LOS LUNAS — The story of O’maury Samuels’ rise to national prominence begins innocently, with the click of a computer mouse.
The attachment being shipped is Samuels’ résumé, and with it a package of his highlights on Hudl. They are for the eyes of the men organizing the Nike Opening Regional combine at AT&T Stadium in suburban Dallas.
The objective: to get some important eyes focused on a little-known running back from central New Mexico.
“It was calculated,” said Aquinas Samuels, O’maury’s father.
Father and son had been trying to get O’maury’s name circulated for years, often at other camps in Texas when he was younger. Once, his dad said, famed NFL punt returner Billy “White Shoes” Johnson — in the mistaken belief that O’maury was in high school, when in fact he was still in middle school — commented to the family that Samuels still needed work.
More recently, another prominent camp declined to invite the Tiger senior-to-be. Efforts to get colleges in this half of the country to take notice also seemed to fall on blind eyes and deaf ears.
“They weren’t feeling him,” Aquinas said.
With those doors apparently closed, Samuels instead found a window. He climbed through, and over the course of 48 hours in North Texas in the middle of March, everything had changed.
“There’s a lot of good running backs out there,” Samuels said. “You have to be confident.”
He had good reason. He had become a national name, practically overnight.
“He’s always had a goal,” said Los Lunas High teammate and longtime friend Christian Brewster. “He always wanted to be a top player. And once he went to Dallas, he got to show that just because he’s from New Mexico, that doesn’t mean anything.”
Within days of that combine in Texas, Samuels had an offer to become a Michigan Wolverine — an offer he formally accepted on April 3.
Back to front
It all happened so quickly for the Louisiana-born Samuels, starting with the decision he and his father made to apply for that Nike Opening Regional combine.
He was coming off a productive junior season for the Tigers with 1,468 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns. Stout, if not eye-popping, numbers for a New Mexico athlete.
Aside from his stout physical dimensions — 5-feet-11 and 192 pounds on a chiseled frame — had anything substantively changed regarding his abilities between a November playoff loss to St. Pius and that camp in Dallas?
“Nobody took a look at him,” his father said. “No. 1, because of where we live. No. 2, because he’s not on a 6A team. And No. 3, his team was 6-4 and there wasn’t a whole lot of attention.”
Samuels knew he belonged. Getting others to notice was the only concrete way to confirm.
“There’s talent everywhere. Everywhere,” Samuels, 17, said. “If a kid is talented, he’s talented. He he can play, he can play. You gotta (make the effort) sometimes to get noticed.”
Two days after he applied for a spot in Dallas, he was accepted.
On March 12, inside the home of the Dallas Cowboys, his favorite team, O’maury’s profile becomes a hot topic.
“I was just there doing what I normally do,” Samuels said. “Turns out my best effort was an elite level.”
His overall performance on that Saturday — combining marks in the vertical jump (an amazing 44.5 inches), 40-yard dash (4.58 seconds), short-shuttle and powerball throw — was better than any athlete at that camp.
By the time he had returned to Los Lunas from Texas, Samuels’ name had already appeared on national recruiting boards as one of the elite running back prospects in the country. Texas-San Antonio quickly offered a scholarship.
“Once he got in front of people who didn’t care what division he played in and all that stuff … they based (their interest) on his sheer ability,” Aquinas Samuels said.
One website’s headline referred to Samuels as a “monster recruit” after his performance in Dallas where was the running back most valuable player.
“The talk of the event,” a writer from scout.com said. And Samuels was coming off a recent hamstring injury, to boot.
Moreover, his showing in Dallas got him invited to the Nike Opening Finals in Beaverton, Ore., which was earlier this month. He was the first player from New Mexico to be chosen to the Nike finals.
But the roots took hold in Texas. Only four days after wowing everyone at AT&T Stadium, Michigan had offered Samuels — a player who had almost no regional name recognition, let alone national recognition — a scholarship.
New Mexico State had been Samuels’ only Division I offer before he went to Texas. But those two days gave him a meteoric rise in stature, as he elevated from obscure 2-star recruit to a 4-star level rating. Among those whose interest was piqued was Oklahoma, Auburn, Baylor, Alabama, Notre Dame and USC. And, of course, Michigan.
The Wolverines were the third to offer Samuels, who visited Michigan’s impressive facilities — and committed — in early April.
“It was just outstanding,” he said. “The facilities were sweet. I felt like it would be a good fit for me for the next four years.”
