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(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Grand High players wear the number 62 on their helmets to remember Sam Woodruff, a lineman on their JV squad who died this summer as they played Summit Academy, Friday, October 4, 2013.
Tough Moab players tenderly remember a fallen teammate
Prep football » Grand’s Sam Woodruff felt like he belonged on the field.
First Published Oct 05 2013 05:45 pm • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:35 pm

Moab • Sam Woodruff could not sleep, so he made a pot of coffee and woke up his mother two hours before she had to be at McDonald’s to start her 6 a.m. shift. The teenager and his mother had fought the night before, as they sometimes did, but in the early morning he was calm and his attention shifted.

"I’m going to do a good job for them, Mom," he told her.

At a glance

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His excitement over the season had been growing for weeks. After spending every day of the hot, desert summer working out in the Grand High weight room, he was consumed by football. It permeated his thoughts. On Facebook he posted an inspirational quote, a promise to his teammates, a photo of himself in his new Red Devils jersey.

"I’ve made some stupid choices and I’ve done things and said things that I’m not proud of," Sam wrote Aug. 6, "but I’m trying to fix those choices and I’m trying to do my best in sports running my hardest and working till I collapse or am about to but I think this year is going to be a good one."

Then three days later: "Get ready boys hell week tomorrow."

So in the 4 a.m. dark of Aug. 10, Sam Woodruff gathered his equipment, slipped on his jersey and waited.

Twelve hours later, he was dead.

Cruelty of youth

Moab is a small town, and almost everyone at Grand High knew of Sam. Few, however, seemed simply to know the boy who loved computer games, Magic cards and fishing with his uncles at Ken’s Lake outside of town.

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Sam wanted desperately to make friends but rarely did. He spent much of his time with his mother, Merry, and his adoptive grandmother, Sandi Roedel. He was their world. They comforted him on the day his schoolmates threw rocks at him as he walked home, the day they tried to take his bike, the day they took his red coat from the gymnasium and hid it.

Merry Woodruff was particularly sensitive to the bullying her only child endured.

She, too, grew up in Moab. She was born with clubbed feet and learned to walk on her tiptoes. Her hair was unkempt and she was overweight. Children turned a Jell-O jingle into a cruel chorus as she walked by.

"Watch that wobble. See that wiggle."

Those children grew up. Some stayed in town, had children of their own, came to football games and sat in those bleachers that look out at the sun setting on the snow-capped La Sals.

And Merry would hear some of them mock her boy, the strange freshman who struggled to do a single push-up.

He was 6 foot 2, 230 pounds and yet somehow an unlikely jock.

He was failing classes, and he ended up spending most of his days in Kenneth Windsor’s shop at the high school. The choice angered his mother — but only at the time.

"What he was really looking for in Mr. Windsor was a friend," Merry said.

Sam quit the team that season.

But a year later, for whatever reason, he decided to try again.

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