Southeast Polk junior Abu Sama is a little freak athlete.
Just ask his track and field coach Jason Nolting or his eldest brother Amara Sama, who knew Abu Sama was destined for athletic greatness long before the rest of Iowa caught up.
Sama has exploded on the soccer scene this season. When Rams running back Titus Christiansen was injured, Sama stepped up and helped Southeast Polk to a state title. A few months later, he continued this success in another sport: athletics.
With Sama competing alongside his football teammates on the Rams’ relay teams, Southeast Polk became an almost unbeatable force in the sprint events. But individually, Sama shone in the long jump. He broke the state record held since 1984 with a jump of 24 feet, 10 inches that season and he also won the Drake Relays title.
A state record holder in a sport. I recruit one division in another.
For those who know him best, Sama’s success comes as no surprise.
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Turn sibling rivalries into success
When Sama was younger, he would join his older brothers in their workouts. You see, Sama is the second youngest of six brothers, all of whom have been involved in some form of sport. Amara, 33, is the eldest and he recalls seeing Abu’s potential from an early age.
“I took our brother Gerald to Capitol Hill for practice because it’s such a huge hill,” Amara recalled. “Gerald was probably a senior and Abu was in sixth grade. I told him he doesn’t have to go all the way upstairs, he can just sit back while we’re done.”
But Abu wasn’t one to hold back, and he definitely didn’t give his older brothers a chance to outdo him. While Sama’s high school-age brother was catching his breath, Abu made it back to the top of the hill.
“He has this burning fire. He just wants to be good,” Amara said. “He wants to work hard. He doesn’t stop.”
While a couple of older brothers could make any younger sibling grow to greatness, Abu and Amara have a unique relationship, particularly with younger Sama’s recent success in athletics.
Amara Sama is a name some Iowa State fans may be familiar with. From 2009 to 2011 he spent two seasons competing for the Cyclones on the indoor and outdoor track. As the oldest child, he set an example of how sports can be a gateway to a college education. Amara opened the door for Abu and Gerald, who play soccer in Grand View, to get serious about sports in a family where academics came first and athletics second.
Amara also enjoyed success on the Iowa High School track, setting the state record in the 4×100 relay at Des Moines East. His team’s record has since been broken, but Abu’s success in the long jump put the Sama name back in the record books.
For Abu, there are perks to having an older brother who competed in collegiate athletics. Despite the age difference, the Sama brothers try to train together as much as possible. And Amara’s success in athletics has pushed Abu to get better.
“When I’m out on track I definitely try to see if I can beat him in certain things or go against his times in practice,” said Sama.
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Sama’s success extends beyond the race track
Despite breaking a record that has stood for nearly 40 years, track and field isn’t even the sport Sama wants to play in college.
Last season, Sama rushed for 931 yards and 12 touchdowns during Southeast Polk Football’s state title run. He also recorded 20 solo tackles on defense. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound running back blew up on the scene after Christiansen’s injury.
“I think it’s great that he got the opportunity to move up because not many people get that,” said Christiansen. “It was really good for him just to get out of there.”
Iowa, Iowa State, Minnesota and Nebraska have shown interest. But even after the Rams took home the league trophy, Sama was without Division I offers. Perhaps it has something to do with breaking the state long jump record that appealed to other college football programs, because Sama’s enlistment has tipped this spring inflamed.
Actually, it ignited last month.
On April 9, Sama jumped 24-10, breaking the state record held since 1984 by Davenport Central’s Chris Walker. Less than a week later, on April 15, Kent State offered him a scholarship to play soccer. Then, three days after a successful outing at the Drake Relays, southern Illinois and northern Iowa also came up.
“It feels good to see that my hard work is paying off and the coaches are starting to see that,” said Sama. “Right now, I’m just trying not to let it get to my head so I can just stay focused and wait for more to come.”
More offers should be on the way for Sama, who could run back or defend in college. With Christiansen graduating this spring and heading to Grand View to play football, Sama will be the Rams’ bell cow in the backfield next fall. He’s expected to take on an even bigger role, and he’ll do so in front of the college coaches who come out to see his five-star offensive lineman teammate Kadyn Proctor.
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While it may seem like college programs only take notice of Sama, his rise in the sport didn’t come overnight.
“He was always the first to train, the last there, just always put in the work,” said Christiansen. “He’s always doing extra drills, extra things just to not only improve himself but the team as well.”
Amara Sama and Nolting, Abu’s running coach, shared Christiansen’s opinion. Amara watched Abu grow up in soccer, football and eventually track and field. Nolting has seen Sama grow from an already above-average freshman to a state record holder.
“He was no ordinary freshman,” Nolting said. “He contributed at a very high level from the start. I mean, you could see it even before that, when he was in junior high, that he had the ability to be really, really special.”
But for Nolting, it’s Sama’s consistency that sets him apart from other athletes in a stacked Southeast Polk roster. As described by his head coach, Sama is not a one-hit wonder. He has several jumps over 23 and 24 feet and his on-track times have been improving all season. His success in athletics has set him up for a stellar season in senior football and his coach knows athletes like Sama don’t come around too often.
“He’s one of the strongest athletes I’ve ever seen,” said Nolting. “He’s a rare combination of speed, explosiveness and bounce, and he’s also a phenomenal soccer player. He just has this special athleticism because it’s not easy to do what he’s done.”
So yes, part of Sama’s success can be attributed to a bit of natural ability. But ask Amara, Nolting or Christiansen and they will all say the same thing: Sama is one of the hardest workers on the track or in the field.
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For Sama everything goes back to the family
Like Amara, Abu paves the way for his younger brother Eddie to achieve success in the sport. As a sophomore, Eddie will have the chance to fill some big shoes when Abu graduates next spring. But these shoes, according to Nolting, are Yes, really big.
“I haven’t coached his older siblings,” Nolting said, “but he’s a lot better than his older brothers.”
Sama has some lofty goals in mind for the remainder of his time at Southeast Polk. Sure, he’d love to win a state long jump title. But his real goal is to jump over 25 feet. He still wants to win a national championship in soccer. Individually, he wants to improve as a running back and defensive back.
As for college, he would consider playing both sports if given the opportunity, but football is his number one choice. In any case, he already has the opportunity to follow in Amara and Gerald’s footsteps in collegiate athletics.
It will be a full circle moment for one of the younger Sama brothers whose sibling rivalries have propelled him to become the athlete he is now – the best in the family.
“It’s Abu and he knows it,” Amara said. “You know, I’m older and Gerald would probably say Gerald. But Abu does things that we didn’t even do when we were the same age. There were several people before him who helped pave the way. But he’s the best. He can get that recognition.”