MISSOULA – Samuel Akem burst onto the University of Montana scene almost the minute he stepped onto campus. And while Akem is on the cusp of breaking long-standing records in Griz’s football, his legacy at UM will be known as much for his work off and on the pitch.
And it’s hard to believe the outstanding young wide receiver from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma is in his final year in Montana.
Just ask him.
“All the work I had to do to get into the position I am today and all the work I continue to do and how I went from young to now I’m old,” he laughs. . “Great old guy, and that’s just a weird feeling.”
Now Akem is knocking on the door of UM’s record books.
He grabbed his 25th career scoring last Saturday against Eastern Washington, which tied him for fifth all-time, and he only needs five more to pass Marc Mariani’s mark of 29 for the school record. Akem also ranks 16th in his career receiving yards with Montana with 2,207 yards, just behind Jimmy Farris at No.15 who finished with 2,223 yards.
For Akem, it’s a place he never thought he would be when he arrived from a whole other part of the country.
“It’s really great because I’ve never come here like, ‘Oh, I wanna break records, I wanna do this, I wanna do that,'” Akem said. “I came here to study, I wanted to improve myself as a soccer player and make the most of this opportunity that I can. Look four, five, six years later and think, ‘Wow, I am getting closer to some of those records, it’s just mind-blowing. “
Most of Montana’s players are regional, coming from the Northwest or the West Coast if they’re not from Treasure State, making Akem a rare Midwestern rookie for UM. He got to Missoula through a connection with former Griz defensive coordinator Jason Semore. Montana ended up being Akem’s only Division I football offering from Broken Arrow High School.
Akem arrived and donned a red shirt in 2016, with some confusion clearing up in the process.
“When (Semore) said Montana, I always tell this story to people, I didn’t know it at the time, but Minnesota, the Gophers (came to mind),” Akem said. “Obviously you hear about Montana, but I didn’t know where Montana was on the map, so I was like, ‘Oh, Minnesota. “That was the first gut reaction, and then I looked at the University of Montana and I was like, ‘Oh wait, it’s not the Gophers.’ That’s the first thing that occurred to me. mind and that was pretty funny. “
When Akem stepped onto the pitch in 2017, it wasn’t easy from the start. The growing pains were there as a wide-eyed rookie seeing big minutes and playing every game. But because of that, Akem said he found an even stronger work ethic, spent more time honing his craft, and because of that, he broke in 2018 with 13 touchdown receptions. and 879 receiving yards.
But the roller coaster doesn’t end there. Coming out of this season, Akem caught five touchdowns and passed 800 yards again in 2019 in 10 games before an injury against Idaho in Missoula ended his season prematurely.
Then the pandemic hit in 2020, and its final year was put on hold for a season.
But through it all, Akem’s take on his adversity is a matter of perspective.
“You just have to hit them head on,” Akem said. “I can sit and mope and say to myself, ‘Woe to me, I had a hard time’, but actually people have a harder time. Like I was going to school on a scholarship. full education, I can play a game, and I get free education, so when you have some perspective on things, it makes it a little easier. “
As for his work off the pitch, Akem was a vocal leader in Missoula in the summer of 2020 during protests after George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, which sparked nationwide protests. Akem’s leadership helped create the change as the Montana Diversity and Inclusion Committee was formed with him in the initial committee.
“I think I had an obligation to speak,” Akem said. “I would do an injustice to everyone in the country if I didn’t speak. I felt it was necessary for me to speak up and make my voice heard as I could and try to help and d ‘trying to solve the problems we have in America. “
It’s a job like this that will go hand in hand with his footballing heritage at the end of his career at UM.
“A lot of times it’s ‘This is Sammy the football player, this is Sammy that’, but it’s great that you can get people to notice you off the pitch and notice that you are trying to play the game. difference, ”Akem said. “You try to help the community, you try to improve the community, you try to improve yourself, to educate people, to educate yourself and to do good in this world.”
UM captain and senior colleague Dylan Cook said Akem’s work on and off the pitch was something to see since joining UM in 2018.
“It’s inspiring, honestly, to see him be himself and stand up for the things that matter to him,” Cook said. “It means a lot and it really pushes me to be an even better person and just watching him grow throughout the period on and off the pitch is special. He’s a special person.
“He really helped me grow. Just his energy and his leadership, it meant a lot when I first got here because he didn’t care what people thought of him. He was going to be the same Samuel. Akem everyday. It’s good to see what his career has blossomed into. He deserves it. He works so hard, he really deserves to have a good career.
Akem recently graduated with a degree in psychology and a minor in human and family development, with the goal of entering sports psychology for a career in helping athletes struggling with mental health issues. Akem said he is considering graduate school in his future to achieve this.
There are still seven games left in the UM season, so Akem’s career is far from over. But when that ends, Akem wants someone to be remembered who worked hard, put in time and worked behind the scenes to get him ready for game day.
“It was awesome. I never thought I would have such a good time as I did here,” Akem said. “It was a great time to be a Griz and be part of the University of Montana family. Honestly, it was everything and more than I thought it would be.”