Sam Rhodes Jr. always tells his young players to dream big. He is living proof that anything is possible.
Rhodes, now the head football coach at Colman Middle School, uses his own unique story of perseverance to spread his message. It’s the story of how he never gave up — despite a debilitating kidney disease where doctors told him who would never play sports again — to go on and play football for the University of Utah, where he lined up against some of the greatest college football players ever, like Drew Bledsoe, Willie McGinest and Marshall Faulk.
“Imagine that,” Rhodes said. “Being from Greenville, Mississippi, and going on to play almost 2,000 miles away from home.
“I want my players to know that it is OK to dream big. They should never set limits on what they can achieve in their lives. It does not mean that they have to go to some place far away like Utah. It is OK to stay close to home, but they still should not be afraid to have big dreams.”
Rhodes was an all-star at Greenville High School in football, basketball and track. Then in 1988, during his senior year of high school, he was diagnosed with nephritis of his kidneys. The disease not only took him off the playing fields, it also kept him in and out of hospitals for months while his friends and families prayed for his life.
But, slowly and painfully, Rhodes managed to fully recover and a year later, he got a chance to play football again at Mississippi Delta Community College. During Rhodes’ sophomore season, he was one of the best defensive backs anywhere, finishing fifth in the nation in interceptions.
Rhodes’ life would change forever at the Junior College All-Star game when he was introduced to a couple of coaches from the University of Utah.
“I didn’t know anything about Utah, but they convinced me to take a visit and I really liked what I saw,” Rhodes said. “It was so much different than the Delta, and it was something that I knew I needed to try.”
While playing for the Utes, Rhodes helped the program build a winning foundation as the team went on to play in bowl games (The Copper Bowl and Freedom Bowl) both seasons.
At Utah, Rhodes was the teammate of future NFL stars Kevin Dyson and Jamal Anderson.
“The teams I played for really helped change the culture and we started a legacy,’ Rhodes said, noting the program has had quite a lot of success in the last few decades, including receiving an invitation to join the Pac-12 and defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
After college, Rhodes spent the next 13 years of his life working as a counselor at the Salt Lake Village Detention Center. He then said he realized he needed to move back to his hometown to make a difference in the lives of youngsters.
Rhodes has worked in the Greenville Public School District since 2009 working in the high school. the middle school and the alternative school. He currently teaches an ACT preparation class at Greenville High School, and is also an assistant coach on the Colman Middle School boys basketball team. Rhodes and his wife, Patrese, are also active in the Books Over Bullets summer camp program that helps gives local children educational opportunities in the summertime.
“It was my destiny and my calling to come back to Greenville to try and help as many kids as I can,” Rhodes said. “I am no savior, but I am trying to do my part and make as big of a difference as I can.”