Samson Ebukam entered the 2017 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl with few assumptions and plenty to prove.
So when Ebukam – the same Eastern Washington linebacker whom many had deemed too small – walked through the lobby of the California hotel where he and the Collegiate Bowl players stayed during game week, he figured most pro scouts would not recognize him.
“I’m trying to go back to my room after dinner and I see the hallways filled with scouts,” Ebukam recalled. “I didn’t know if they would talk to me or not, so I just kept walking to my room. But every time, I got stopped by a scout and they started talking, saying they were watching me. So I said, alright bet; I must be some wagyu [steak] if these scouts are talking to me. The exposure was great in building my confidence and stock.”
Three months later, L.A. Rams legend and Collegiate Bowl assistant coach Jackie Slater called Ebukam’s name as the No. 125 pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. Now in his first season as a starting defender for playoff bound-San Francisco, Ebukam – who was selected to the Collegiate Bowl 10th anniversary team – recently took time to reflect on his life-changing experience.
What was your initial reaction when you were invited to the Collegiate Bowl?
It was surreal at the moment. Me being from a small school, I didn’t know how big of a step it was until I got there because then I saw every single NFL team that was there. Practice motivated me to push a little harder. Talking to the scouts, they were very high on me, which was kind of surprising because I
didn’t know I was talked about that much. I thought I was under the radar, so my attitude was to make sure I was on my stuff when I got there.
What was it like having Hall of Famers and former NFL stars be the coaches? Was there anything they said that really stuck with you?
At that point, everything they did and said stood out because we didn’t know any better. All of us were just trying to figure it out as we went along. They helped out a lot and showed us how NFL coaches talk at the next level. They talk real direct to you about what need to do, and that kept me on my toes and had me ready once I got to the NFL.
How much did it help competing against some of the country’s other top prospects during that week?
It felt great and you definitely got a lot of exposure. I welcomed the challenge, because every time I’m competing against people that are really good, I always have to do more to make sure I’m sharp, focused, and on point. By the end of the week, I knew I belonged in this league. It really boosted my confidence.
What tips did you take away from the NFLPA University sessions each evening about the business of football?
The money and finances parts really stood out, when it comes to having money and being mindful of the people you surround yourself with to help manage those things. A lot of us grew up in similar situations, not having much money, and a lot of us were about to have quite a bit of money. So we were reminded to make sure your family doesn’t take advantage of you. It helps you realize that you’re the one doing the work; you’re the one putting your body through all of that every day, so you are the one who should reap the most financially and make sure you aren’t being taken advantage of unknowingly. It was really helpful.
Based on your experience, what would you say separates the Collegiate Bowl from other all-star games?
It’s a bigger stage. It’s just that simple. It’s a bigger stage to show what you got. All scouts know about the game; a lot more than East-West [Shrine] game. You get to be on the big stage with the NFLPA having your back. It doesn’t get better than that.
Tune in to watch Samson compete in the NFC Wild Card game on January 16th against the Dallas Cowboys.
And of course, tune in to NFL Network for the 10th edition of the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl on January 29 at 3 p.m. PT/6 p.m. ET.