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November 21, 2011Joe Sampson was worth the wait for BYU.
The 5-10, 213-pound junior out of Skyline High in Oakland, California was delayed in his arrival to Provo. The cousin of former BYU cornerback Brian Logan, Sampson was recruited by a number of other FBS programs including PAC-12 schools Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona State and Utah.
However, after failing to take the SAT or ACT out of high school, Joe was forced to go the route of junior college and ended up playing with his cousin at Foothill College for a season. Sampson's decision to play at the same community college as Logan seemed natural, since the two relatives had played football together since they were little kids.
"We've been playing football together on the cement since I was six years old," Logan remembers fondly.
When Logan graduated from Foothill in 2009 and came to BYU, Joe, at Logan's recommendation, transferred to the College of San Mateo and starred for the Bulldogs as a sophomore, playing both safety and corner and leading the team with 72 tackles and 13 passes defended. He also had two interceptions.
With Sampson's performance on the field and Logan's connection to the BYU program, Joe found himself being pursued by an impressed BYU coaching staff. However, the coaches would need to be patient.
Joe sat out 2010 and worked on class work that he needed for graduation from San Mateo. While sitting out the season, he fell through the recruiting cracks and BYU was one of the few schools that kept in contact with him.
"A lot of schools backed off from him," Logan explains. "I'm grateful for coach Howell and coach Mendenhall sticking with him."
In September of last year Joe committed play for the Cougars, then signed a national letter of intent in December with the intent of enrolling at BYU in January so that he could participate in spring practice. However, things did not work out as planned and Sampson was forced to take a couple of additional classes to meet the requirements of the NCAA.
After finally being cleared to join the Cougars in July, Joe found himself significantly behind the other defensive backs on the roster and needing to come up to speed in a hurry. Because he sat out a year, he came to BYU with two years to play two and did not have the option of redshirting this season.
He quickly made an impression on head coach/defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall and secondary coach Nick Howell. Mendenhall mentioned publicly that it was clear that Sampson knew how to play the game. Before the end of fall camp, Sampson had earned a place on the two-deep roster, playing the boundary corner position behind Preston Hadley. He is a physical player that possesses solid cover skills and likes to put a hit on opposing players.
Playing in a backup role over the first ten games of the season he produced 16 tackles, three tackles for loss, an interception, a quarterback hurry and a pass break up.
Then prior to the game with Idaho two weeks ago, he was moved to his more natural position of safety and asked to play in Mendenhall's nickel package. It's a role that he asked for and seems to be flourishing in.
The switch came about because Logan encouraged his cousin to talk to coaches about making the move during the Cougar's first bye week. Logan says that he has always told Joe that his best position was safety.
"When he was rotating in (at corner) the beginning of the year, I was impressed because I didn't think he was going to be this good at this level as a corner."
Following Joe's move to safety a member of the BYU coaching staff confirmed what Logan had known for years.
"When (graduate assistant) coach Shaun Nua saw me waking on campus he told me it was night and day, the difference between him playing corner and safety," Logan said with a laugh.
Regardless of position, Joe has made solid contributions this year on a defense that ranks 16th in the country in total defense and 20th in the nation in pass defense.
Against New Mexico State on Saturday night Sampson was seemingly everywhere on the field as BYU's nickel back. He officially ended the game with two tackles, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hurry and two pass break ups.
His performance at safety thus far puts him in a strong position to make an even bigger contribution next year as a senior, when the Cougars will be searching for a new starting safety following the graduation of Travis Uale. Logan says that while he could play the free safety spot next year, he also thinks that Sampson would make a terrific KAT back in BYU's 3-4 defense.
"As far as hitting, he reminds of Andrew Rich, but his cover sills and his speed and quickness are something that Andrew never had.
"What you guys are seeing now is just a glimpse of his skill set and ability. I think that a lot more can come from him and I think you will see more as he becomes a true safety."