May 6, 2016
ANN ARBOR — O’Maury Samuels answers his cell phone on a weekday afternoon, his voice drowned out by background noise and sounding a bit winded.
The four-star running back from Los Lunas High School in New Mexico promises to call back, but only after finishing his workout. A month after verbally committing to Michigan, Samuels still is grinding every day in an effort to continually improve.
“I just try to be the best I can be,” he said.
Samuels provided a peek of his potential at Nike’s The Opening regional in Dallas on March 13 when his workout resulted in rating of 142.41 — the highest in the nation so far this year. That resulted in an invitation to The Opening Finals July 5-10 at Nike World Headquarters in Oregon and an explosion of interest from colleges.
The first big-time offer came from Michigan on March 16 and, after visiting campus and attending the Wolverines’ spring game, Samuels committed on April 3.
“I had to go see it for myself just to make sure I was making the right decision for me,” Samuels said of the visit. “I just loved it. I know it’s far away and I know it’s up north and going to be different for me, but I think that will be good for me because it will give me an opportunity to see other things and get comfortable with the lifestyle up there.
“I just feel that I can really excel at Michigan.”
Samuels, who is considering enrolling early, said a number of factors played into his commitment.
“I know Michigan is one of the top schools when it comes to academics. It just came down to seeing the sports facilities, the people they have out there are friendly and that stadium is huge, man,” he said with a laugh. “I liked everything.”
NEW MEXICO ANOMALY
New Mexico isn’t regarded as a hotbed for high school football talent.
In the last 10 recruiting classes from 2007-16, there were only two players from the state in the top 100 of the 247 Sports Composite rankings.
And, Michigan has hardly been hammering the Land of Enchantment for players. According to Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library, only three Michigan football players ever have come from New Mexico — current sophomore tight end Zach Gentry, defensive lineman Alan Branch (2004-06) and William Morley, who played quarterback for Michigan in 1895. And, now there’s Samuels.
“(New Mexico) or New Mexico State will pick up a few kids every year … but there’s not a lot of teams that come crawling around our way looking for kids,” Los Lunas coach Terrell Trantham said. “I think it’s great that he got on the map by going out there and putting up some big numbers.”
Michigan’s interest — as well as that of numerous schools — in Samuels was a direct result of his performance at The Opening regional.
The 5-foot-10, 188-pound junior ran a 4.48 40-yard dash, posted a 4.14 in the 20-yard agility shuttle, a kneeling powerball toss of 43 feet and a 44.5-inch vertical jump for the nation’s best Nike rating. That came after he was nursing a sore hamstring leading up to the event.
“Before The Opening, I was just really chillin’, I didn’t really get much (attention),” Samuels said. “After The Opening, that’s when it started to blow up and I started getting offers.”
Samuels is now rated as the top 2017 player in New Mexico, the No. 20 running back in the nation and the No. 267 overall recruit, according to 247 Sports. He holds six offers, including Arizona and TCU, after saying he had just two (Texas-San Antonio and New Mexico State) before The Opening regional.
“I was having to tell him ‘Hey, keep me updated because I’m finding out on the Internet that you’ve got an offer,'” Trantham said with a laugh. “Just a different experience, I guess, something I’ve never experienced myself.”
Samuels’ first contact with Michigan came from running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley and, one day later, he received an offer from Wheatley and head coach Jim Harbaugh.
“They’re doing a lot of new things and I was interested in the program,” Samuels said. “When I got that call, I was astonished.”
Samuels is too young to have seen Wheatley’s days as a Michigan running back. But, it didn’t take him long to look up highlights of the former Wolverine star.
“I looked at it and was like ‘wow,'” Samuels said. “It really helped out a lot. I have a feeling they can help me reach my full potential when it comes to football and as a person.”
‘AN INSTINCTIVE GUY’
Trantham’s first look at Samuels came when he was the defensive coordinator at Belen, a rival of Los Lunas.
“We saw the freshman kid they had behind (the staring running back) and said ‘that kid is pretty special,'” Trantham recalled. “When I got the job (at Los Lunas) I was excited … and it was nice to know he was going to be one my side for the next few years.”
As a sophomore, Samuels rushed for 1,397 yards and 14 touchdowns on 187 carries. He followed that up by racking up 1,468 yards and 21 touchdowns on 185 attempts last season, averaging 7.9 yards per carry.
“We found out as a sophomore — he was kind of always the dive back — that it was a little bit easier to do some things to stop him,” said Trantham, who has run a split-back veer offense but said the team will likely be under center more next season. “He’s improved a lot with his catching and things like that over the summer. That was something we always talked about improving so he could get more involved in the passing game.”
Samuels was born in Louisiana and lived in Virginia and Georgia before moving to New Mexico at age 7. He discounted talk about the level of football in his state and said he can compete anywhere.
“I’m just an athlete – running back, receiver, defensive back,” he said. “I love defense too. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll hit somebody. I’m just an explosive dude. In my opinion, I’m a playmaker. I go hard, I’m a competitive dude.”
Samuels was the third running back to commit to Michigan’s 2017 class, to go with three-star backs A.J. Dillon, who also is headed to The Opening Finals, and Kurt Taylor. Samuels isn’t afraid of the competition when he arrives in Ann Arbor.
“Me, it’s just instincts, I’m an instinctive guy,” Samuels said. “Whatever I see or feel is best for right now and what’s about to happen, I’m going to do it. I just really think anywhere they put me, I can contribute. If they just want me to receive out of the backfield, I can do it. If they want me to run downhill, I can do it; I love running the ball. Everything about football I love.”