Working Class Hero
Unsung Sammis Perseveres with Team in Mind
By Raj Sagar, Athletics Media Relations
Every successful locker room needs it that important ingredient which is very hard to find.
It comes from the person who provides the spark that lights the fire that combusts into team chemistry.
He is not the Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. He’s the unsung player who sets the bar for a team’s work ethic. Coaches, players, trainers, equipment managers and academic advisors all love him. He is the inspiring teammate.
For Virginia football, he is Gordie Sammis.
“He’s one of the elite workers that you don’t have to hear from,” junior tackle Eugene Monroe said. “You can see how hard Gordie works, and you know he will do anything for the team. He is a great picture of leading by example.”
After completing his outstanding high school career, Sammis was ready to play football at the next level. When making his college decision, he wanted to be sure to take in consideration all aspects of college life, not just football.
“When I made my visit to Virginia, I loved everything about it,” Sammis said. “I had offers from a few other schools, but everything about UVa appealed to me. The campus, the education and of course the coaches here made me realize this is where I wanted to go.”
After committing to Virginia and playing his first summer with the team, Sammis found himself with the rare opportunity of being able to play as a true freshman. Seeing only spot duty at tackle and on the field goal block team, Sammis was just excited to contribute while learning what it means to be a football player in the ACC.
“Freshman year was a very different experience,” Sammis said. “I was so excited to be able to play and I tried to learn plays and schemes, but I honestly had no clue as to what was going on. I knew if I just kept at it and tried to learn from my older teammates, I’d be able to grow as a player.”
Now at Virginia, Sammis plays the role to the younger players that those older players once played for him.
“As a young player, it’s inspiring to see someone who has been here as long as Gordie has and still has a passion for the game and working hard,” redshirt freshman wide receiver Zach Mendez-Zfass said. “Even though we don’t play the same position, any player can learn a lot from Gordie about work ethic and the mentality you need to play this sport. He is definitely the kind of player who is looking to get better each and every day.”
Throughout his next three years at Virginia, Sammis played sparsely in a number of roles, but never as a starter. He saw time at guard, on the field goal block team as well as the kick scoring unit. That kind of versatility is just another tool Sammis used to try and help the team.
“I look at it as more opportunities to get on the field,” Sammis said. “I see the different positions as different jobs, and I wanted to be able to do as many jobs as possible. That way, I would improve my chances of playing, and also be able to help the team in any way possible.”
As a sophomore, Sammis only played three snaps, but he had always planned on redshirting one season and then playing a fifth year of football. Halfway through his senior season, he petitioned the NCAA for a fifth year of eligibility after learning his fifth year was not a guarantee. Going into spring practices, Sammis was still unsure as to whether he would be able to be a member of Virginia football for the upcoming season, as his petition was still being reviewed.
That summer, for three grueling months, Sammis went through practices, workouts, weight lifts, early morning meetings and memorizing playbooks, all without the promise of being allowed to be a part of the team.
“That offseason just shows what kind of person he is,” sophomore defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald said. “A lot of people might have slacked off if they were in his position, not knowing their future, but Gordie had one of the most productive off-seasons on the team.”
For anyone presented with such a situation, motivation would be a big question mark. For Sammis, his motivation was simple: his teammates.
“I would always try to stay positive with it, and believe I was going to come back, Sammis said. “It wasn’t that hard for me because I was going to be with my teammates and coaches. I really enjoy just hanging out with these guys and everyone on the team. Regardless of position, it’s a great group of guys that are really motivated to win, and be the best they can be. That’s why, even though it was hard sometimes, I knew, at the very least, that by being there, I was helping these guys prepare for their season ahead.”
“Gordie is one of those guys who makes coming to practice and workouts enjoyable,” redshirt freshman wide receiver Staton Jobe says. “He always gives 100 percent no matter the situation and is an all-around great guy. He leads by example, and when you see him working so hard, it pushes you to work harder. He is a great motivator.”
Sammis was in fact granted his fifth year of eligibility, and when Eugene Monroe went down with an injury earlier this season, Sammis was ready to step in and start for the first time in his career. He played admirably in Virginia’s 44-14 victory over Pittsburgh.
Virginia head coach Al Groh said, “We gave out an imaginary game ball last night to Gordie.” (UVa cannot hand them out because of NCAA rules)
“Starting was a huge honor for me,” Sammis said. “I’ll never forget the feeling as I ran out of the tunnel hearing 60,000 screaming fans. All the hard work and preparation had paid off. It has definitely been the high point of my playing career and is something I will never forget.”
While Monroe is healthy again and ready to go, Sammis understands he had to relinquish his starting role and takes it in stride.
“I have to take the approach that I am one sprained ankle away from getting in the game anyway,” Sammis said. “I always want to get as many reps as possible and prepare myself physically as well as mentally to be able to help my team when they need me.”
“Gordie is everything you can think of in a great teammate,” said Monroe.
Just like young men everywhere, Sammis’ first taste of football was rooting for his favorite team with his dad.
“I grew up loving The New York Giants,” Sammis said. “I’d watch the Giants with my dad and he’d take me to games. Lawrence Taylor and Phil Simms were my favorite players growing up. Watching those games with my dad meant a lot to me because it was a routine I had with my father.”
Even though he was exposed to the game at a young age, Sammis’ playing career started later than most. Being a big kid, it was hard for him to play organized football because of weight limits, so instead he began playing recreationally with friends.
“Growing up, football was everything,” Sammis said. “I loved playing in gym class and playing pick up games with my friends. It was hard going to my friend’s Pop Warner games and not being able to play. I stuck with football because it was something I loved so much. I just wanted to play.”
Sammis’ first taste of organized football came his freshman year of high school. He worked hard and by his sophomore year had earned a spot as a starter. During his junior year, Sammis had 60 pancake blocks and was named Parochial all-state, all-county, all-area and all-conference.
Although football was his focus, Sammis also played basketball. He was a solid contributor whose hustle always gave his team an adrenaline burst on the court.
“I would do whatever the team needed me to,” Sammis said. “I could score, but not as well as most. Most of the time I did the dirty work like going after rebounds or playing tough defense. When everyone else got taller, I had to find another way to contribute. Some people would have said I was a scrappy player.”
Like many football players, Sammis was on the weight lifting team in the off-season. Although they don’t take the time to go to competitions, high school football players often use off-season weight lifting teams as a method of staying in shape. Sammis however wanted to get a little more out of it and did. His senior year, he was the New Jersey North State power lifting super heavyweight champion in the dead lift and bench.
“Our weight coach was really into competition lifting,” Sammis said. “We’d train and there were competitions on the weekends. I wasn’t that serious about it, but knew, since I was pretty strong, I could help the team if I went. It was fun going and being able to work with and then help those guys were who so into it.”
Sammis has continued that mentality throughout his time at Virginia. His persistence and selflessness has helped to better his teammates as well as himself.
Whether he is contributing to the team on the field, or encouraging from the sideline, one thing is for sure Gordie Sammis is someone you want on your team.