(Source credit Stefanie Loh, U-T San Diego)
Aztecs defensive end Sam Meredith III is named for his father, Samuel A. Meredith Jr, and for as long as Sam can remember, football has formed the foundation of his relationship with his dad.
The elder Meredith played junior college and semi-pro football, and was thrilled when his namesake son – the third in the family of seven children – accepted a scholarship to play football at San Diego State.
Even though the Merediths lived in Utah and could only afford to travel to a handful of Aztecs games, Sam Jr. would record all his son’s games on TV, yelling animatedly at the screen when he watched.
Then, he would call Sam III after games to break everything down and go over his son’s mistakes.
This season, there will be no postgame phone calls.
Sam III lost his father to a sudden heart attack earlier this month, but in the weeks that have passed since, the Aztecs’ senior has found solace in his teammates and in playing the sport his father loved.
“It was really hard. It’s still hard, still fresh,” Sam III said Wednesday after practice, as the Aztecs prepare for Saturday’s season opener against Northern Arizona. “But I’ve had so much family support. And my brothers on this team, it makes it a hundred times easier.
“My dad, this was his sport. This was what he loved and what he instilled into me.”
A former assistant football coach at Sam III’s alma mater, Helix High, Sam Jr had started a new job in March as the defensive line coach at Division II Dixie State University and both father and son were eagerly gearing up for their respective seasons.
Then in late July, the week before the Aztecs were supposed to start camp, Sam Jr. had a heart attack in St. George, Utah and had open heart surgery.
Sam III was in San Diego getting ready to start his senior season of football camp, but rushed home to be with his father when the family realized that the surgery had resulted in severe complications.
Sam III got to Utah on Friday, Aug. 1. His father died unexpectedly the next day.
Aztecs coach Rocky Long told Meredith to take as much time as he needed with his family, and told reporters he wasn’t expecting the defensive lineman back until the beginning of the second week of camp, after his father’s funeral.
Three days into camp, Meredith was back on the field, running through skill work with the defensive linemen.
“I talked to my mom about (coming back early) and she just told me to pray and see what happens,” Sam III said. “I know my dad for sure would have been like, ‘You’re not missing camp, I don’t care what’s going on.”
So Meredith flew back a few days before the rest of his family drove from Utah to San Diego for funeral services at the San Diego Mormon Temple in La Jolla.
Even before his family arrived, Sam III was never alone in San Diego. His teammates quickly rallied around him.
“My D-line, they chilled with me that first week of camp. All of them,” Meredith said. “After practice or before practice, they were always with me, just taking to me to get my mind off of it. It really did help and I appreciate it so much.”
Last weekend, the Aztecs voted to make Sam III one of their senior captains, and he’ll lead his team onto the field Saturday.
Being around the team has helped Sam III cope a little better, but every time he steps onto the football field this fall, he’ll be thinking about his father.
Football and his father just go together, they always have.
“Any time I called him or he called me, it was always about football,” Meredith said. “He’s imprinted that into my brain so much it’s a lot of all I know.
“I just want to dedicate the season to him and my family, and ball out for him. He’s been a big inspiration to me.”