Samson Ebukam is not a name that is on the lips of most Steelers fans. But maybe it should be.
Ebukam (pronounced “ay-boo-com”) was at the Steelers South Side facility for a pre-draft visit on April 10th, and if nothing else, that should put him in the collective consciousness of Steelers Nation. As we’ve discussed repeatedly, when the Steelers draft, the prospects who have had official pre-draft visits have a greater likelihood of hearing their names called.
I recently spoke with Ebukam to learn a little about him, and about the entire process of being a prospect in the NFL draft.
Ebukam was born in Nigeria but moved to the North West when he was nine years old. The process wasn’t simple.
“It wasn’t easy,” says Ebukam. “My Dad is the one that brought us all over. He was working two or three jobs to just support himself, and eventually, he saved up enough money and he brought us over a group at a time. My mom was the last.”
The family first settled in Beaverton, Oregon, before finally moving to Portland. In a 2016 article by Jim Allen of the Spokesman-Review, he talks about some of the challenges Ebukam faced. Allen states “he was smart enough to be bumped a grade in Nigeria”, but the move to the United States presented challenges.
“It was tough, I couldn’t really speak the language all that well,” Ebukam told me. “We didn’t go to school for the first three months. I had to move back a grade because I couldn’t really speak, I moved back a grade just to learn more of the ABC’s.”
Those early years provided a foundation for the character and humility that he shows. He wasn’t invited to the NFL combine, but the numbers he posted at his Pro Day are on par with anything put up by the top tier prospects who were invited.
He ran a 4.45 forty that would have been a best at the combine (beating the 4.46 of Jabrill Peppers). Looking at his Pro Day Numbers below, you can see how they compare to both the top of the LB and DL groups.
|Player||40 Yd. Dash||Bench Press||Vert. Jump||Broad Jump||3 Cone||20 Yd. Shuffle|
|Samson Ebukham||4.45||24||39"||10' 10"||7.07||4.34|
|Top LB||4.46 (Peppers)||27 (Gedeon)||37.5 (Bowser)||10'8" (Peppers)||6.75 (Bowser)||4.13 (Gedeon)|
|Top DL||4.52 (Reddick)||35 (Lawson)||41.0 (Garrett)||11'1" (Reddick)||6.85 (Willis)||4.19 (Lawson)|
As you can see, his number would have been amongst the best of the best had he participated at the combine.
You might think that after not receiving a combine invite, he might feel some measure of validation or redemption now that teams are reacting to his outstanding pro-day results. But you would be wrong.
“No, I’m just letting God handle that” he responded when I asked him about that idea. “I stay humble about my business. I’m humbled by the fact that I’m getting more looks. It just makes me more hungry, but I’m just letting God handle those things.”
Ebukam was a standout OLB/EDGE player at Eastern Washington University Eagles in Cheney, Washington, which is a member of the Big Sky Conference. I asked him about the Big Sky, and why there might be a perception that these are “small schools”.
“People don’t know about the Big Sky because it’s D1-AA. They think we are a D2 school but we aren’t. It just means that these schools get fewer scholarships than anyone else, but the talent is the same.”
It’s hard to argue with that. Eastern Washington went 12-2 during 2016, losing in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Semi-final against Youngstown State (home to another small school prospect who has attracted big-time attention, Derek Rivers). Ebukam had three tackles and a sack in that loss.
The school has had a winning program, and that winning attitude is a part of Ebukam’s makeup as well.
“The fact that EWU has been able to win all those games shows we have a winning program, and to have a winning program you have to work hard, and that’s one thing I think everyone should know about me and might not, I work hard. Growing up the way I did, you learn that everything is earned – it’s not just given to you.
That’s what I hope to do with the Steelers, I hope to earn my spot on the roster and show the fans what I can do.”
That kind of blue-collar work ethic is something to which Steelers fans can relate.
