It's the most prestigious award in Division II football, the Harlon Hill Trophy, and Winona State University wide receiver Chris Samp was nominated to receive the award in November 2004. Chris will graduate from WSU Friday, December 17, at 10:30 a.m., in WSU's Memorial Hall.
Chris is one of only four other WSU football players to have ever been nominated for this award, which some compare to the Heisman Trophy for Division I football. He is only the second Winona State player to ever be named a Harlon Hill finalist.
"To be picked as one of the top eight college football players in Division II is unbelievable," said Chris. "I never expected to make it this far. To be recognized nationwide is really amazing."
Chris's success as a wide receiver comes as no surprise to people who know him. WSU's Head Football Coach Tom Sawyer said Chris's football stats proved he would quickly move up the ranks as one of the greats in college football.
"Chris is a self-made athlete and receiver," said Sawyer. "He's a kid who has done everything you can ask for; one of the top eight players in the country."
This star athlete grew up in Green Bay, Wis. Chris's love of the game and success during high school, made him realize he wanted to play football in college.
Chris's parents, Dan and Wally Gay Samp, now of Algoma, Wis., played a big role in where he would attend college. Dan is a WSU alumnus, and had made quite a name for himself as a leading wide receiver for the Warriors in the 1970s.
"Christopher knew I wanted him to go to Winona State, but he was leaning toward the University of Minnesota because he didn't want to follow in my footsteps," said Dan. "I knew WSU would be a good fit for him; the people, faculty and community. I knew it would be a good mix, and it turned out that way."
Dan held many records at WSU, including most touchdown receptions in a season. Chris admits one of his goals as number 85 on the Warrior football team was to break all of his dad's receiving records.
"I did it. I got them all," said Chris. "My dad has had a lot of fun with it, though."
Chris is now number one on every receiving record at Winona State, and he tied the record for the most touchdown receptions in a game during his junior and senior years.
Chris set career records in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) with 39 touchdown receptions and 2,654 receiving yards. He also set a single-season record for completing 1,050 receiving yards, and the only NSIC receiver in history to have 1,000 yards in a single-season.
"It's been an awesome experience," said Chris. "Football has been everything to me for the past six years. It's made my college experience what it is."
For Chris's father, a past WSU star athlete, it has been exciting to watch Chris reach his personal goals and live his dreams.
"I am very proud of his ability and I think it will take him beyond college football," said Dan. "It's so much more fun to watch your son break records than to break them yourself."
Chris will play in the Cactus Bowl, a Division II All Star game, and the Las Vegas All American Bowl, a Division I All Star game. Both games are in January. Coach Sawyer hopes this exposure will help Chris get into a professional football camp. Chris knows it'll be tough but he'll work hard.
"Knowing there are people out there that really think that I have a chance to make it feels good," said Chris. "I want to give it my best shot and help put WSU on the map."