A Sample of Friday Night Lights
By Jessica Coleman
“Seventeen. Seventeen. Seventeen.”
As Landry Sample took his place on the gridiron for the first time, he did it to the sound of a crowd chanting the number on his back. Most of the voices came from the band section, where Landry himself sat many times.
The moment was surreal for a high school senior who had been told as a child he would never play contact sports, but there he was, in front of a roaring crowd wearing pads, a helmet, and Cowboy Blue, as a chorus of voices yelled his number.
“That was emotional for me,” said Landry, “Because they did that for several weeks.”
The details of how he got there are downright cinematic. The story has all the trappings of an overcoming-adversity teen movie, but it played out right here in Edna, Texas.
Landry was born with a heart condition called Tetralogy of Fallot, which affects the heart’s structure and causes problems with oxygenation of the blood. As a result, he had been told his entire life contact sports were out of the question, due to the risk of fainting or worse. He had played some soccer in his younger years, and he is a member of the golf and tennis teams, but football was absolutely not allowed.
A corrective surgery in September of 2021 changed all that, and he briefly considered playing football, but decided it was too late for him.
“I thought, ‘well it’s too late to play football now,’” he said. “I’d never practiced or anything.”
However, when his friend Harrison Smiga, who also happened to be the Cowboys’ kicker, was injured, the football team found themselves in need of someone to take his place. Suddenly, something that started as a joke materialized into real life.
“We kind of like joked around with it like, ‘what if I played football?’ And then became real, and we were like oh wait, I might actually play football,’” said Landry.
After a tryout, Landry was officially on the football team.
His mother, Marla Sample, remembers a shocking text message.
“I was up here [at the office] working, and I asked him something, and he was like ‘sorry, I can’t,’” she said.
“She asked me, ‘can you come up here and help me with something,’” recalled Landry, “And I said ‘Uhh, I just made the football team.’”
His friend Harrison became a mentor, teaching him the ins and outs of the position. Landry’s experience from soccer boosted him as he learned to kick field goals, something he made many of this season.
“Harrison has always been there on the sideline with me, and he kind of became my kicking coach,” he said. “He taught me everything, basically.”
Harrison Smiga would eventually heal from his injury enough to play again, after which the two shared the position.
Landry wound up playing in 14 games for the Cowboys this season as the team climbed the rungs of the playoffs all the way to the semifinals, where they were outscored by the Franklin Lions, who went on to win the state championship the next week.
Now that the season is over, it is back to normal - studying, and preparing to play golf and tennis in the fall.
Landry plans to attend college and major in Business after he graduates in the spring.