By Erin Levi

Profiled by the New York Times’ Ari Wasserman on May 2nd, 2024, Sam Salz has defied the odds by becoming part of the Texas A&M Aggies football team, among the most competitive in the U.S.
The unlikeliest of recruits, Salz, a devoutly Orthodox Jewish man from Philadelphia, who graduated from Kohelet Yeshiva High School, a Modern Orthodox prep school sans football team, stands at a mere 5-foot-6 and 160 pounds with no prior experience in organized football. Yet, his relentless work ethic and unwavering determination resonated with the coaching staff, landing him a spot on the scout team.
Salz’s journey began with a seemingly impossible dream. Never having played organized football, he arrived at Texas A&M in the spring of 2021 with a singular goal: walk on to the prestigious Southeastern Conference (SEC) program. Armed with nothing but a dream and fierce determination, Salz embarked on a grueling training regimen. He spent countless hours on a patch of land adjacent to the Aggies’ practice field, even when the team wasn’t there. Using makeshift equipment – old shoes for cones and trash cans for the line of scrimmage – he honed his skills and built his stamina. He didn’t know the plays, didn’t have a position, but he worked tirelessly.
«I told myself, ‘I’m on this team,'» Salz said in the New York Times feature. «They are practicing on that side of the fence, and I’m practicing on this side of the fence, but I’m on the team. That was my firm belief. I’d practice, and the energy was great. Guys would come out of practice and realize this guy in a yarmulke was working out every day, and they’d hype me up. Coaches would notice. I’d talk to the coaches.»

Salz’s mission was fueled not just by his love for the game he never formally played, but by a desire to prove himself. Growing up Orthodox, Shabbat largely coincided with college football games. He hadn’t grown up watching the sport, yet a spark ignited within him. He was drawn to Texas A&M, a university in College Station steeped in tradition and boasting a strong Jewish community, even if it was a small percentage of the student body. (About 500 out of 70,000 students on campus are Jewish.)
His path wasn’t without obstacles. Observant Jews face limitations during Shabbat, including restrictions on work, using electricity, and driving. These posed challenges for participation in practices and game-day activities. However, Salz remained undeterred. He reached out to coaches, attending then-head coach Jimbo Fisher’s weekly radio show to introduce himself and express his desire to join the team. He even approached Fisher directly, ignoring the program’s policy requiring walk-ons to have played high school varsity football.
Salz’s persistence paid off. Coaches noticed his dedication, the countless hours spent training on his own, the determined spirit that transcended the practice fence.
«I’ve always been a ‘see if I can do it’ type,» Salz said. «I don’t know how this got into my head. People think I’m BS-ing, but I always had this belief in my head, back to when I was a little kid, that I had to play college football or else I wouldn’t have done everything I could’ve — or should’ve — in life.»
In 2022, he finally got his chance. The season was marked by a six-game losing streak, which inspired Coach Fisher to reach out to Salz. He envisioned someone like Salz on the team – someone driven by an audacious dream – a dream bigger than himself. Salz received a text, «Sam, do you have some time to come by the football offices today or tomorrow?»
He could barely hide his elation.
While Salz may not have the size or experience of a typical SEC player, his impact is undeniable. He’s carved a valuable niche on the scout team, pushing his teammates to excel and serving as a constant reminder of the power of perseverance. According to Wasserman, he embodies the Aggie spirit – a relentless work ethic and a dedication to the team that transcends personal limitations.
Added former A&M wide receiver Ainias Smith, picked by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2024 NFL Draft: «We needed somebody like that on the team. Once people get here, it seems like everybody feels like they made it. His story motivates us to keep going.»
Despite the unlikelihood of seeing him on the field during a traditional Saturday afternoon game, Salz’s story transcends the realm of football. Believed to be the only Orthodox Jewish player in college football, he’s become an inspiration for aspiring athletes, particularly those from religious backgrounds, demonstrating that faith and athletic dreams can coexist. His journey is a testament to the power of steadfast belief and the impact a single individual can have on a team, even if they never step onto the field for a game.
«I know why I’m doing it: for my Jewish brothers and sisters,» Salz said. «I knew I’d be in a position to inspire a lot of people.»