HITCHCOCK – During Hitchcock alum Michael Sam’s historic interview when he publicly came out as the first openly gay NFL Draft prospect, the ESPN segment closed with Sam making three declarative statements about himself.

“I’m not afraid to tell the world who I am,” Sam said in the February interview. “I’m Michael Sam, I’m a college graduate, I’m African-American and I’m gay.”

For Sam’s middle school social studies teacher Paula Lamb, it was only one of those statements — the first of the three that was overlooked by most — that meant the most to her.

“He always told me he was going to graduate from college, that he was going to be the first in his family,” Lamb said. “For him to say first, ‘I am a college graduate,’ it meant a lot to me, and I know a lot of other teachers who taught him and it meant a lot to all of us.”

On Monday, the Hitchcock community celebrated Michael Sam Day to recognize the first-ever former Bulldog football player to be drafted into the NFL, complete with an official proclamation from the city and a day full of activities at Hitchcock’s schools.

The day was more than just recognition of a Hitchcock alum’s recent fame for those who knew Sam; it was a celebration of a lot of hard work paying off for a caring kid with a lot of potential.

A favorite memory of Lamb’s was when she took charge of organizing the school’s spring dance and her student Sam served as her “date,” presenting her with a single rose and helping her run the dance.

“While I was running around trying to make sure there was punch and food and all that, he was worried about me — making sure I had something to drink, taking the trash out for me,” Lamb said. “He was really an awesome kid, and it really meant a lot to me that he took that time out to show me that appreciation.”

Lamb added that Sam seemed to always have a smile on his face, be singing a tune or doing anything to make her laugh — belying the ferocious state he would enter playing defensive end on the football field.

Sam’s mischievous nature was more than apparent the first time Hitchcock sophomore Kia’Rra Williams, whose older brother was a teammate of Sam’s, met him as she and her mother were just pulling the family car into their driveway while Sam happened to be walking home.

“He just came running through the yard and started banging on my mom’s window,” Williams said.

The entire Williams family became close with Sam, even traveling all the way to Columbia, Mo., last November to see his senior day game at the University of Missouri.

The family surprised Sam at the Tigers’ practice facility, was invited on the field to see him after the game, stayed with him at his house and drove to and from destinations with him as he loudly sang country music.

Even then, Sam had his familiar top priority on his mind.

“He said it would be cool if he got into the NFL, but that he already got the best thing, which was his college education,” Randy Williams, a Crosby Middle School student, said.

As part of the Michael Sam Day festivities, Hitchcock ISD students were asked to wear Sam’s high school, college or NFL team colors, write Sam letters of encouragement and craft items expressing the community’s pride in its homegrown NFL prospect.

“Everybody in the district and the city has been really excited,” Barbara Derrick, Hitchcock ISD superintendent, said. “He’s our first-ever NFL draftee.”

Sam is currently participating in offseason organized team activities with the St. Louis Rams, who selected him 249th overall in the seventh round.

If Sam makes the final 2014 roster for the Rams, he will be the second-ever Hitchcock alum to play in the NFL.

Randy Hymes, a wide receiver, went undrafted out of Grambling State, but walked on the team for the Baltimore Ravens, where he played from 2002 to 2005.

Contact Sports Editor James LaCombe at 409-683-5242 or at james.lacombe@galvnews.com.

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