Steelers Pre-Draft Visit
I asked Ebukam about his visit to the South Side. He met with Coach Porter, Coach Tomlin and Kevin Colbert during his visit, and he felt comfortable with them, especially Joey Porter.
“I thought, I don’t really know how to explain it – they were down to earth like my EWU coaches. That’s one thing I really liked about the staff. They talk to you like a normal person, it wasn’t all business. They know how to have fun at the same time all while doing such a hard job. That’s what I loved about the visit, you were able to just have normal conversations to figure each other out”
When I asked him about Coach Porter, in particular, he said “We talked about random stuff. We talked about football, we talked about the people in my life, and how I need to address my inner circle. He went through some life lessons which I greatly appreciated and which I needed to hear.”
When asked about Coach Tomlin, Ebukam paused, and then said: “Man… he was cooool.” I asked him to elaborate on that, and he continued saying “He was calm, collected. He knew how to handle his business. There was nothing but straight respect for him.”
Ebukam noted something else that he felt “The bond they have as a coaching staff was amazing.”
I asked him if the talked about the history of the Steelers, especially the history of the linebackers specifically.
“They told me about the history, and hearing about it made me want to play for the team even more. Because I want to be like they are, if not better.” He may be humble, but he is also confident.
Ebukam has visited several other teams, Arizona, Green Bay, Tampa Bay as well as the Steelers and others. I asked him about those visits and if he thought any team stood out.
“The Steelers, there is something different about the Steelers that I liked about them that the other teams didn’t’ show. It felt like they were taking more of an interest in me as a person.”
I asked him about how he felt he could fit in the Steelers scheme – knowing that OLB’s in Pittsburgh have coverage duties as well as pass rushing responsibility.
“I love that. I have been doing it this whole time. It’s just more concentrated, more dropping. I just need to get used to it. I am able to handle my job in that way, I just need to get used to it. “
When we talked about rushing the passer though, you could tell that this was his forte.
“They told me there would be more pass rushing, and when they said that I thought ‘Yeaaaah’. That’s just where I live. I been doing that my whole life. I don’t have to relearn everything. I already know how to pass rush. I just can’t wait to soak up the wisdom if they pick me.”
The one thing he felt he would have to focus on at the next level – learning the playbook.
“Playbook is completely different than the college. It’s twice as big. I have to focus on that and get mentally right so I can play faster.”
I asked him two final questions before our time was through, first – does he model his game after any one player? He had an interesting response.
“No one specifically. I watch film and try and pick something that someone does and try and make it my own. Feeney’s spin, Von Millers edge, Bennet’s physicality, but there is not one specific person – I take whatever works for me.”
Lastly, I asked him who he thought his toughest opponent was, who gave him the most trouble as an offensive lineman. His answered felt like it could have come right out of James Harrison’s mouth.
“I look at them all the same honestly. Somehow, some way I’m going find a way to get around them. That’s the only way to be about it. If you start worrying, you’ll play slow.”
Samson Ebukam is going to land somewhere, and the team that selects him is going to get a young man who has an Antonio Brown like work ethic, a willingness to learn and get better and the fire to succeed that marks you for potential greatness.
A couple of his teammates (WR’s Cooper Kupp and Kendrick Bourne) may have gotten more initial interest, but Ebukam is making up for that and more as the draft season progresses. (Note – his 40 time was faster than either Kupp or Bourne – how's that for a speed rush!)
During the conversation, we talked about where he might go, what round and if he had any idea. His response was what you might expect from someone who simply wants the opportunity and plans on making the most of it.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you. I’m good with whatever God has planned for me. It’s out of my control. I have no idea, but anything and anywhere is a blessing.
If it’s with the Steelers I would be happy as hell.”
Nation – if Samson Ebukam ends up wearing the Black and Gold, I think we all will be.
And Samson – if you end up having Pittsburgh call your name on draft day – I’m holding you to that promise of coming on a podcast with Joe and I!