After tough times, OSU receiver is his familiar smiling self
CORVALLIS - He's not completely healed. That may never happen.
But Sammie Stroughter is in a much different place emotionally than he was late last summer, when myriad personal issues put him temporarily on hiatus from the Oregon State football team.
'I feel great now,' says Stroughter as the Beavers enter the second week of spring practice. 'I'm like a little kid again.'
It's a happy situation for coach Mike Riley, who regards Stroughter as one of his favorite players to work with in more than three decades in the business.
'He seems to be really enthused,' Riley says. 'He's like the old Sammie again.'
The 2007 season was a rough one for Stroughter, a third-team All-America receiver in 2006 who was supposed to be one of the nation's top ball catching/punt return threats last season.
Personal problems sidelined him during training camp and threatened to keep him out for the season. Riley expected Stroughter to return home to Sacramento, redshirt and return for 2008. After meetings between Riley, Stroughter, his mother (Andrea Brown) and his older brother (Eric Blair), Stroughter decided to stay in school, and he returned to the football program in September.
'Leaving school was a very good possibility, and it was OK with Coach Riley, too,' Stroughter says. 'He said, 'We just want Sammie back as a person.' But my support group was strong, and what was best for me was to work through things.'
Year off helped him grow
Stroughter returned to action, only to be felled by a lacerated kidney in the fourth game against Arizona State.
Now he is back, benefiting from a medical hardship fifth season, and raring to go.
'The year helped me grow, both mentally and physically,' says the 6-0, 190-pound split end. 'It allowed me to set different goals in my life. Football is the tool for me to attain them.'
Stroughter says he feels no pain in the kidney region and, after a rigid winter of strength and conditioning workouts, 'he looks like he's in tremendous shape,' Riley says. 'He looks more powerful, bigger, stronger, more explosive.'
Counseling and medication have helped.
'I was really depressed,' Stroughter says. 'I was working through that in the beginning, trying to make sure my emotions were OK. (Counseling and medication) help control those emotions. There's a vulnerability that's always going to be there.
'You can never be totally over a significant mark in your life like that. What I've been through was real. It could happen again. But I feel like I know the things that click and work for me.
'I don't regret anything that happened. It made me a stronger person. I feel like I can get through the peaks and valleys of life with a smile on my face.'
Riley a 'father figure'
Stroughter credits Riley with a major assist in the healing process.
'Coach Riley is my mentor, my father figure,' Stroughter says. 'I'll always be grateful for the way he handled my situation. He sat me down, put an arm around me, looked me in the eyes and said, 'I'm going to treat you like I would my son.'
'I'm sure he's like that with everybody, but maybe he knows I've needed it a little bit more.'
In 2006, Stroughter caught 74 passes for 1,293 yards and five touchdowns while averaging a Pac-10-high 15.7 yards per punt return, including three TDs. Riley says that with sophomores James Rodgers and Darrell Catchings to share receiving duties, 'I don't know if Sammie will catch as many balls as he did, but I certainly think he'll be a force to be reckoned with.'
Sounds good to Stroughter.
'I can have two catches a game and, if we're winning and I'm contributing, I'm very pleased,' he says. 'I was telling Coach Riley, 'I want to be able to help take Oregon State to a place it's never been before.' We won the Fiesta Bowl a few years back, but we haven't been to the Rose Bowl in a long time. I want to help us get to there again. Let's win the Pac-10 outright, and have fun doing it.'
A first-team All-Academic Pac-10 selection in '06, Stroughter will graduate in December with a degree in sociology and a minor in communications. He'll be the first of his family to graduate from college.
'That's the biggest part of the Sammie Stroughter success story,' Riley says.