(CBS Local)- The 2021 NFL Draft is approaching and prospects this year have a much different experience than those of years past. The NFL Combine was cancelled, instead teams are traveling to respective campuses for pro days to get their look at prospects. Among those draft hopefuls is Tulane defensive end Cameron Sample, who after four years with the Green Wave, is ready to prove he can play at the next level.
Rated as a two-star prospect by 247 Sports coming out of Shiloh High School in Georgia, Sample chose Tulane and got the chance to make an impact immediately, playing in eight games as a freshman recording 26 tackles and two for a loss. Each season the stats continued to improve, culminating in his senior season this fall when he posted career highs in tackles (52), tackles for loss (7.5) and sacks (5) despite a shorter schedule due to the pandemic. Sample says that his breakout senior season was the end result of the years of work that he put in at Tulane combined with a switch to a more attacking style scheme.
"I think it was a culmination of the process. Also schematically wise, I played a little bit different of a position this year, I was in a position where I was able to attack a little bit more," Sample said in an interview with CBS Local's Ryan Mayer.
That attacking mindset is one born with the chip on his shoulder from the lack of attention he received coming out of high school.
"It's a huge thing. My high school coach always preached control what you can control and that's the attitude I take. Although I would have liked all that recognition in high school, me not having it, it just added to that internal flame I have to just keep pushing," Sample said.
The internal flame drove him to earning recognition as one of the 144 seniors invited to the Reese's Senior Bowl showcase in Mobile, AL this winter. For Sample, who grew up devouring the draft process from Combine to Pro Days and everything in between, the opportunity to play at the Senior Bowl was a bucket list moment.
"I love football, so growing up I was always watching the pre draft process from the vlogs to the Senior Bowl to the Combine so I said if I ever get a chance to run that course and be able to do that, it's definitely on my bucket list," Sample said. "It was great being out there, I met a lot of good guys, got a lot of great coaching. It was just good to showcase my talents in front of everyone."
Though accepting the invite to the Senior Bowl was the realization of a dream for Sample, his exploits once there showed his continued drive to prove he belongs at the highest level. He was named Defensive MVP of the game, racking up seven tackles and half a sack.
For Sample, playing against the best seniors from across the country and proving that he belonged was a big box that he wanted to check on the road to the Draft.
"My whole mindset going in was to check off the boxes. A lot of people thought I was a talented player, but being in a smaller conference, they maybe said my game wouldn't translate so, I had that chip on my shoulder to say I can play at this level or any level you guys want to put me at," Sample said.
The next box to be ticked off will be his pro day, set for March 30. As he continues to prepare for the pro day and the NFL, Sample's main focus area is his pass rushing. He collected 10.5 sacks over the course of his final three seasons with the Green Wave and he's looking to further improve that technique to show NFL teams he can be a force along the line.
"The main area I'm focused on is my pass rushing. I feel like I'm not a finished product, so I've been working with my coaches and other prospects I train with to critique each other, take pieces from each other's game," Sample said. "Sometimes we just sit around and talk about different concepts and things we see in certain situations. Just evolving as a pass rusher."
The work continues as Sample hopes to hear his name called the weekend of April 29 to May 1 when the 2021 NFL Draft is held in Cleveland.
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