Vicksburg’s Semi shines on the national stage

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sam Semi took the snap, sprinted through the line, and then did what he does.

The fleet-footed 10-year-old ran straight at a linebacker before cutting sharply to the left and leaving the defender flat-footed. A safety came into his line of sight, only to be left grasping at air by spin move straight out of a Playstation game.

As Semi broke into the clear, his red-tipped dreadlocks looked like flames from a muscle car’s exhaust as he sped off into the distance.

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It was just practice, and not even his best run. That one was immortalized recently on ESPN’s Sports Center. It was just an example of the electricity and excitement Semi generates every time he touches the football for the Vicksburg Packers youth football team.

“He’s made a name for himself,” said Robert Jones, the program director for the Packers. “He’s been with us since he was 5 years old. He’s won championships with our C-Team, which is the 7- and 8-year-olds, and played for a state championship. There’s a lot of accolades for him.”

The biggest accolade came about two weeks ago, when ESPN aired a 25-second highlight of a 60-yard touchdown run Semi had in a game last October.

In the clip Semi, playing quarterback, drops back and is almost immediately engulfed by a hard-rushing defensive end twice his size. The end grabs Semi, but Semi nimbly avoids the sack and escapes the grasp of the bigger player.

“My lineman wasn’t blocking at all. That’s how the big guy got in the backfield and was close to sacking me. So I ran to the outside and I cut in,” Semi said.

Now 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage, Semi outruns a blitzing linebacker as he circles back to the near sideline. He beats two other defenders to the edge and gets a crushing block from teammate Braylen Green on the backside of the play to break into the clear.



Semi then runs another 20 or so yards past the original line of scrimmage and puts a juke move on a would-be tackler at the 30-yard line.

“I saw him coming. That was actually their quarterback,” Semi said. “When I juked inside, I saw an opening all the way over there across the field. I just didn’t really feel like running all the way over there so I kept running and that’s when they came behind me.”

“They” were three defenders in hot pursuit who seemed to have Semi corraled. One was taken out by another good block, and the other two Semi took care of himself. He stiff-arms one to the ground while simultaneously running through the grasp of the other at the 10-yard line.

The path finally clear, Semi continues his sprint toward and through the end zone as a half-dozen teammates give chase.

“When I got right there,” Semi says, pointing toward the spot on the Vicksburg Junior High football field where he broke the last tackle, “two dudes came right behind me, grabbed me by my jersey and I kept my balance. I don’t like losing my balance at all. That’s how I scored.”

The incredible touchdown run might have been the stuff of local legend, the kind of story told and retold years later when Semi is doing similar things to college and NFL opponents, if not for his father.

Sam Semi Jr. — the younger Semi is Sam Semi III — was in the stands videoing his son’s game.

“I record everything, because you never know what you’re going to get. So keep the camera running,” Semi Jr. said. “Some stuff you see, you shouldn’t let go to waste.”

The older Semi contacted ESPN and submitted the clip for use in its Top Plays feature. The segment typically features some of the best or most unusual plays of the day in pro and college sports, but occasionally mixes in others from around the country.

Semi Jr. said he knew he wasn’t the only proud father who had submitted a video, so when it didn’t air right away he didn’t think much of it. He occasionally contacted ESPN representatives to see if it had aired or gotten into the pipeline, but the sheer number of videos submitted made it a long shot.

Finally, on the night of Aug. 31, the elder Semi got a message from a friend telling him he’d seen his son on Sports Center. After 10 months in the queue, the clip had made it on the air. No. 7 was No. 9 on the show’s Top 10 Plays for the day, selected as a way to “get you in the mood for football season.”

The Semi family didn’t see the segment until almost midnight. Bleary-eyed, the house turned from a late-night quiet to a party in an instant.

“It was unbelievable. I woke up that night and my friend told me Sam was on Sports Center. I said no he’s not, but then I turned on the TV and there he was. His mom was screaming,” Semi Jr. said.

Semi Jr. went into the bedroom and woke his son up to come see the clip.

“I was sleeping and he came and woke me up,” the younger Semi said. “It was about 12 o’clock. I was surprised. I didn’t know that it was going to be on Sports Center.”

It didn’t take long for the news and the clip to go viral around Vicksburg. Semi III, who already has a social media presence on Twitter and Instagram, got likes from NFL players like Rob Gronkowski and former Vicksburg High star Malcolm Butler.

Friends, teachers and classmates at Dana Road Elementary, as well as fans at the Vicksburg High-Warren Central football game, asked for his autograph.

“It’s been pretty nice. A lot of people at school have been asking, ‘Can I get your autograph.’ I was signing autographs at the Warren Central and Vicksburg game. It feels good,” Semi III said.

The attention might be overwhelming to some 10-year-olds, but Semi III is handling it as easily as he did those defenders a year ago. His father has instilled in him that schoolwork comes first, and the younger Semi has taken it to heart.

“I would have never been playing football if I didn’t make good grades. I’m an athlete second and I’m a student first,” Semi III said.

There are also more highlights to be made.

Semi III is as much a student of the game of football as he is other subjects at school. While some children play video games after school, Semi and his friends do football drills in the backyard.

Semi has an Instagram account — So.fly___ — that features videos of him doing running drills with bungee cords and rope ladders, plus passing and catching drills and other game highlights.

In one clip, Semi takes a snap, rolls out to his left and launches a perfect 30-yard touchdown pass to his Packers teammate Waulkee Curry.

“I’ve been excited for Sam, because I know how hard he works. He and his friends do their own workouts, and for his age that shows dedication. He’s got a real good work ethic,” Jones said. “He’s real humble. He plays real good ball every week, so he’s not going to let it go to his head. He never talks back to his coach, and he loves the game. He wants to learn more.”

The more he learns, the closer Semi gets to possibly being a regular on Sports Center. He said he wants to play for Notre Dame and the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles one day.

It’s a long way off, but his father believes Semi III’s work ethic and positive attitude will keep him grounded as he hopefully develops into a star at each level.

“I tell him to stay humble, because this is nothing,” Semi Jr. said. “You have a lot of life to live. It’ll get better and better.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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