Caleb Sampson: Mentorship makes a difference

by Caleb Sampson

I didn’t come from a whole lot. Growing up I always had what I needed but sometimes couldn’t get the things I wanted. Looking back, though, I’ve always seemed to have plenty of one thing: mentorship.

Whether it’s been in small-town Saint Rose, Louisiana, or right here in Lawrence, Kansas, I’ve always had people rooting me on and helping me work through those tough times. When I was younger I dealt with confidence issues and struggled with my self-esteem; without the many figures who’ve helped me keep my chin up and realize I am good enough and can do anything I put my mind to, I’m not sure where I’d be today. That’s why I chose to major in Psychology, a field that speaks to me on a personal level. I want to be the kind of guide for others that so many were for me.

Here are just a few of the many mentors who’ve helped shape me into the man I am today:

My mom, Lasandra Sampson

If you’re meeting her for the first time, my mom can definitely be a lot to handle. She’s a true “Down-South Momma” — loud, always opinionated and thinks she’s gotta run everything. Whenever anything is wrong, she’s gotta be the first one there to fix it. When I told her I hurt my ankle in camp, she said: “I’ll be up there in two days.”

She just comes different, but it’s all from a place of love. Once you get to know her you can see the kind of woman she is. Everybody loves her. The biggest lesson she taught me was resilience. She is so tough. When I was younger she medically wasn’t supposed to work, but we needed some help, so she went and did what she had to do to make sure the family was good.

She did whatever it took to provide for me and my brothers. I’ll never forget that.

My dad, Gary Sampson

The biggest thing I learned from my dad is the importance of having a strong work ethic. Hard work can get you a long way. Like I mentioned earlier, my brothers and I always had what we needed, but sometimes we didn’t get what we wanted. But if something was within Dad’s means, he’d do whatever he could to get it.

Now that I’m older I can understand the hoops they had to jump through to get some things for us. They tried to keep it from us, but I picked up on it at the time. I’m really glad I noticed it because it really showed me how hard work and love of your family can take care of a lot of things.

Kansas Jayhawks

My tutor, Stephanie “Ms. Stephanie” Mahal

I admit: I haven’t always been the best student. Now, though, I realize the importance of buckling down and getting that degree, so much so that it’s now my No. 1 goal. No one has been more important in helping make that click for me than Ms. Stephanie.

I might forget to do something the night before, and I know I’m going to get that disappointed talk from her. With Ms. Stephanie, it’s kind of like it is with your parents: It feels worse to disappoint them than it does to make them angry. She definitely gets on me, but it’s all from a place of love and respect, and those feelings go both ways.

Whenever I need her, whenever I’ve got a question about something inside or outside the classroom, I know I can always lean on Ms. Stephanie. When I was going through a little relationship problem recently, she could just tell something was bothering me. So instead of tutoring that day, we just talked about life for that whole hour. Before I left she made sure I was good and that I knew she’d always be there for me.

And she was. When I was honored earlier this month at the Rock Chalk Choice Awards — I received the Crimson Climb Award for overcoming adversity, making academic progress and serving as an inspiration to others — Ms. Stephanie was right there, on stage and presenting that award to me. I’m a low-key guy. I’m not the type of person to try to get a pat on the back or try to get people to notice me. I just go to work, do my job and get out. But since it was coming from Ms. Stephanie, I didn’t mind the spotlight for once.

My coaches, Kwahn Drake (defensive line) and Andrew “A.C.” Carter (graduate assistant)

Louisiana football players have all got something in common: We’ve all got that want-to. The people I know from Louisiana, we don’t come from a whole lot, so what drives us is that ambition to do and be better. Whether it’s in the NFL or by getting a good-paying job, we just all have that desire to achieve greatness.

Being Louisiana natives themselves, Coach Drake and A.C. both know where I’m from and where I’m coming from. Personality-wise, they both bring the fire every day. I feed off of their energy. With Coach Drake, he treats everybody the same — from the starters to the walk-ons, he never plays favorites. And A.C., I know I can talk to him about anything. I have a great connection with both of them, and I’m so thankful they’re at Kansas.

Kansas Jayhawks

My teammate, Sam Burt

You might not think it at first, but people your own age can absolutely be mentors. I know this thanks to the examples set by Sam Burt.

Sam, man, Sam isn’t just a mentor to me; he’s a mentor to the whole team. He’s so genuine. Even though we’re the same age, I still ask him questions like he’s 20 years older than me. He’s going through an injury right now, but that adversity has made him an even better leader. When Sam speaks, you know you’re always going to get something good.

And finally, football

Since the first moment I walked on a field when I was 7 years old, nothing has taught me more life lessons than football itself.

It’s taught me better time management skills; I can now stay on top of things better both on and off the field. It’s shown just how important it is to work with other people and be a good teammate; without teamwork, our defensive line can’t function. And it’s made me a better leader; I never thought I’d be in a position where younger guys are actually seeking mentorship from me.

Above all, football has helped me come out of my shell. And for that, I’ll always be grateful.