CRAIG KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Warriors receiver Ian Sample was back at practice yesterday after being awarded a sixth year of eligibility.
Sample receives additional season
The countdown to the first practice of fall camp had ticked away to just over an hour and Ian Sample still had no clue whether he would be allowed to take the field with the Hawaii football team.
In fact, the Warriors receiver arrived at his position meeting yesterday morning expecting to watch the opening workout from the sideline.
That's when coach June Jones walked in bearing news of his future.
"I thought he just wanted to talk about me not being allowed to do things with the team and stuff like that," Sample said. "But he said, 'you got it.' "
"It" in this case, was a long-awaited waiver to the NCAA's five-year rule, granting Sample another season of eligibility.
"And then all the receivers started clapping and I realized I actually did get my year back," he said.
After navigating the NCAA's appeals process, Sample joined running back Nate Ilaoa and safety Leonard Peters in being granted a sixth year to play for the Warriors.
While Peters and Ilaoa were cleared in May, Sample had to sweat it out all summer before having his football future decided.
"There's nothing you can do," said Peters. "It's not up to you, so you can't worry about it. You just have to live day by day and wait for the answer."
Along with the chance to extend their college careers, the rulings also send the trio into their final seasons with a heightened appreciation for the opportunity.
After struggling through injuries for most of his career, Ilaoa reported to camp in better shape than a year ago and passed the Warriors' annual conditioning test yesterday -- a dreaded series of 220-yard sprints.
"I'm fortunate enough to get another year, I count it as a blessing, so I was trying to get things done right this summer and it paid off," Ilaoa said. "I got my 220s done, and I feel like I'm in a lot better shape.
"Not just to play football but to be here with these guys, with this team, is something very special."
Sample sat out the entire 2002 campaign to care for his ailing mother and suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third game of last season.
After filing the appeal, Sample continued to work out with the hope of returning to the team this season. He participated in spring practice and trained through the summer to be ready for the start of fall camp.
"I stayed really optimistic, because I felt like my case was a good case," he said. "So I never doubted it that much, it never really affected me. I just trained like I expected to play."
After he redshirted in 2003, a shoulder injury limited Sample to four games in 2004. He started UH's first three games, catching 12 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown before hurting his knee at Idaho.
Sample's "return" adds to a loaded UH wideout corps that features two 1,000-yard receivers in sophomore slotbacks Davone Bess and Ryan Grice-Mullins, and experienced wideouts in Ross Dickerson, Chad Mock and Jason Rivers.
"That was a plus because Ian was one of the main dudes out here all summer, busting his tail," Bess said. "I was like, 'Wow, man, slow down before you overdo yourself.' "
Sample has been taken off scholarship since last season and is now paying his own way through school. But he said the adversity of the past year led him to adjust his attitude.
"I've done a lot of growing up," he said. "I think I was a more selfish player before. But with this injury and even being taken off scholarship, I'm a team player, I'm going to do what's best for the team."
Sample wasn't the only UH receiver savoring the start of practice.
Rivers didn't even make it to camp last year while recovering from an ankle injury and clearing up academic issues. So he didn't mind running the 220s.
In fact, he ran more sprints than required to support his teammates.
"Too much fun," Rivers said. "I can't think of enough words to explain it. It's a different kind of joy to be out here.
"(The 220s are) part of it. If you don't love that then you don't love the game."