The first game of his freshman season in high school is when Oklahoma senior offensive lineman Dru Samia III discovered his love for football.
“Up until that point, I had no clue how big of a guy I was,” said Samia, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 303 pounds this season. “I was bigger than anyone on our team, and I had no idea. (Up until that point) all I had been doing was working on my three-point stance and my conditioning, but I never had hit somebody before.
“Then we get out to my first freshman game and the people I’m facing are just way smaller. I’m throwing them around and stuff like that. I think that’s when I started taking a liking to it.”
Samia has been clearing a path ever since for both his teammates and himself.
A four-star prospect out of River City High School in West Sacramento, Calif., Samia took a recruiting visit to OU just to see what it looked like and wound up wanting to stay. Entering Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. Homecoming contest against Kansas State, the rock-steady Samia has made 41 career starts and is on pace to fall just shy of Gabe Ikard’s record of 50 starts by an offensive lineman.
A second-team all-conference pick by Big 12 coaches last season and a two-time Academic All-Big 12 selection, Samia is one of only 10 freshmen in OU history to start at offensive tackle. As a sophomore, he began the season at right tackle, moved to right guard, played 597 snaps and never gave up a sack all season.
Growing up, Samia spent most of his time with his mother and two sisters. “There were really a lot of girls in the house,” said Samia, whose father, Drury, worked the night shift and rested during the day.
Samia had no brothers, so one of his uncles, Gilbert, filled the role. “He was kind of like an older brother to me,” Samia said of Gilbert. “He was someone to hang out with, talk video games and sports with. He definitely was the main factor in what got me here.”
About 300 miles north of Sacramento on Interstate 5, Samia’s father and two uncles all played on the offensive line at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, where Gilbert was an all-conference selection in 1993. “It was never really prevalent,” Samia said of his father and uncles sharing football stories. “They didn’t make it a big deal around the house.”
When Samia switched middle schools and had to make new friends coincides with football becoming prevalent in his life.
“It was getting closer to high school and my uncle (Gilbert) was like, Hey, do you want to play football?’ ” Samia recalled. “At the time, I was just a chubby kid.”
Samia: “Yeah, let’s try this.”
Gilbert: “As soon as we start this, we can’t stop.”
Samia: “OK, I’m down.”
Samia quickly learned Gilbert meant business. “The first workout sucked,” Samia admitted. “I used to cry all the time during our workouts, and they weren’t even that bad. That’s when the whole journey started.”
Not bad for a self-proclaimed screw-up.
“Before football was really in my life and even when football was in it for a while in the beginning for lack of better term, I was screwing up’ a lot,” Samia admitted. “I was getting into a lot of trouble. I was really lazy.”
Gilbert said one of the first orders of business was to clock Samia in the 40-yard dash. “I had a little stopwatch,” Gilbert said. “He started running. I’m looking at the clock and I’m just like, This is going to be a lot of work.’ It seemed like it took him a (full) minute.
“Before football was really in my life… I was ‘screwing up’ a lot. I was getting into a lot of trouble. I was really lazy.”
– Dru Samia
“It was slow going, but it was fun to see him grow through that. When I saw the drive that he wanted to get better and better and better, that’s when I kind of figured, OK, maybe we should take this serious.’ We would work non-stop. We’ve done pretty much everything you can possibly think of to get prepared to get to this level.
“It’s a product of all his hard work and determination. Right before high school, I noticed his build was coming and his coordination. I basically told him, Hard work beats talent any day.’”
Gilbert accompanied Samia to various summer football camps, including one where Samia met former OU defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, now with the Green Bay Packers.
Coincidentally, in the early stages of learning the game, Samia initially wanted to be a defensive lineman. “I even had an email called [email protected],’ but that never worked out,” Samia revealed.
Gilbert said Samia was better suited athletically to be on offense. “I told him early on, That’s not going to be your schtick. You’re going to be an offensive lineman,’” Gilbert said with a chuckle. “He didn’t like to hear that, but it worked out OK.”
“Part of it was my uncle really knows the position of O-line,” Samia said. “If he was going to pass down his knowledge, it was going to be for a position he played, so it was just a better situation. My body is more suited for offensive line.”
Gilbert said he was always confident Samia had the necessary tools to play at the collegiate level. The trick was for Samia to get noticed. “He just needed to be seen a couple times because I knew how well he could play,” Gilbert said.
The spotlight eventually shined on Samia. “It happened really quick,” Gilbert said. “The attention came really quick. The offers came in really quick all in one shot. It was cool for both of us.”
Samia chose the Sooners over a list that included UCLA, Arizona, Texas Tech and California.
Samia is half-white and half-Samoan and the previous two seasons has made the Polynesian College Player of the Year Award Watch List. The award is presented annually to “the most outstanding Polynesian college football player that epitomizes great ability and integrity.”
This past summer, the bloodline between Samia and Gilbert was marked in ink when Samia got a tattoo to represent his culture.
Gilbert already had a Samoan tattoo and helped Samia pick an artist, who spoke with both Samia and Gilbert while planning a tattoo that consisted of multiple designs. Placed on his upper right arm, Samia’s monstrous tattoo required 15 hours 10 hours the first day and five the next.
“I always wanted something to kind of show my culture and kind of be proud of it because I guess I don’t look the most Samoan,” Samia recently told The Oklahoma Daily. “But now that I have this on my arm, I can kind of represent my culture.”
Samia wears jersey No. 75 in honor of Gilbert.
“He was going through his closet one day and found his old game jersey from college,” Samia explained. “We wear the same number and I have it hanging up in my room in Sacramento. It’s just kind of cool having that connection.”
Whenever he crosses paths with OU coaches, Gilbert continually is showered with praises of Samia. “It’s impressive and humbling that people take notice of that,” Gilbert said. “Every time a coach comes up to me they’re always expressing that he’s a good kid.”
In turn, Samia credits Gilbert’s knowledge and tough-love approach in learning the game that quickly consumed Samia.
“He was always there for me as far as critiquing, keeping my head on straight,” Samia said of Gilbert. “Whatever the outcome of the game is, he was always focused (on me). He didn’t watch anybody else. He still doesn’t watch anyone else on the field. He’s worried about how I’m doing with my technique and how I’m progressing and it kind of keeps me focused on what I’m doing and not getting lost in anything else.”
Gilbert said getting to this point in Samia’s career has been “really cool, but I also guess it was hard on him because I’m super critical. I’m a lot less nit-picky nowadays… What I’m really looking forward to is to see him grow into a good man, be a good person in life.”
It seems that Samia is well on his way.