Football’s senior leader lost for the season, but still leading

Sam Ekstrom-Staff Writer

Sam Ashmore had big plans for his final season on the Dordt Defenders football team.

The senior leader was going to help the squad win a conference game for the first time since 2008, hopefully see them set the program’s all-time mark in wins, maybe break the team record in tackles-for-loss.

On Aug. 29, that all changed with one innocent play in an intrasquad scrimmage.

Ashmore, an outside linebacker, rushed forward to make a tackle – he’d made 113 of them the past two seasons – and collided with the ball carrier and another would-be tackler.

Then he felt a snap, looked down to see his left ankle askew and immediately assumed the worst.

“It’s done. That’s it. It’s over,” said Ashmore, recalling the accident.

Trainers rushed on the field. An ambulance was called. Senior teammates prayed over Ashmore, who, though injured, had not lost his sense of humor.

“Sam was completely calm and cracking jokes,” said good friend and teammate Micah Applegate. “Kind of a mood killer, but typical Sam.”

“You didn’t see the discouragement that someone could easily have. You could easily go into a situation where you feel sorry for yourself, but that wasn’t Sam,” said defensive coordinator Gabe Eliserio.

Ashmore had suffered a dislocated ankle and a broken fibula that required surgery in Sioux Falls later that night. The doctors estimated a recovery time of three to four months, essentially ending Ashmore’s senior season before it began.

Fortunately, Ashmore is defined by so much more than wins and losses. The 21-year-old Theology major from Arlington, Texas, still has a strong desire to be a servant leader. He made it one of his goals entering the 2013 season.

“I think my focus on leadership, especially this year and last year, has been trying to serve and be a humble leader, rather than one out of a place of seniority,” said Ashmore.

Eliserio lauds the senior’s charisma. When Ashmore speaks, people listen.

“He just has a personality that draws you to him,” said Eliserio. “We always look to him to rally the troops, and he’s able to do that.”

“He’s very vocal, very expressive and brutally honest,” said Applegate.

For Ashmore, there is little more humbling than having to stand on crutches while your teammates battle on the gridiron. But bulky cast and all, he plans to be on the sidelines for each game this season.

Though the linebacker won’t be able to break up any passes, blitz opposing quarterbacks or pound his chest after big third-down stops, Ashmore’s personality will be valuable in assisting Dordt’s coaching staff.

“He’s just a leader on so many different levels that impact our players and our coaches,” said second-year coach Greg Youngblood. “He’ll be a good coach on the sideline. His presence, the heart, the passion, just the way he carries himself – he’ll bring all those intangibles.”

Youngblood had relied on Ashmore, an all-conference honorable mention last season, to be a driving force behind Dordt’s defense. As Ashmore was being loaded into the ambulance, his coach let him know just how much he meant to the team.

“You’re still our heart,” Youngblood recalled saying. “You’re still the heart of our team, and that hasn’t changed.”

This meant a lot to Ashmore.

“I think that’s one of the most meaningful things I’ve heard from a coach,” he said.

Ashmore could potentially obtain a medical redshirt and return for a fifth season. Right now, though, he’s just waiting for the Lord’s guidance. He also has a July 19 wedding to plan for.

If his football-playing days are complete, however, he hopes to have left a lasting impression.

“I want my legacy to be a follower of Christ,” said Ashmore. “Someone who loved Jesus, loved the Lord and caused his teammates and his coaches to know the Lord more.”

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