HITCHCOCK – Once a Bulldog, always a Bulldog.
That’s the mantra Hitchcock head football coach Craig Smith has for all his players, whether their playing days end in high school or they go on to be the most-talked-about-seventh-round NFL Draft pick in the league’s history.
“We were really excited to see his name called and to see him get a chance to play in the NFL,” Smith said about Hitchcock High School alum Michael Sam.
When Sam was selected 249th overall by the St. Louis Rams on the third day of the NFL Draft on Saturday, he made history as the first openly gay football prospect to be drafted.
With cameras staked out to cover the historic moment, Sam’s display of emotion while speaking with his new head coach Jeff Fisher, as well as his displays of affection with his partner after getting the news garnered strong reactions — both positive and negative.
For some in the close-knit Hitchcock community, it was simply a proud moment for their native son.
“I think it’s great,” Daniel Guidry said. “I know a lot of people are going overboard about it, but I think Michael has always been a respectful, responsible kid. I would probably kiss my wife or girlfriend or partner if I was just drafted, too.”
Guidry said he has known Sam, a childhood friend of his nephew’s, since he was 12 years old. Despite the hoopla surrounding Sam’s milestone achievement, Guidry said Sam was never one to crave attention.
“Pretty much, what you see is what you get,” Guidry said. “He’s a quiet, down-to-earth, polite young man.”
Geno Gonzalez, a friend and former high school teammate of Sam’s, said he knows Sam to be a very hard worker and fiery competitor and was not surprised Sam was able to handle himself admirably under the intense scrutiny of the draft process coupled with his unprecedented situation.
“We’re proud of him and we’re going to continue to support him,” Gonzalez said. “Hopefully, he has a long and successful NFL career.”
After Sam came out publicly in February, it brought unprecedented attention to the small town of Hitchcock, with outlets like The New York Times, the Today Show, the NFL Network and ESPN suddenly wanting to speak to those who knew Sam best.
“It’s not your everyday routine; that’s for sure. But it’s all been positive,” Smith said.
When Sam’s announcement was made, Smith said his pride in his former player, who was named the Southeast Conference’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year and a first team All-American as a member of the Missouri Tigers, never wavered.
Smith even recently had the college football standout give a speech to his current team on hard work, perseverance and courage.
It’s a message Sam is more than qualified to speak on, regardless of his sexual orientation.
Smith said Sam overcame difficult circumstances to excel on the high school football field.
Sam went on to outperform the two-star scouting rating he received from college scouts on that level.
“That’s Michael’s greatest asset. If he had it easy and had everything handed to him growing up, I don’t think he would be able to handle all the pressure and attention he has had to deal with,” Smith said.
The attention has led to many positive reactions and reportedly to Sam’s Rams jersey being the second-highest seller among all rookies, second only to Cleveland quarterback Johnny Manziel.
There has also been backlash. Dolphins safety Don Jones was fined and suspended by his team for calling Sam’s on-air kiss with his boyfriend “horrible” on twitter.
Former Ole Miss basketball player Marshall Henderson lambasted ESPN on twitter for broadcasting the moment, though Henderson later claimed his tweets were part of a social experiment.