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What’s a Nice Orthodox Jewish Young Man Doing on the Gridiron in Texas?  The Inspiring Story of Sam Salz

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What’s a Nice Orthodox Jewish Young Man Doing on the Gridiron in Texas?  The Inspiring Story of Sam Salz

Edited by: TJVNews.com

Sam Salz, a diminutive figure standing at 5-foot-6 and weighing 160 pounds, is not your typical aspirant for a spot in the rough-and-tumble world of SEC football, particularly not at a powerhouse like Texas A&M, according to a recently published report in TheAthletic.com, a subscription-based sports news service that was acquired by the New York Times in 2022.

Yet, as the dusk settled over the Bright Football Complex in early February, he was there, ready to share an extraordinary tale of determination and unlikely ambition.

Born and raised in the tight-knit, devout environment of a Modern Orthodox Jewish family in Philadelphia, Salz attended Kohelet Yeshiva High School. This institution, while rigorous in its academic offerings and committed to the moral and spiritual development of its students, did not extend its activities to the football field, as was reported by The Athletic. It was here that Salz, amidst his religious and academic pursuits, nurtured a seemingly far-fetched dream: to play football at one of the most competitive levels in the nation.

With no formal training or experience in organized football, what Salz lacked in physical preparation he made up for with sheer willpower and a meticulously crafted plan. As per the report on TheAthletic.com web site, upon moving to Texas for college, he found himself on the periphery of the Texas A&M football program, a world away from the quiet hallways of Kohelet Yeshiva.

Each day, Salz arrived at the practice field an hour early and stayed an hour late, practicing drills he set up himself using old shoes and trash cans in place of the standard sports equipment. His makeshift training ground beside the practice field became a testament to his resolve. The information provided in the report on TheAthletic.com indicated that without cleats, without a designated position, and without the typical high school football pedigree, he nonetheless worked with the determination of a seasoned athlete.

Salz’s unconventional path to catching the eye of the Texas A&M football staff involved more than just physical preparation. He recognized the importance of making a personal impression. Thus, he made it a point to attend then-head coach Jimbo Fisher’s weekly radio show at Rudy’s Country Store and B-B-Q. TheAthletic.com also reported that it was here, amid the aroma of barbecue, that Salz took a bold step that defied conventional norms and team policies. He approached Coach Fisher directly, looking him in the eye, and declared his intention to walk onto the team, regardless of his non-traditional background in the sport.

This direct approach was emblematic of Salz’s determination not to let traditional barriers dictate his opportunities. Ignoring the team’s policy that required walk-ons to have varsity football experience, he presented himself as a candidate based solely on his dedication and hard work, as was noted in ThAthletic.com report.

At 21, Salz had set his sights on a goal that seemed almost unreachable: playing college football at one of the most competitive levels in the United States, despite having no prior organized football experience.

From his early days at Texas A&M, Salz embarked on a routine that few could sustain. Each day, he would position himself on a patch of land adjacent to the Aggies’ practice fields, separated only by a chain-link fence. This physical barrier did little to dissuade him; rather, it served as a daily reminder of his goal. “I told myself, ‘I’m on this team,’” Salz recounted, according to TheAthletic.com.  He believed firmly that although he was physically on the other side of the fence, he was as much a part of the team as any of the players on the field. This belief fueled his rigorous, self-directed workouts, during which he would often be seen by the team—his consistent presence becoming a familiar sight.

Salz’s determination did not go unnoticed. The energy and dedication he brought to his solitary practice sessions began to draw attention not just from other players who saw his relentless commitment, but also from the coaches, as was explained in TheAthletic.com report.  After practices, players and coaches alike would see Salz, donning his yarmulke, pushing himself to the limits. Many were inspired by his dedication, some offered encouragement, and a camaraderie began to form. “Guys would come out of practice and realize this guy in a yarmulke was working out every day, and they’d hype me up,” Salz noted to TheAthletic.com.  His interactions with the team started to bridge the gap between him and the official roster.

Recognizing his genuine interest and commitment, Salz leveraged his consistent attendance at Coach Jimbo Fisher’s radio shows to make personal appeals to the coach. His persistence paid off when he asked Fisher if he could attend a practice to better understand the team’s dynamics and strategies, TheAthletic.com report said. Fisher, seeing Salz’s unwavering dedication, granted him access. Salz took meticulous notes and diligently incorporated what he learned into his workouts, further aligning his independent training with the team’s regimen.

Salz’s story draws inevitable comparisons to the iconic underdog tale of “Rudy,” the Notre Dame fan who overcame numerous obstacles to make the football team. Ironically, Salz admitted to never having seen the film, though his real-life journey mirrors the cinematic tale’s spirit. Noted in TheAthletic.com report was that unlike Rudy, whose story was propelled by a single-minded quest to play for Notre Dame, Salz’s motivation is less about emulating a cinematic hero and more about fulfilling a personal ambition that is uniquely his own, driven by a passion for the game and a deep desire to prove himself.

