By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
It's hard to believe now, but when Sam Mayes was a Fitch freshman, he benched less than 100 pounds, couldn't squat the bar and needed close to seven seconds to run the 40-yard dash.
Then something interesting happened. Mayes worked. And worked. And worked.
And by the time he was a senior, he was squatting 660 pounds, running the 40 in 5.4 seconds and bench pressing small cars.
"That just shows you his progression," said former Fitch football coach Brian Fedyski, who coached Mayes in high school.
"He kept gaining weight, kept getting bigger, faster, stronger. He's a great worker and a great leader."
Which is why what happened on Jan. 15, 2005 just seems so unjust.
After a stellar four-year career at Oklahoma State, Mayes was playing offensive guard in The Villages Gridiron Classic in Orlando. On his team's last drive before halftime, one of his teammates rolled up on Mayes' leg and broke it.
It was a freak accident, but it may have cost Mayes a chance to be selected in this weekend's NFL draft. Instead of working out for NFL scouts at the Combine at Oklahoma State's pro days, he's spent most of the time rehabbing from injury.
"That's the hurdle he's overcoming and he's still trying to overcome it," Fedyski said. "The NFL's biggest worry is how he'll recover."
Because Mayes was never injured in college, NFL scouts aren't sure how he'll come back from an injury.
Mayes, who stands at 6-foot-3, 350 pounds, obviously has NFL size. He also displayed NFL ability, becoming a three-year starter for the Cowboys while earning first team Big 12 honors and third team All-America honors this season.
"I'm just hoping he'll be a sixth or seventh round pick," said Fedyski. "Teams that were interested in drafting him earlier might get him as a steal in the later rounds."
Mayes, who did not respond to interview requests, joined Syracuse running back Walter Reyes, a Struthers High graduate, in a private workout at Youngstown State University a few weeks back, but was only about 85 percent.
"At the time, that was the best he could do," said Fedyski, who speaks often with Mayes. "He's hoping he'll get drafted, but he realizes that he might have to sign as a free agent.
"He's mentally prepared himself that he will overcome anything that happens. He's determined to make a football team and a football career of some sort. That's been his lifetime goal and I believe he'll accomplish that goal. He's accomplished every other goal."
Which brings us back to high school. He saw some action as a sophomore at Fitch, then become a starter as a junior.
His biggest jump came after his junior year when he went to several college summer camps and saw just how hard he needed to work to get to that elite level.
"He realized he needed to practice 100 percent and go all out on a daily basis," Fedyski said. "A lot of kids go through the motions, but he did whatever it took to get better and compete on every play.
"That's what really got him the scholarship to Oklahoma State."
The Cowboys don't recruit Ohio, but Fedyski sent tapes all over the country and Oklahoma State was interested. They flew up twice, to visit him, then flew Mayes down once.
"The rest is history," Fedyski said.
After redshirting his freshman year, Mayes started four games as a redshirt freshman for the Cowboys, then became a full-time starter as a sophomore.
"He loves it there," Fedyski said. "In fact, he loves Stillwater so much, he told me that when all is said and done, he's going to settle down there."
He's not the only athlete in the family. Mayes' younger brother, Greg, played basketball for two years at Ashland and will try to walk on at YSU next season. His sister, Krista, played for Fitch's girls basketball team.
Mayes may have become a big football star, but he doesn't act like one, Fedyski said.
"He's got a very charming personality," Fedyski said. "He's well-liked by the teachers, administrators, students, everyone. When you hear from the people who know him, you'll hear how many people admire him because of what he gives back.
"On the field, he's a mean, tough animal, but off the field he's a big teddy bear."