Seasons aren’t supposed to begin this way.
This time of year in the college football world is supposed to be nothing but unbridled hope and boundless optimism. The sky’s the limit during this wonderful transition when the dog days of summer start giving ground to the football season approaching over the horizon.
It’s not supposed to be a time for a team and its fans to say goodbye to one of their most beloved players.
To say that Sam Foltz is the backbone of the Cornhuskers is not hyperbole.
In an age of showcase camps, star ratings, and selection videos with as much production value of an average Michael Bay movie, Sam was just the latest homegrown example to prove there will always be a place on a team for someone who’s willing to get there the old-fashioned way, through hard work and sheer determination.
One of the biggest points of pride to being a Cornhusker fan has always been the crop of local players standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the marquee out-of-state recruits. It’s a subliminal boost of confidence that lets a Nebraska kid know that, even if he or she comes from the middle of nowhere, it’s possible to hang with with anyone no matter where you go. Those bedrock Nebraska values of humility, integrity, and an anvil solid work ethic translate to any field, be it athletic or otherwise.
Sam knew this and used his role on the Huskers to continue the tradition of paying forward this inspirational quality to the next wave of Big Red faithful.
— Sam Foltz (@samfoltz27) July 19, 2016
I’ll never forget Sam’s first punt as a Husker. It was the 2013 season opener against Wyoming that turned into an unexpected nail biter, remember?
I watched that game in Sacramento. My wife and I took a road trip up there from LA to cheer-on the Iowa Hawkeyes soccer team (my cousin was co-captain) in a game against Pacific.
Husker fans being Husker fans, we have a knack for finding each other and organizing for game days so I ditched out on visiting with family in from out-of-state (they understood) to head to the local watch site.
Nebraska’s first offensive drive of that game started on their own two yard line. Three plays and a false start later, a redshirt freshman named Sam Foltz jogged onto the field and boomed a punt all the way back to Wyoming’s 36 yard line. In the score book, it’s officially listed as a 56 yarder but everyone who saw it knows the ball was launched from the Huskers’ end zone.
When the shock wave caused by the ball rocketing off Sam’s foot finally subsided, a bar full of Husker fans asked in unison, “Who is this kid?”
Husker fans being Husker fans, we slapped high fives for a punt and all knew right away that Sam was going to be special.
And then, a little later on, we saw his ability to knock any ambitious punt returner into next week and we finally began to grasp the enormity of just how special Sam was. He was a hard nosed football player who happened to be a punter.
When I put together a pump up video for this upcoming season, one thing I had to include was one of Sam’s punts. Out of the scores of highlight reels I’ve ever watched, a punter has never been included. Since this was my video, I was going to make sure a fellow Grand Island alum got a little recognition.
Husker fans being Husker fans, message board chatter about the video quickly became about the inclusion of Sam among the jaw dropping highlights. I was glad to see I wasn’t the only one who appreciated what his contributions meant to the team.
Sam’s final punt as a Husker came the Foster Farms Bowl with about five minutes to go. Nebraska was faced with a 4th and 23 “situation” and a surging UCLA team. Sam’s punt wasn’t his biggest but those 39 yards got the Huskers out of trouble and did their part to hold off the Bruins.
I saw that punt at my brother’s house in Iowa. The last time we watched a Husker game together was at the Rose Bowl and Nebraska was playing Miami for the BCS Championship.
A lot had changed in nearly 14 years but our love for the Big Red had remained constant.
A player like Sam can never be replaced but we can all do our part to ensure that his legacy remains for decades to come by leading by example in our daily lives and making time for those who could use a boost of support and guidance.
You don’t have to be a football player to inspire others but you can channel one’s attitude and help make a difference to those around you and in your community.