Jefferson P. Nolan
“Trust your Struggle.”
The words are inked onto the forearm of Cal Poly defensive back Bijon Samoodi.
Samoodi has tattoos splayed up and down his arms — most of them Bible verses.
“They’re about everything I’ve been through,” Samoodi said. “You’re not going to struggle all of your life. At one point, it’s going to get better. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel.”
And he is no stranger to hardship.
Samoodi, the oldest of his three siblings, was 4 years old when his mom passed away.
Back then, he was too young to get a tattoo.
“I didn’t really understand everything back then,” Samoodi said. “I just knew that I was never going to see my mom again.”
But now, the ink on his arms serves as a reminder of his mom. The proverbs that envelop his limbs pay homage to the struggles he has been through and the faith he has kept.
Since he was 4 years old until now — in his final season in a Cal Poly uniform — Samoodi’s life has revolved around faith.
Even football, his greatest passion in life, began at church.
The son of a pastor, Samoodi grew up in Anaheim, Calif., not playing football, but baseball — his father’s favorite sport.
Though a talented baseball player, it wasn’t until he started playing football that Samoodi found his calling.
And, he did it in the most appropriate of places.
“I was good at baseball, but at church, all the kids used to play football in the back,” Samoodi said. “There, I always played football. One day, I just told my dad that I wanted to play.”
Reluctant for his son to gravitate away from baseball, Samoodi’s father eventually permitted his son to play football; however, he did it in hopes that Samoodi would get injured.
“He actually put me in football thinking that I would get hurt,” Samoodi said, laughing. “Then, he thought I wouldn’t want to play and I’d just stick with baseball. That kind of backfired on him.”
As it turned out, Samoodi was born to play football.
With a vertical jump close to 40 inches — the highest on the Cal Poly football team — and the ability to change direction on a dime, the Servite High School graduate attracted the attention of numerous college football programs.
But even though he displayed remarkable athletic ability to scouts and coaches, the young cornerback from Orange County faced another obstacle: Many programs simply could not look past his size.
But back then, an offensive coordinator at Army recognized his potential.
That coordinator was Tim Walsh — now the head coach at Cal Poly — and, along with current offensive coordinator Saga Tuitele, the duo began to recruit Samoodi.
“(Samoodi) was recruited by a lot of the Big Sky schools, but I think what a lot of people couldn’t get over was the fact that he was 5-foot-8,” Walsh said. “But we didn’t really care. We had seen enough of him to know that he was legitimate and that he could play at a high level.”
Despite being one of the smaller players since he started tossing a football behind his father’s church, Samoodi has always been able to hold his own.
“A lot of schools told me that I was good but that I didn’t have the size,” Samoodi said. “That was their missed opportunity.”
In 2009, Walsh and Tuitele claimed their positions on the Cal Poly coaching staff, and they immediately gave the defensive back a call.
“Coach (Walsh) and Coach Tuitelli got the idea that I didn’t want to go to the East Coast,” Samoodi said. “It was too far from my family. So, when they got to Cal Poly, they called me right away. I felt that them doing that showed how interested they really were in me. They stayed in contact with me, and that made me want to come play for them.”
As a true freshman, Samoodi recorded 44 total tackles and made 28 solo stops at cornerback.
Back then, fullback Akaninyene Umoh roomed with Samoodi in Yosemite Hall, and though the two always got along, Umoh remembers when Samoodi would seldom leave the dorm, besides to go to practice.
“He was a homebody freshman year,” Umoh said. “He stayed in, didn’t really go out a lot and watched football film. He’s a supreme athlete, and football is his love. He’s bred to play football. Freshman year, that’s all he did.”
Having lived together all four years, the two now consider each other brothers.
Umoh’s mother even calls Samoodi “son.”
“Whenever my mom doesn’t get in touch with me, she’s going to call him,” Umoh said. “She’s going to blow up his phone. My mom has always said that we’ve got to stick together. We’re a family.”
After a roller-coaster collegiate career — receiving all Great West honorable mention in 2011 and redshirting the 2012 season with a hip injury — Samoodi is competing in his last season for the Mustangs under the guidance of the coach who brought him to San Luis Obispo. Recently, Samoodi was named Big Sky Conference defensive player of the week after he made six tackles, snagged one interception and recovered a fumble in Cal Poly’s victory over UC Davis.
“He’s been physically beat up his entire career that he’s been here,” Walsh said. “Athletically, he is as good as advertised. Out of Servite High School when we got him, we knew he had the opportunity to be very, very good. He’s proven that in his fifth year.”
And though Walsh, Umoh and Samoodi direct their focus on the final chapter of the Mustangs’ 2013 season, Samoodi cannot wait to embark on the next journey of his athletic career.
“Right now, I’m just focused on the season, but once the opportunity comes, (playing professional football) is definitely something I want to take a shot at,” Samoodi said. “I’ve always thought that. That’s always been my dream since the first time I put on pads. At 8 years old, I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
In an echo of the psalms etched on his arms, Samoodi associates his size, the loss of his mom and his past, present and future athletic feats and failures with his belief that everything happens for a reason.
“When I was younger, I wished I could be this and that,” Samoodi said. “But when I look back, it’s all just a blessing. I just thank God. He made me this way for a reason. I’m not the biggest or the fastest guy out there, but I’m still able to compete. I’m still able to make plays. Now, I just thank God every day for the way he made me. I’m just trying to take it all in and do the best that I can.”