There was a point in college when Deebo Samuel contemplated whether or not he wanted to continue playing football. Then a sophomore at the University of South Carolina, Samuel couldn’t stay on the field after continuous hamstring injuries.
Fast forward to 2022, and Samuel has become one of the most dynamic players in the NFL. He’s a key reason why the San Francisco 49ers are playing for their second trip to the Super Bowl in three years.
Listed as a wide receiver, he’s become a do-it-all player for head coach Kyle Shanahan as he also frequently lines up as a running back. Samuel’s performance this season earned him his first Pro Bowl selection and first time being named All-Pro.
He’s a big problem that the Los Angeles Rams will have to solve in Sunday’s NFC championship game.
“It’s a blessing,” Samuel said of being named All-Pro. “All praise to God. Thankful to be an All-Pro. It just shows that all the things I put out on the field, week in and week out, just giving it my all. It’s just a blessing to be named All-Pro.”
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Samuel was sixth in the NFL during the regular season in receiving yards (1,405) while also rushing for 365 yards and eight touchdowns. In the postseason, his ability to carry the ball has paid huge dividends for the 49ers.
His 26-yard touchdown run in the third quarter helped build a cushion against the Dallas Cowboys that allowed them to hang on for a 23-17 win in the wild-card round.
Then, against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, Samuel rushed for a first down on third-and-7 with just over a minute left that kept the drive alive and eventually set up a game-winning field goal by Robbie Gould.
Samuel said after the game that he and Shanahan have strong trust in each other, so wherever he’s needed, he’ll play there.
His winning, team-first attitude was birthed in him at a young age as he grew up in Inman, South Carolina, thanks to his older brother Ty’Quan, who pushed him to be the best he could be.
“Tyshun,” as Deebo was named at birth, has always relied on speed as his weapon. (Deebo was a nickname given to him as a young boy).
“Tyshun was a beast on the field,” his stepmother Precious Martin said in a 2017 video produced by the University of South Carolina. “I used to call him ‘Sweet Feet.’ I asked him, I said, ‘Tyshun, why do you run so fast like that?’ He told me, ‘I don’t want nobody hitting me.'”
There were a lot of factors that could’ve led to a different outcome for Samuel, Martin said. But his goal was always to play football on television.
“He could’ve been out here selling drugs in gangs, you know, showing out, getting kicked out of school,” she said in the video. “He didn’t want that for himself.”
He’s still close with his birth mother, Felicia Winn, but he credits Martin with much of his upbringing. Though he was self-motivated, Martin’s guidance helped keep him on the path to college.
He arrived at South Carolina and redshirted his freshman year, but on Sept. 3, 2015, his dream of playing on TV finally came true. He fumbled in his first game, and on that same play he strained his hamstring, forcing him to miss seven games. But he returned and in the final game of the season against Clemson, he caught the first touchdown of his college career — a one-handed catch in the back of the end zone.
“When he caught that touchdown, I think everybody knew we got something,” Martin said.
In the second game of the season, he injured his hamstring again. Samuel was down emotionally and considered quitting football.
Martin decided to turn to God.
“It’s a tough feeling to see your child and their dreams are right there at their grasp, and then they feel like it’s over with. That broke my heart,” Martin said. “I told myself, ‘We’re going to pray.’ You didn’t come this far for it to be over with.”
Just like the previous season, he came back and was an immediate difference maker for the Gamecocks.
“I said, ‘I told you prayer works, don’t it?'” Martin said. “I told you. I knew you was coming back. I told you don’t give up.”
Samuel and the 49ers will be looking to extend their season one more game to play in Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles. You can bet Samuel will be ready to do whatever is asked of him.
“The situations I done been through made me a stronger person,” Samuel said in the video. “That’s why I come out here and take advantage of every opportunity I get, because tomorrow ain’t promised.”
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