Keeping options open
Samuels has already taken an unofficial visit to Ann Arbor to see the Michigan layout, and he’s heading back there next weekend for an outing for Wolverine prospects.
But it should be noted that Samuels said he fully intends to take five officials visits to other colleges in the fall — including Oklahoma, TCU and Texas Tech, his father said.
“Because this is the next four years of my life,” Samuels explained. “I need to know what is the perfect fit. But I’m pretty committed to Michigan.”
If he eventually signs in February with Michigan, he’ll become the second metro-area player to join the Wolverines, following former Eldorado quarterback — and current Michigan tight end — Zach Gentry. Current New England Patriot Alan Branch (via Cibola) also played at Michigan.
Unofficially, Samuels has visited Michigan and USC. And he said he may get a chance to get into the lineup quickly, which partially influenced his decision.
So what type of player, exactly, would the Wolverines be getting?
The Samuels that defenses will face in the fall is imposing, to say the least. He’s super quick and one look at his bulging biceps will tell you about his commitment to the weight room.
“If I tackle him,” said Brewster, “it has to be ankle biting. He’ll truck anyone in his way.”
If other metro-area backs like Manzano’s Jordan Byrd and Rio Rancho’s Josh Foley possess sleeker physiques, Samuels’ frame has the strength of a battering ram to go with that speed.
One of the tricks of managing him during the next several months, Los Lunas coach Terrell Trantham said, is to legislate his touches.
“We have told O’maury, he has a lot of football to play (in his future),” Trantham said. “I’m not gonna be selfish and say he needs to carry the ball 35 times to help us (win). Other guys have to step up.”
“He’s very smart, and when he hits the hole, he’s just an overall great running back,” said Los Lunas linebacker Trevor Brohard, who recently committed to New Mexico State.
As was often the case last year, Samuels should find himself squared up against defensive coordinators who would like to stifle his talent and limit his impact.
“Anytime he was the read (in their veer), we made sure the quarterback carried the ball and not him,” said Centennial coach Aaron Ocampo, who faced Los Lunas for several years as a district opponent. “O’maury is very fast, very talented. He’s physical. When we played him, our No. 1 goal was not to let him out in the open field, because we could not catch him. (But) one thing he needs to work on is being able to finish runs a little bit better. At times, he didn’t have that something extra.”
St. Pius last season eliminated Los Lunas in the playoffs, and Sartans coach San Juan Mendoza said that while Samuels had an abundance of carries — and yards — he never burned the St. Pius defense with a big gainer.
“Anytime he gets the ball, he has the ability to take it to the house,” Mendoza said. “He has that type of ability. He’s so fast and strong, and he’s one of the best backs we’ve seen in a long time.”
Ocampo said he was thrilled not to have to face Samuels anymore.
“He’s a special talent,” he said. “Shoot, a school like Michigan, they’re gonna be lucky to get him.”
If Samuels feels similarly, he’s not overly demonstrative about it. Trantham raves that his teachers noticed no difference in him in the classroom after he returned from Texas.
“He was always just the same player,” Brewster said. “The thing I like is, he didn’t show emotion. I love that about him. He has that confidence. He already knew he was legit. He didn’t need to brag about it.”
Part of the process
“A lot of these national camps have helped him grow,” Trantham observed. “Let’s face it. He grew up in Valencia County. (These camps) have brightened his eyes to what he can actually do.”
The combines outside New Mexico, he added, have allowed Samuels unfettered access to some sharp football minds, men who specialize in the running back position.
Of course, not everyone benefited from his new-found celebrity.
Samuels was a popular target for smaller, regional schools, according to Trantham. Take West Texas A&M, for example, where former Belen and UNM punter Mike Nesbitt is the head coach and wanted Samuels.
Then came Dallas, and the rush of power Division I programs to Samuels’ literal and figurative doorstep. Which left smaller conferences like the RMAC and Lone Star on the outside of this bubble.
“The week after Dallas,” Trantham said, “I got a call from a Michigan number. The person said, ‘Let me put you on with coach (Jim) Harbaugh.’ It caught me so off-guard.”
Said Samuels of Harbaugh: “He’s pretty hip, and he’s a fun guy to be around. He’ll talk to you like a regular person. It’ll be quite an adventure having him as a coach.”
For now, he’s focused on helping Los Lunas get back to the playoffs.
“Normally, I perform well in big games,” he said. “I just want to do what I can do to help out.”
Los Lunas will be watching. New Mexico will be watching. Michigan will be watching.
O’maury Samuels is not a secret anymore.