Nazareth Academy senior Christian Sampleton’s third varsity football season comes with more responsibility.
The two-way starter who played defensive end for the 2015 Class 5A state champions now also is playing linebacker and safety as a team leader in the Roadrunners’ various defensive schemes.
“Actually, I do love it,” said Sampleton, who will play next season at Yale University. “When I was a freshman, I played safety so I already knew some of the logistics. To still be able to hold my own with bigger guys and run with the smaller guys, I like to do a little bit of everything.”
Some things, however, haven’t changed for the Roadrunners.
Even with several new faces, the two-time defending state champions started the 2016 season as dominant as ever in rolling past Dunbar 56-12 in LaGrange Park.
Senior Cameron Weems and sophomore Diamond Evans each scored two touchdowns and junior Joshua Oglesby, sophomore Michael Love, freshman Marcus Griffin and Sampleton also scored.
Starting junior quarterback Zach Stevens and junior reserve Bobby Grimes each threw one TD pass.
Nazareth led 28-0 after one quarter and created a running clock for a 40-point margin just before halftime on Griffin’s 4-yard TD run for the game’s final score.
“The unknown going in were our sophomores. We were playing quite a few sophomores,” Nazareth coach Tim Racki said. “It was great for them to have a positive experience for their first time playing with the big boys.”
The Roadrunners amassed 286 total yards (181 rushing) and two of their four first-quarter touchdowns came on punt returns by Love and Evans of 42 and 46 yards.
Defensive standouts included juniors Wesley Lones (interception) and Austin Reifstack (5 tackles), sophomores Cam Leach and Jermaine Baker (sacks) and juniors Michael Rotolo and Eduardo Gonzales, Griffin, Lones and Oglesby (tackles for loss).
Nazareth allowed 173 yards with most coming on the Mightymen’s second-quarter TD passes of 32 and 75 yards.
“We thought we had great energy,” Sampleton said. “I feel like being a senior and talking to guys who have been through it already, I think I’m being more of an observer of the game. I’m trying to savor every moment.”
Love, the brother of recently graduated standout Julian Love, scored moments after Oglesby had the game’s first TD on a 58-yard pass from Stevens. Evans’ punt return followed Sampleton’s 5-yard TD run.
Weems rushed for 77 yards on six carries and scored on runs of 25 and 12 runs for a 42-6 advantage. Evans caught Grimes’ lone pass attempt for a 15-yard TD pass and 49-12 lead.
Stevens was 5-for-6 passing for 90 yards. Senior Aidan Bresnahan converted eight extra points.
“They were loading up against the run and (Stevens) did a good job with reads and check downs. He had some really nice completions,” Racki said.
“The main thing we wanted to talk about and emphasize (to the varsity newcomers) was it’s a battle,” Sampleton added. “Even if the guy catches the ball on you, scores a TD, you’ve got to have a short-term memory. A couple of guys made mistakes – and then they made a big play. The fact that they had a short-term memory was big.”