years earlier for Samuel Sr.
“That time’s over, so I guess we can’t get in trouble no more,” Samuel Sr. said, laughing. “She would white it out, retype it and then make a copy. I watched her do it. That thing was amazing. It looked so real.”
Samuel Jr. laughed at the memory too, recalling how convincingly overmatched he was on his very first football field.
“I used to cry every time I’d go out there,” he said. “But then when we started hitting, I’d get happy. That’s what they’ve told me.”
Samuel Jr. said his grandma was “like my second mom.” He said she taught him to be kind to everyone and thankful for each day. Remembering her contributions, he said she “put spiritual things in me.”
“It’s kind of disrespect to my hard work that I’ve put in. People try to take that away from me just because my dad was in the NFL.”
— Asante Samuel Jr., on expectations placed on him because of his father’s career
While Samuel Jr. was attending St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale, Granny Chris died.
She meant so much to Samuel Jr. that, a few years later, he delayed submitting his letter of intent with Florida State to honor her by signing on the anniversary of her death.
“She was the holding piece to the family,” Samuel Jr. said. “It was hard for everybody who was close to her.”
This is about the time, Samuel Sr. explained, that he and his son seemed to start drifting even further apart. He said he can recall Samuel Jr. telling him to not attend St. Thomas Aquinas’ football games.
They already had a strained relationship going back to when, as a child, Samuel Jr. refused to agree with everything his father said.
“He has a lot of ‘yes’ men around him,” Samuel Jr. said. “I was the only one who would say like, ‘Oh, you could have done better.’ He’d get mad at me for that. I think he pushed me away a little bit because of that.”
The Chiefs have been dominating the AFC West of late and, although the Chargers have potential, getting past the AFC champions will be difficult.
A telling incident came in 2010, when Samuel Sr. and the Philadelphia Eagles played Minnesota. On a pass down the sideline, Samuel Sr. was defending Sidney Rice and the two went up for the ball. Rice made the catch but landed out of bounds. Afterward, Samuel Sr. recalled, that was the play his son mentioned before any others.
“It was like, ‘What are you talking about? That didn’t even count,’” he said. “The point is, I’m still waiting for some positivity from my child.”
Samuel Jr. said he doesn’t remember being a critic of his father, only someone who wouldn’t always agree with him.
“You can ask anybody on this team,” he said. “When they ask me about my dad, I tell them good things. I don’t have no problems with him. I’m not sure why he makes it seem like I have a problem with him.”
There is confusion between father and son, to be certain. Both contend the real issue is with the other. During training camp, Samuel Jr. noted that his father hadn’t visited. Samuel Sr. said he can recall showing up for his son’s events in the past and receiving strange looks. Their differences have seeped into social media, the blocking and unfollowing happening among members of the extended family.
There is consensus that the disconnection doesn’t seem to be improving, Samuel Jr. admitting, “We both could have done better.”
On Sunday, he will trot onto an NFL field for the first time in the regular season. The Chargers have expectations for the player they selected 47th overall.
There also will be expectations based on the name on the back of No. 26’s jersey — “Samuel Jr.,” those final two letters the heaviest of all.
“It’s kind of disrespect to my hard work that I’ve put in,” Samuel Jr. said. “People try to take that away from me just because my dad was in the NFL. But my dad’s not out here with me every day practicing and making plays. My dad’s not out here lifting weights, running. I did a lot on my own and with other people.”
Samuel Jr. said he has heard the narrative for years, from “my peers, reporters, everybody.” He wouldn’t have become a high school star, wouldn’t have made it to Florida State without his name.
But during the height of quarantine last year, when so much was about isolation, they came together. They worked out at a field in Florida, sometimes climbing over a locked gate to do so.
Samuel Sr. said the sessions happened every day for at least a month; Samuel Jr. said they were much less frequent than that.
But they did agree on what happened one morning when they were focusing on Samuel Jr.’s speed, running extended sprints. At one point, Samuel Jr. fell to his knees and became sick.
“He’s looking at me in disbelief,” Samuel Sr. said. “He can’t believe this is happening to him. He’s like, ‘Dad, if you did this with any of my teammates at Florida State, they would be throwing up just like me right now.’”
Samuel Jr. initially balked at the story until admitting it was true, saying, “OK, I’ll give him that one.” He also was reluctant to talk about his father at first. Unlike Samuel Sr., he prefers to remain quiet, reserved.
Samuel Sr. will talk about pretty much anything, and he’ll talk plenty about A.J.
“Will I go to a game this year?” he said. “I don’t know. What am I supposed to do, just pop up? If he invites me, I’ll be there. My son knows I’ll be there anywhere, anyhow if any problem occurs or he needs me.”
A “far-distance” relationship, indeed. And yet, Samuel Jr. is willing to offer words that suggest little distance at all.
“That’s my dad,” he said. “You only get one dad. I love him to death.”
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