For Salz the path was not just about pursuing a passion for sports but also about navigating the complexities of maintaining his religious commitments while integrating into a predominantly secular, high-energy college environment known for its deep-rooted traditions and football culture.

Growing up, Salz’s Saturdays—Shabbat in Jewish tradition—were spent in spiritual observance rather than recreational activities. From sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, Shabbat is a time dedicated to rest and spiritual enrichment. Activities common to many American households over the weekend, such as watching or participating in sports, using electricity, driving, cooking, or engaging in any form of work, are prohibited, as was indicated in TheAthletic.com report.  This observance naturally limited his exposure to live sports, including college football, which predominantly takes place on Saturdays.

Despite these restrictions, Salz’s interest in football and Texas A&M burgeoned during his high school years. His curiosity wasn’t sparked by televised games or live sports events, but rather through a modern conduit of sports culture: the internet phenomenon known as Dude Perfect, as was reported by TheAthletic.com. This group of Texas A&M alumni gained fame through their viral trick shots and sports-themed entertainment videos. Their connection to Texas A&M and the captivating content they produced drew Salz’s attention and admiration, leading him to delve deeper into what the university represents.

Texas A&M University is not merely an academic institution; it is a community rich with traditions, from the Midnight Yell to game-day festivities, embodying a spirit of camaraderie and tradition. Despite its large student body of over 70,000, the university hosts a relatively small Jewish community, comprising less than 1% of the population. However, TheAthletic.com reported that the presence of a strong and accessible Jewish community, represented by entities such as the University’s Hillel and the Chabad under Rabbi Yossi Lazaroff, reassured Salz of the viability of maintaining his religious life while immersing himself in the broader university culture.

Reaching out to Rabbi Lazaroff, Salz was able to gain insights into the Jewish community’s dynamics at College Station, ultimately affirming his decision that Texas A&M was the right place for him. It was here that Salz saw an opportunity to align his personal and religious identities with his unconventional athletic ambitions.

Salz’s drive and resourcefulness were evident long before he set his sights on college football. As a child, during a school fundraiser that involved selling cookie dough, Indicated in TheAthletic.com report was that Salz showed early signs of his enterprising spirit. The incentive was a flat-screen television for the student who sold the most. Not content to simply go door to door, Salz enlisted the help of a family friend who was an accountant to devise a winning sales strategy. His approach was successful, and he won the competition. This early experience was a precursor to the methodical and determined approach that would later define his pursuit of college football.

His mother, Marianna Salz, recalls the episode as characteristic of her son’s nature. TheAthletic.com reported that she wasn’t surprised when he later declared his intention to play college football, despite never having played the game in an organized manner before. To her, it was just “his next thing.”

Upon arriving at College Station in 2021, Salz’s first step was to integrate himself into the Texas A&M community as he took online classes at a Texas A&M system school. His physical presence near the team, however, was limited by his status as an online student, preventing him from trying out for the football team until he transferred to the main campus as a full-time student, according to the information contained in TheAthletic.com report. Even then, a twist of fate in the form of a crowded roster prevented the team from holding walk-on tryouts before the 2022 season, further delaying his plans.

Despite these setbacks, Salz’s resolve did not wane. He spent countless hours training independently on a patch of land visible from the Kyle Field office where Coach Jimbo Fisher worked. Unbeknownst to Salz, his dedication did not go unnoticed. As was detailed in TheAthletic.com report, Mark Robinson, then the associate athletic director, noted that Fisher could see Salz from the balcony that overlooks the field. Fisher himself was impressed by the persistent presence of the young man who not only showed up at his radio shows but also dedicated himself tirelessly to training on his own. “He’s always working out, and I love his drive,” Fisher remarked to TheAthletic.com.

During the tumultuous 2022 season, which saw Texas A&M football experience a disheartening six-game losing streak, Head Coach Jimbo Fisher was in search of a catalyst, a new spirit to invigorate his team. Amidst this search, Fisher set his sights on a figure whose dedication had already made a silent yet significant impact around the campus—Sam Salz, a student who had relentlessly pursued the dream of making the team against remarkable odds.

The pivotal moment came midway through the season when Salz received a text from Robinson, asking him to come by the football offices. The message was straightforward, yet it sparked an outpouring of emotion from Salz, who knew this could be the turning point he had been working towards, as was pointed out in TheAthletic.com report.  His response was visceral—screaming, jumping, and fist-pumping, the culmination of months, if not years, of hard work and sheer determination.

When Salz met with Fisher and Robinson, they extended an invitation for him to join the team. This decision was symbolic; Salz was not the typical SEC football player. Lacking both the physical size and the extensive playing experience of his teammates, his inclusion was a testament to his undeniable spirit and work ethic. Fisher, recognizing the value of such determination and the influence it could have within the locker room, decided that Salz’s unique qualities were precisely what the team needed.

