Week 3: Norwalk (2-0) at Ludlowe (1-1), Saturday, Noon
NORWALK — Everybody at Norwalk High looks up to Sam Papp, and not just because he stands 6-foot-5 and weighs in at a strong and athletic 255 pounds.
No, it runs deeper than that. Far deeper, in fact.
Once, when he was far smaller than he is now, Papp was occasionally picked on due to a stutter. Since becoming the man-child he is today, he protects those who might fall prey to the bullying of others.
“It’s been here my whole life, basically,” Papp said. “At first, it was hard to talk in front of my class or my teammates, but I feel close-knit with them now, so I feel like I won’t be judged for it, or laughed at because of it.”
What Papp will not tolerate is allowing anybody to belittle others in his presence.
“Oh my gosh, I feel for them 100 percent,” he said. “If I see it in school, I’m telling them to stop. If I hear my friends talking about a kid who has a speech problem, I’ll kill it right away. I hate hearing about all that.”
If Papp comes off as more mature than your average teenage football player, there is a simple reason for it.
No matter where he is — on the field or off — he believes in carrying himself a certain way.
“He’s a leader, not only on the football team, but in the building itself,” Norwalk coach Sean Ireland said. “People look up to him for all the right reasons.”
He is also on his way to quite likely becoming the next high-profile two-way lineman to come out of Norwalk High School, following in the blocking schemes of DJ Morrell (Old Dominion University/Buffalo Bills), Evans Adams (Syracuse University) and James Makszin (Rhode Island).
In fact, Ireland will tell you, Papp appears to have been built by taking a small piece of those who came before him.
“DJ was brute size and determination. Evan was the best athlete of the three, and James had the motor,” Ireland said. “(Papp) has the combination of all three of those. If he works hard during the offseason, he can go as far as he wants.”
He’s already come a long way in a short amount of time.
Raised in a family of musicians, most of whom followed the band route to football games, Papp, the youngest child in his family, appeared to follow their lead, armed with a set of drumsticks.
As an eighth-grader, though, he went out for the football team.
“The family was all pretty much band people and they thought I’d do band too,” Papp said. “But I found my calling. I found football, which is much more fun.”
As he grew and grew, and improved, some private football outlets appeared to show some interest in drawing Papp away from Testa Field.
The player knew the previous quality linemen the Bears have turned out.
“My first year here I was seeing James Makszin every day and he set a great foundation for my becoming a lineman,” Papp said. “That made me see how good the staff was here and how good they could get me to be.”
And he’s been really good this season.
He notched a career-high nine tackles in the Bears’ season-opening win over East Lyme and currently has 14 takedowns on the season.
He also leads the team with three sacks in two games.
The importance of Papp being on Norwalk’s offensive line is not lost on him or the coaching staff.
He’s the only returning starter in the trenches and has helped pave the way for the Bears to put up 89 points in two games as Norwalk got off to a 2-0 start.
“It was tough at first because we didn’t know who would be where,” Papp said of his offensive linemates. “But after that first week, we knew. We’re not too big or fast, but we know how to hit and we know how to block for our QB and backs. Being the only guy back, I knew I’d have to step up and lead, but all the other guys have worked really hard, too.”
A year ago, Ireland said, Papp was better offensively than he was defensively.
This year the roles have been reversed.
Papp — who played some linebacker and tight end as a freshman — is just happy to be back on the front lines on both sides of the ball.
“I like them both, but personally I like defensive line more,” Papp said. “I get to show my skills more and there is more of a payoff for the defensive line when you make a big sack or a big hit.
“But,” Papp added, “getting a pancake on the offensive line is fun, too.”
Colleges are taking notice. Papp has already been contacted by the likes of Villanova, UConn and Fordham, to name a few.
College is in his game plan, and football might be a means to help him get there.
“My goals are to go to school. That’s the most important thing to me and my family,” the son of Michael and Kathy Papp said. “If football can take me there then I’ll ride that as long as possible.”
On the field, Papp might have that warrior mentality of hit or be hit, but when the whistle blows, the final horn sounds and the pads come off, there is a far different side to him, as well.
“If you had a daughter and she comes home and says she’s dating Sam Papp, then I’m totally OK with that,” said Ireland, who like everybody else looks up to his 6-5, 255-pound captain for more reasons than just football.