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The secret of Sambrano’s success
Possessing absolute love for the game of football runs deeper than simply playing hard.
For certain players, this affection for “America’s game” causes football to be more of a lifestyle than a sport.
That passion is evident in University of Montana senior Jabin Sambrano, whose entire life has revolved around the game of helmets, pads and flying pigskins.
“All I cared about growing up was football,” Sambrano said. “All I ever wanted to do was just play football.”
Special things seem to happen when Sambrano gets his hands on the football. The 5-foot-11-inch, 175-pound speedster has four touchdowns through six games, including an 80-yard catch-and-run in Montana’s 42–16 opening day loss to Tennessee and a 28-yard run in a 33–0 drubbing of Idaho State Saturday.
Sambrano plays wide receiver for the Grizzlies, but has perhaps made his greatest impact as a kick returner.
The senior wideout has twice been named Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week and leads the conference in punt return average, while sitting at third in kickoff return average.
“Getting those awards gave me a feeling of, ‘wow,’” Sambrano said. “I just wanted to be able to say I did it, and I’ve done it twice. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do it some more on special teams and offense.”
Sambrano’s first touch of the Sep. 10 home opener against Cal Poly resulted in a 96-yard kick return for a touchdown. Montana went on to win 37–23.
“Scoring on a kick return is the best feeling in the world,” Sambrano said. “You feel like you really helped the team win.”
Three weeks later, he again found the end zone on a return. This time, it was a 43-yard punt return against the Northern Colorado Bears during Montana’s Homecoming game Oct. 1.
“I just get in a mode,” Sambrano said. “I get real focused and filled with so much adrenaline. But it really comes down to having trust in the guys blocking for you. Everyone’s doing their part, their one-eleventh.”
Sambrano may have also been aided by the support of his family in the Homecoming game, as his parents, Ricky and Julia, and six siblings — he has one brother and five sisters — witnessed his jaunt to the end zone in addition to the Grizzlies’ 55–28 rout of the Bears.
“It was the first football game my mom had ever been to,” Sambrano said. “I remember looking at (UM linebacker) Beau Donaldson and he said, ‘Hit it as hard as you can,’ and I winked at him. Sure enough, I took it to the house. It felt like no one could touch me.”
The moment sits in Sambrano’s memory as the current pinnacle event in his life so far, the pay-off of hard work and determination throughout his childhood.
“I didn’t have much growing up,” Sambrano said. “I had enough, thanks to my parents. They did everything they could to put food on the table for the seven of us. Also, they did everything they could to buy me a football. I didn’t care about material things, but all I needed was that one football.”
The Oceanside, Calif., native said his parents taught him more than simply how to work hard.
Sambrano says he learned how to live a positive lifestyle under his parents’ guidance.
“They taught me to stay humble, live life right and just how to be a good person,” he said. “So when kids used to make fun of me for wearing outdated brands, it didn’t really bother me. I knew my real friends wouldn’t do that.”
The 2008 high school graduate waited three years to play varsity football, where he played defensive back in addition to wide receiver.
“I didn’t play varsity until I was 18 because I was too small,” Sambrano said. “I just had a real desire to play the game. I also did it to stay out of trouble. Football helped me focus. I didn’t want to be an ‘average Joe,’ I wanted to play college ball.”
That dream was nearly shattered when zero scholarship offers came in due to NCAA eligibility requirements.
“Coming out of high school, I thought I could go anywhere I wanted,” Sambrano said. “But I had to take the SAT and ACT tests and, not many people know this, but I had to go back to summer school for three weeks to get an A in geometry, which is one of my least favorite subjects.”
The extra work paid off for Sambrano when former Montana head Coach Bobby Hauck offered him a full-ride scholarship.
“Three weeks before signing day, I got a call from coach Hauck,” Sambrano said. “He said, ‘Kid, you got to put on weight, but we liked what we saw on tape,’ because I was only 130 pounds. And I was like, ‘OK,’ because not having to pay anything for college is truly a blessing.”
In his four years as a Grizzly, Sambrano has become a household name around Missoula, thanks in large part to his ability in the return game. The standout senior has the ability to break out for a touchdown anytime he touches the ball. But the communication studies major did not hesitate when asked whether he would prefer to return a kick or line up as a wideout.
“Honestly, I’d rather line up as a wide receiver,” he said. “As much as I love returning, I’d line up one-on-one with a (defensive back) any day.”
Although Sambrano would like to continue football as a future career, he prioritizes one goal over all else.
“I’ve got to get my degree. That’s priority number one,” he said. “My heart truly desires to take football as far as possible, but graduating is more important right now.”
Regardless of what lies ahead for Sambrano, the two-time Player of the Week lives by one rule.
“Never give up,” he said. “Through hard work and focus, you can do anything.”
By Court Weston, Montana Kaimin