COSTA MESA, Calif. — For all the hard work that comes with becoming a college football player in a Division I power conference, and then being drafted by the Los Angeles Chargers in the second round of the 2021 NFL draft, there is one series of moments that Asante Samuel Jr. points to as being the key to who he is.
That came when he was 14 and his mother, Candace Doe, came back from the doctor after a week of dizzy spells and announced to her family that she had been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Samuel Jr. (known as AJ) was the oldest of nine siblings in a blended family and was about to begin freshman football at St. Thomas Aquinas, a powerhouse high school football program in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. And Doe rarely missed a game.
“I was scared,” Doe said back then. “That’s the only thing I could think of — ‘Please, I need to be here for them.’”
She had surgery, and doctors gave her the good news that the tumor wasn’t cancerous and she would, in time, be just fine. Doe had a lengthy recovery and couldn’t attend Samuel Jr.’s games until midway through the season. But she did then. And she stayed in charge of the family.
Samuel Jr.’s father, Asante Samuel, was a standout cornerback in the NFL, making four Pro Bowls in an 11-year career with the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons — winning two Super Bowls with the Patriots and compiling 51 career interceptions. But it was his mother whose strength guided Samuel Jr. through college and into the NFL.
“Seeing her overcome that, that motivates me,” Samuel Jr. told Seminoles.com. “Seeing how strong she is and how she kept the family together. It just helped me.”
“He really stepped up,” Doe said of her son. “I really felt like, after that experience, he became a young man.”
Doe ended up recovering well and went into real estate. Samuel Jr. went to Florida State over offers from many other college football powers, including Alabama, Miami, LSU and Ohio State. But he didn’t commit to the Seminoles immediately because he wanted his mom to check out the school first.
“She loved it up here,” Samuel Jr. said.
As a sophomore for the Seminoles in 2019, Samuel Jr. was the only Power 5 defender with 14 pass breakups and more than 45 tackles. In 2020 as a junior, he started eight games before opting out and had 30 tackles, 6 pass breakups, 3 interceptions, 1 forced fumble and 2 fumble recoveries. He was named first-team All-ACC.
From there, he was drafted in the middle of the second round (No. 47 overall) by the Chargers and became the first member of their draft class to settle the terms for his contract, agreeing Wednesday to a four-year deal worth a little more than $7 million.
Samuel Jr. said his father was part of his draft process without being overly involved.
“He was there,” he said. “He just let me do my own thing but kept telling me, ‘Stay grounded and stay humble.’”
New Chargers head coach Brandon Staley was charged with putting together the right kind of secondary for his defense, which topped the NFL last year when Staley was the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams. Samuel Jr. wasn’t regarded as highly as Pat Surtain II or Jaycee Horn, first-round cornerbacks who are the sons of former NFL standouts Patrick Surtain and Joe Horn, respectively.
But Staley stood firm. Samuel Jr. was helped by fellow Florida State product Derwin James, who’s been lobbying for weeks for the Chargers to draft Samuel Jr.
“I’ve got to give Derwin props on that one. Hopefully the football gods were looking out for us,” Staley said. “This guy can get you the ball. That’s something we really value … somebody who can get you the ball. He’s an outstanding open-field tackler. So you put in the bloodlines, and man, you feel really good about this pick.”
An inheritance from Dad — and from Mom.