College Sports

He went to South Carolina’s Pro Day, but this Gamecocks trained to serve his country

Wide receiver Deebo Samuel shows his talents during NFL Pro Timing Day at USC

Coach Will Muschamp says what Deebo Samuel does and how he is off the field is what others are talking about.
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Coach Will Muschamp says what Deebo Samuel does and how he is off the field is what others are talking about.

When college football players are on the field for a Pro Day, there are a lot of different objectives in mind.

Some are there to solidify an NFL draft stock already in place, others are there to try to make an impression, add a little more to their film to earn a camp invite, and still others are there chasing the final vestiges of a football dream, hoping against hope some one-in-a-million moment happens.

South Carolina long snapper Ben Asbury was there for none of these reasons. His reason was far less serious because his next step, which won’t be football, is far more serious. For those few hours, he was out there for a little fun.

“I won’t make a fool out of myself,” Asbury joked. “But the scouts might leave after a couple snaps.”

Instead of working on the finer points on his snaps, he’s been working on his swimming and his pull-ups for the Air Force Physical Ability and Stamina Test and getting more than 100 pages of medical information in line to be passed along to the Air Force Surgeon General.

After his college football career, Asbury, whose 191-pound frame probably had scouts turning the page as soon as they saw it, will endeavor to become a pararescue specialist in the Air Force.

He’s already started the process, talking to a recruiter, getting things lined up. It’s a plan he’s had for a long time, until football got him a little sidetracked.

“What I wanted to do after my junior year of high school,” Asbury said. “I never thought college football was a reality for me. I just didn’t.

“I really wanted to pursue some sort of special operations career, just to be challenged mentally and physically and be around a bunch of highly motivated people. That appealed to me.”

He’s already started going through the testing that includes pushups, pull-ups, sit-ups, a 1.5 mile run, a 500-meter swim and an underwater swim in rapid succession. He’s up to 18 pullups (a good number), and 68 and 59 on the sit-ups and pull-ups (he wants to get to the 70s for both, though each number is above the minimum standard).

College football, to a degree, found Asbury, and it really found him twice.

After high school, he’d thought about snapping, but Berry College came calling him, offering him a spot at linebacker out of Atlanta. He was recovering from a torn ACL and moved to tight end during his first year. All the while, he thought his long snapping skills might take him somewhere.

“I decided, do I want to go ahead and try to do this?” Asbury said. “Do I want to go see if I could long snap at another school? I chose this route by some pushing of my parents. And it turned out fantastic.”

He reached out to more than 100 schools. He was expecting something in maybe Division II. Instead, South Carolina replied back.

He had things arranged with Steve Spurrier’s staff, came to campus and soon after, that staff was gone. But he persevered, got a roster spot from Will Muschamp and special teams coach Coleman Hutzler and earned a starting spot his last two seasons, overcoming his third torn ACL (he knew the rhythms of rehab nearly by heart). He even capped his career by earning a scholarship to close things out.

“I got to do this for two years,” Asbury said. “It’s incredible.”

He only stumbled on Air Force Pararescue this last autumn, just searching the internet for information on various special forces. He’d earned his economics degree in May and was in the midst of taking a few more undergrad courses to stay on the team.

He had in mind the more macho route of a Navy Seal, but in his words, Pararescue “was more me.”

Pararescue airmen are combat medics who work in some of the most challenging situations. They rescue downed pilots and do search and rescue, often in extreme conditions.

“What you are is a combat medic essentially,” Asbury said. “You’re a rescue specialist. Your job is to save a life. Their motto is, ‘So others may live.’

“The mission of saving somebody, as opposed to taking people out, appeals to me.”

He’s the first member of his family to pursue a military career. His father was supportive, while his mother took some convincing.

He had to work on his swimming since football season, but between that and the other physical training, he thinks he’s in good shape there. The next question is those knees.

He’s twice torn his right ACL, his left once. That adds another layer to the enlistment process — not a large hurdle, but one he’s got to get over.

For that reason, he doesn’t have a contract yet. He expects to be cleared medically in the next few weeks, and then he’s almost there.

“It’s just a matter of taking two more PAST tests, getting a contract and shipping off to boot camp,” Asbury said.

Boot camp in San Antonio is a long way from the comforts of being on a college football team. There share the early mornings and all the challenges of conditioning , but there’s a lot of benefits he’ll move on from.

Asbury kept his plans mum for the most part. Strength coach Jeff Dillman knew, as did a few others, especially that he was focused on a different kind of training from long snapping.

There’s nothing certain with his knees, but that should be something he can overcome. His final act as a college player was going out and firing off a few snaps in front of scouts who had likely written him off moments after sizing him up.

Then real life and a larger calling come for him.

“Now that that’s over, 23 years old, still young, I have the opportunity to pursue this,” Asbury said. “I’m fit enough. I feel like I have the character makeup to succeed in this, and God willing, as long as I don’t get injured, I can make it. A lot of people say that, a lot of people don’t. It’s about your personal resolve and your ‘grit’”