Salz’s journey to the team was not just about sports; it was deeply intertwined with his identity as an observant Orthodox Jew. He never compromised his faith for football, proudly wearing his yarmulke and tzitzit during workouts. These garments, significant to his religious practice, symbolize the commandments of the Torah and serve as a constant reminder of his faith, theAthletic.com reported.  Salz, however, harbored concerns about how the team management would react to the practical implications of his observance—strict adherence to the Sabbath, dietary restrictions to maintain a kosher diet, and other religious obligations.

Despite these concerns, the coaching staff’s invitation to join the team was a clear sign of acceptance and understanding. It highlighted an essential aspect of sports at this level—the ability to unify individuals from diverse backgrounds toward a common goal, transcending personal differences, as was noted in TheAthletic.com report.

When Salz joined the team, Texas A&M promptly addressed the unique challenges posed by his observance of Jewish customs and laws. Recognizing the importance of inclusivity, the team made special arrangements to ensure that Salz could adhere to his religious commitments without compromising his participation in the football program. Notably, Salz is exempt from participating in team activities on Jewish holidays, which was highlighted by his absence from practice on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, just after he was invited to join the team, according to TheAthletic.com report.

 

The team’s nutritionist, Tiffany Ilten, has played a crucial role in ensuring that Salz’s dietary needs are met by providing access to kosher meals sourced from a distributor in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The report also added that the team facility even designated a microwave specifically for kosher food, calling attention to the program’s dedication to accommodating diverse dietary requirements.

Salz’s journey at Texas A&M has been facilitated by the presence of individuals like Mark Robinson who shares his Jewish heritage. Their connection is deepened through the practice of wrapping tefillin—a set of small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah, which are worn during weekday morning prayers, TheAthletic.com report said. This ritual symbolically binds them to their faith and has helped forge a strong bond between them, providing Salz with a sense of community and belonging within the athletic program.

On the field, Salz’s transition into college football has been a journey of continuous learning and adaptation. Initially brought on as a running back, it became clear that his lack of foundational football knowledge and the physical demands of the position required a strategic reassessment, the report on TheAthletic.com site indicated.  Consequently, Salz transitioned to the receiver position, where the team needed depth, and where his smaller stature could be less of a disadvantage.

Despite his physical limitations relative to other players, Salz has demonstrated remarkable tenacity and commitment. A clip he proudly shares of him running a drag route and making a significant catch in practice exemplifies his growing competence and confidence on the field. TheAthletic.com said that his relentless work ethic and determination have not only earned him a spot on the scout team, where he can make meaningful contributions, but have also garnered respect and support from his teammates and coaches.

Texas A&M strength coach Tommy Moffitt highlighted Salz’s relentless effort, noting, “He goes hard all the time,” TheAthletic.com report said.

Salz’s story has captured the imagination and admiration of his team, including prominent figures like former A&M wide receiver Ainias Smith, recently drafted by the Eagles. Smith highlighted the motivational aspect Salz brings to the team, noting that Salz’s relentless pDonatebalance of natureursuit of his goals serves as a reminder to all that simply making it to college football isn’t the pinnacle but just the beginning, as was mentioned in TheAthletic.com report. His presence and journey encourage his teammates to continuously strive for excellence and maintain their drive.

For Salz, even attending night games requires a rigorous routine that adheres to his religious principles. Living over a mile away from Kyle Field, he walks to the stadium, an act that itself is permissible under Jewish law. His entry into the stadium is facilitated by workers who recognize his need to avoid electronic scanners. Once inside, he observes the remainder of the Sabbath by studying Torah and eating a pre-prepared meal until sundown. TheAthletic.com report indicated that only after the Sabbath ends, typically by the middle of the third quarter, does he don his No. 39 jersey, along with his yarmulke and tzitzit, and join his teammates on the field.

 

This extraordinary routine is light-heartedly acknowledged by his teammates and even humorously suggested for inclusion in the NCAA video game, where they joke his player rating should be a 99 overall but only available in the fourth quarter of night games.

Despite his dedication and the accommodations made for him, Salz faces the reality of limited participation. His religious observance conflicted with Texas A&M’s all-walk-on kickoff team event against Abilene Christian, which took place during the day, preventing his involvement, TheAthletic.com reported.

When asked why he perseveres in face of such challenges, Salz’s response is touching and profound. His commitment extends beyond personal ambition; he sees himself as a role model for the Jewish community, inspiring others by demonstrating that it is possible to balance religious observance with pursuing one’s dreams, even in a field as demanding as college football.

Sam Salz’s story is not just about football; it’s about the strength of faith, the pursuit of dreams, and the power of representing one’s community in every field and arena. His journey at Texas A&M is a powerful narrative that will undoubtedly inspire many, showcasing the possibilities when one remains true to their beliefs while striving to achieve their goals.

 

 

 

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