Michael Sam eager to prove self on field
May, 13, 2014
By Nick Wagoner | ESPN.com
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The spotlights are off, the media have dispersed and the wait is over.
For Michael Sam, the St. Louis Rams' newest addition at defensive end and the first openly gay player drafted to the NFL, it's time to get down to business.
Less than an hour after Sam's introductory news conference, the majority of the circus tents have been packed up. All that remains for Sam to do is play football.
"Will I make the cut?" Sam said. "You'll want to find out in a couple months, huh? I use little things to motivate me and make me a better player. Thank God for you guys for making this all a big deal because it's just going to make me even a better player than I am now."
Make no mistake, the attention will continue. It will ebb and flow with every landmark event along the way, be it an organized team activity, a minicamp, a training camp practice or a preseason game.
But for now, Sam is over the first hurdle and can now fully focus on the many more in front of him as he attempts to make the roster.
Asked if he took even a moment to appreciate the gravity of being the first openly gay player drafted, Sam didn't hesitate. In his mind, the sooner the focus turns to football, the sooner the attention will taper.
"I'm already focused on playing and trying to make the team," Sam said. "Eventually it will. But I understand that right now you guys want to make a big deal out of it. When this is over, I can start doing that as fast as possible."
AP Photo/Tim Sharp"They came to me and it was like 'Welcome to the family, let's get to work,'" Michael Sam said of meeting his new Rams teammates. "That's what we're going to do."
Before meeting with the media Tuesday afternoon, Sam got his first introduction to his new teammates. Upon arrival at Rams Park on Monday night and Tuesday morning, Sam watched his veteran defensive line mates go through a workout.
Whether it was Chris Long or Robert Quinn or any of the other teammates, the message from each was a familiar refrain.
"They came to me and it was like, ‘Welcome to the family, let's get to work,'" Sam said. "That's what we're going to do."
Part of that work will fall on others within the organization. They must carefully tend to media requests, monitoring how much Sam is out in the community and walk the fine line between marketing him -- there will be new Rams fans he inherently brings -- and exploiting him.
Over the weekend and into Tuesday, those conversations had already begun. From a media standpoint, Sam won't be doing interviews every day. The team will make him available on a limited basis.
"I think we've heard a lot of things, a lot of people excited about the leadership and step that we took," Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff said. "Certainly we have heard some negative as well. You are going to get both throughout the process.
"That's something that we knew and we discussed on Saturday if this was going to come to be. If you're going to take a leadership position by drafting Michael then I think you have to expect both the good and the bad, and we're prepared for it and I think we'll shine through it."
The question then becomes whether Sam will have the ability to shine on the practice field and land a roster spot. After going through the grueling pre-draft process in which his football activities were limited to running around in shorts and a T-shirt at the scouting combine and his pro day, Sam is eager to regain some sense of normalcy.
No place provides that type of sanctuary more than the football field, the one place he goes to cancel any outside noise. By the time he returns to that place, Sam figures to be carrying an extra large chip on his shoulder.
"I'm determined to be great," Sam said. "I'm determined to make this team. I have every confidence in myself that I will make this team."
The Rams' schedule for the next week will serve as a sort of orientation for the rookies. They'll be kept separate from the veterans as they work on their conditioning.
There will be no media availability during that time, and Sam and the rest of the rookies will get their playbooks and do film work with their teammates. On Monday, the whole team will come together for more workouts as they build toward OTAs.
The coaching staff's plan for Sam offers no surprises. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has already retired to his lab to come up with packages in which Sam could fit and defensive line coach Mike Waufle has plans on adding more moves to Sam's pass-rush repertoire.
"Anyone who watched him play sees special traits," Fisher said. "We'll have the capability provided that he's able to get from Point A, which is right now, to Point B through camp. We'll have the capability and potential to package him up and get him in defensive packages. We'll stress the importance of his contributions to special teams and all those types of things, so the work is just getting started. We're looking forward to being part of this journey."
The initial pomp and circumstance is over. The real journey begins now.