WASHINGTON — When the worst day of Anthon Samuel’s life began, it looked as if it may be one of his best.
“I was happy because I didn’t have to go to school,” said Samuel, a sophomore tailback on the Bowling Green State University football team. “But that happy day turned into a sad day so quick.”
The “sad day” for Samuel was March 20, 2001 — just four days before his eighth birthday.
“We lived in a neighborhood where there was a lot of crime, but my dad got into an argument with a guy,” Samuel said. “The guy came back around later that night.
“It just so happened that I was looking out my bedroom window — and I saw my father get shot.”
If it wasn’t bad enough that Anthon Sheldon Samuel, Jr., lost his father, the tragedy was multiplied by witnessing his father’s death. Samuel has never forgotten that moment; in fact, he has used it to spur him to success, especially on the football field.
“He has been through more than anyone his age should have to be through,” BG coach Dave Clawson said. “What happened with his father was tragic.
“But he has focused on his schoolwork and football as motivation to turn a negative into a positive.”
It wasn’t that way at first, Samuel admitted.
“I was so lost,” he said. “The only way I found myself was through football, because football let me burn off my anger by hitting people.”
Clawson said Samuel also benefited from having two strong role models — his mother and grandmother — watching him.
“It was a very solid home foundation and a very solid family life,” Clawson said. “He had two strong people raising him and keeping him on track.”
Samuel’s mother, Sonya Stevenson, was happy that her son didn’t let his father’s death throw him off track.
“After something like that happens to a child, it can hinder him — but Anthon was able to move beyond that,” Stevenson said. “I came down hard on him at times, but I also tried to encourage him and motivate him.
“We kept him busy with church and football and karate. I remember when I enrolled him in karate: He entered a tournament, and he won. And the trophy he brought home was bigger than he was!”
Samuel also had success on the football field, leading Monsignor Pace High School in suburban Miami to the state quarterfinals as a senior by running for 1,441 yards and 23 touchdowns on 147 carries.
He came to Bowling Green and had an immediate impact in 2011, running for 844 yards and five touchdowns in just nine games and was named Mid-American Conference freshman of the year.
This season he helped the Falcons post an 8-4 record and earn a berth in the Military Bowl by running for 966 yards and 10 TDs in 11 games.
But Samuel hasn’t forgotten his father. Before a game he listens to the song “Mystical” by Master P and “Live in the Sky” by T.I., and he makes sure he writes “dad” on his uniform.
“Any time I find myself in trouble, I think about him,” Samuel said. “I think about him every day — and I pray for him every night, know that he’s looking out for me.”
These days Samuel also has others he thinks about constantly: His wife, Jah’meela, and the couple’s year-old son Aaiden, both of whom live in Florida.
“It’s pretty difficult being away from my child — I want to see him every day,” Samuel admitted. “But I know I am doing this for him. This is going to set up a better future for us.
“When you do things for someone else, it makes it easier. When you do things for yourself, sometimes you question whether you can do it.
“When you have someone else in this world who is depending on you, you have no choice. And that makes it easier.”
So Samuel plays for more than the Falcons: He plays for his father, his wife, his young son, and his family.
“I’m trying to turn a setback into a positive,” Samuel said. “My grandfather and granny said, ‘You have to use this as motivation. God makes no mistakes.
“I was young, and I didn’t understand it then. But God makes no mistakes. Maybe if that had not happened, I wouldn’t be pushing myself as hard and having the success I’m having today.”
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @WagnerBlade.