Zac Stacy was well aware of Eric Samuels before the two met during a visit to Vanderbilt more than four years ago. A three-year, two-way starter at running back and defensive back while in high school in Florida, Samuels was a highly touted athlete and his reputation crossed state lines, reaching Stacy in Alabama.
“There was a lot of buzz going around,” Stacy recalls. “He looked pretty good. Eric is a great athlete so he can pretty much play anything except for offensive line.”
Due to strong depth, headed up by Stacy, who set the single-season rushing record last year, Samuels’ services haven’t been needed in the backfield.
Instead, Samuels has prospered due to his versatility. The senior has played cornerback, kick returner and even a little running back, but four practices into preseason camp, he’s a favorite to start at strong safety, a position he began playing just 18 months ago.
“I know [Stacy] came in thinking he was going to play [running back] and I came in thinking the same thing,” Samuels said. “But things worked out how they are and he’s an All-SEC running back and I’m playing safety now. It is what is. I just take my opportunities and try to make the best of them.”
Samuels arrived at Vanderbilt in 2009 and quickly was moved to the secondary, also a familiar area.
He momentarily landed back in the backfield and had 10 carries at the end of 2010 when Stacy and Warren Norman suffered injuries.
When a new coaching staff arrived prior to 2011, Samuels had a chance to return to running back. But instead he opted to stay put and learn a new position.
“I love defense. I love running back too but at the same time it’s about me and my future and I felt defense would be the best for it,” Samuels said. “It really wasn’t a disappointment. I just knew that area where I was at wasn’t the best for me at that time so I just had to take what I was given and try to make the best of it and that’s what I did.”
With the addition of Rivals.com’ No. 2 running back prospect in the 2012 signing class, Brian Kimbrow, along with the return of Norman and Jerron Seymour, Samuels believes his running days are over. “I think about it but it probably won’t happen,” he said. “So I try to live it through kick returns if I get on that.”
Last year, he averaged 20 yards on nine kickoff returns and is expected to be back on special teams this year.
He also hopes to replace the production of former starting safety Sean Richardson, who graduated last year. Samuels, a 6-foot, 200-pounder, made 25 tackles in 13 games a reserve safety last year but is also expected to figure into nickel packages.
“I actually love the star position,” Samuels said. “You’re blitzing. You’re covering guys. You’re all over the field. It is really a great fit because I like to have a swagger out there.”