Printed on: December 27, 2012

Tackle like a Girl

Youth football phenom Sam Gordon got her start in Blackfoot

By Marlowe Hereford
mhereford@postregister.com

In many ways, Sam Gordon is much like other 9-year-olds.

She enjoys playing outside with her siblings and friends. She loves animals and dreams of what she would like to be when she grows up.

The opportunities she's had within the past month and a half, however, have changed her life forever. In fact, she's become one of the most recognized 9-year-olds in the nation because of her success on a youth tackle football team in Herriman, Utah.

The running back who racked up 1,911 yards, 35 touchdowns and 65 tackles in her first season became an Internet sensation in early November.

She and her father, Brent Gordon, shared a season highlights video in a post they made on a BYU athletics message board about how she chose former BYU running back Luke Staley's jersey number and later met him as he coached an opposing youth team.

The video was picked up by the website sportsgrid.com before going viral on YouTube, where it has been viewed more than a million times.

Soon after, phones rang and inboxes flooded. Sam appeared on "Good Morning America," "Sports Center" and the NFL Network. She received a custom-made Wheaties box, attended a San Francisco 49ers practice, met Jon Stewart, worked out with the U.S. women's national soccer team at its open practice before the Dec. 1 Ireland match in Phoenix, and sat with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at a New York Giants home game.

While the nation knows Sam Gordon as the 9-year-old football phenom, Bingham County knows her as the kind yet tenacious little girl who began her athletic career as a soccer player. The Gordons, who lived in Blackfoot for six years until moving to Salt Lake City last year, haven't forgotten the endless backyard soccer games with neighborhood boys and older brother Max, where it all started for Sam.

"When I came home from work, I would take the kids and we would play soccer every day until it got too cold," Brent Gordon said. "Those boys and those kids in that neighborhood were part of Sam's story."

Sam's talent was evident from 3 years old when she followed Max, who is three years older, into soccer. The boys never took it easy on Sam, who would not be intimidated.

It was naturally no surprise to her eastern Idaho friends when they first saw national footage of her excelling on the gridiron.

"It didn't shock me at all she was playing football," said Dennis Hatch, one of the Gordons' neighbors whose sons Hunter and Parker played soccer with Max and Sam. "My youngest kid always said it was embarrassing at school because no one could catch her. This little girl would smoke 'em."

By 7 years old, Sam was playing in a co-ed youth soccer league. Casey Clements, a nine-year youth soccer coach and three-year president of the Blackfoot competitive youth league, coached his son, Daniel, on the same team as Sam and Max. He remembers Sam's impressive footwork from her first practice. Like Brent and Dennis, Clements said he never worried about Sam getting hurt. Rather, it was the reverse.

"Was I ever concerned about anybody she may mow down? Yeah," Clements said with a laugh. "There was no fear in her."

That courage was especially prevalent in a snowy game two years ago in Pocatello that Brent Gordon recalls to this day. After the opposing team missed a shot on goal, Sam collided with a boy while going after the ball. That happened three more times before Sam raced down the pitch to attempt her own shot on goal.

"It was the most amazing play for her to battle through four collisions and beat the one that's left," Brent Gordon said.

As much as their lives have become a whirlwind since Sam followed Max into football and became a national story, the Gordons have enjoyed the ride.

"(Max) was so excited on ESPN when she was interviewed after she got the Wheaties box because she mentioned his name," Brent said. "My two younger kids got a photograph of Sam and they had her autograph it. They've all been having fun with it."

Sam said she loves both sports, but her future will be in soccer after two more years of football. She is thankful, however, for all the female athletes ranging from girls her own age to legends like Mia Hamm who have expressed their admiration for her football prowess.

"It makes me really think I'm encouraging other girls to play football and it's not just a boys sport," Sam Gordon said. "I'm just glad people are enjoying it."

Brent Gordon said he believes these once-in-a-lifetime experiences will benefit Sam down the road, especially since her sports career is still unfolding. It has also further instilled belief in herself.

"Let's just say she's got Roger Goodell's phone number and Abby Wam-bach's email address and several members of the U.S. Women's National Team offered to give her assistance," Brent Gordon said. "We don't know where Sam will end up."

Regardless of whether she achieves her dream of playing on the pitch for the U.S., Sam's friends in Blackfoot believe she will go far and can't wait.

"She's just an aggressive little sweetheart," Hatch said. "That girl will be successful at anything she tries. She's got more drive and ambition than the average human."