It’s your senior year. The first game of the season. You’re a two-time all-conference selection and team captain. Everything that you’ve been working for leads you to this moment.
And then, in an instant, it’s gone.
Sam Philippi, a standout safety and the heart and soul of Penn football’s defense, suffered a dislocated hip and sprained medial collateral ligament in the third quarter of the Quakers' opening-game victory over Bucknell back in September. Before it had really even started, his senior season was over.
For most people, that kind of tragedy could ruin a year.
But according to those who know him best, Philippi is different from most people.
“He’s been a bright, shining spot,” coach Ray Priore said. “Even though he was the one who got hurt and injured, he made us all feel better. His leadership has been exemplary. That’s the kind of person he is.”
That positivity and focus on leadership comes naturally to Philippi. If you were to ask him about his injury, he’d tell you how lucky he was to only suffer a dislocation and a sprain instead of having to undergo surgery. He understands the importance of looking forward, and the pointlessness of feeling sorry for himself.
“[The injury] wasn’t something that I got sad about necessarily,” Philippi said. “It’s not something that I try to dwell upon. My focus is looking forward. I knew that I could still lead this team and help this team. I just had to figure out a new way to do that.”
According to his teammates and coaches, Philippi’s transition to his new role has been a seamless one.
“He’s always played really hard,” junior defensive back Jacob Martin said. “He’s always brought that intensity on and off the field. He’s always been a vocal leader in the locker room, and sitting out hasn’t changed that at all. He’s still the leader in our locker room. At halftime, before the game, and after the game, he’s always there, leading us.”
While his teammates and coaches might say that he’s been the same leader he’s always been, Philippi says that, as to be expected, he experienced a definite adjustment process.
“The first game after the injury was tough to watch,” Philippi said. “It was the first game in my career that I had to sit out. It wasn’t sad, but it definitely felt different. It showed me that I had to take on a different type of leadership role this year than I was expecting coming into the season.”
From that first game onward, Philippi took it upon himself to communicate with his teammates every day, but especially with his fellow defensive backs. He’d help them watch film, and he’d point out anything that he could see from his new vantage point on the sidelines.
In other words, Philippi practiced exactly what he preached. He turned a negative into a positive by looking forward and by refusing to feel sorry for himself, just as he would’ve done on the field.
“As a [defensive back], you get beat on plays, but if you get down on yourself, that’s going to affect your play the rest of the game,” Philippi said. “I’m always about the next play and the next step forward. It’s better to not feel bad for yourself. It’s better to stay positive and to help everyone else around me.”
For some players, such a successful transition and positive outlook would be surprising, but coach Priore wasn’t surprised at all. To him, that’s “just Sam being Sam.”
“He’s handled it like a champion. He’s been a great leader on the sidelines. He’s with his teammates everyday,” Priore said. “He’s a very mature young man who understands what it means to lead. Even though it’s been from the sidelines this year, he understands what it means. He has led us in every way possible.”
Beyond just galvanizing and leading his teammates from the sidelines, Philippi works hard individually as part of his rehabilitation process in the hopes of playing football again. If anything, this most recent injury has increased his love for the sport he lost.
“I took the game really, really seriously when I was playing. Maybe I took it too seriously. Sometimes I forget that it’s a game and that we’re supposed to enjoy it,” Philippi said. “This year, taking a step back from the game because of my injury, I was able to watch my teammates and to see that this is the game I loved. I realized that I want to keep playing as long as I can and that I can never take any snaps for granted.”
Since the injury came so early in the season, Philippi still has another year of eligibility. He will hope to return to the field next season as a fifth-year senior.
That right there is the essence of “Sam being Sam.”