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Sports take Sams all over the nation

P.K. Sam is barely 26, but nagging injuries have turned him into an NFL journeyman, a nomad in search of the right franchise.

The former Buford standout was drafted by New England, where he spent two years and scored a Super Bowl ring, but from there it's been quite a journey thanks to hamstring problems and tendon tears.

Signed as a free agent by Cincinnati, he was cut in the preseason. He signed with the Dolphins, then went to NFL Europe and to Oakland, where his injury got worse.

He reported to Seattle for mini-camp in 2008, but couldn't pass the physical. So he played last season for the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL, mainly to prove to NFL teams that he was healthy.

"I wanted to get my name back out there," said Sam, who was signed back in January by the Buffalo Bills. "This time, hopefully, I'll stay healthy. It was never really a question of talent. In that league, you have to stay healthy or somebody's going to take your spot."

The wide receiver's NFL path has been winding, much like the journeys of his entire family. Sports have taken P.K., his brother Lorne and his sister Autumn all over the country.

And wherever they went, their parents followed.

"We weren't the kind of family that ever went on vacation to Destin or Hilton Head," said Autumn, hired last month by WSB-TV in Atlanta after a three-year stint as a TV reporter/anchor for the ABC affiliate in El Paso, Texas. "On spring break, we were always at a basketball tournament, at some camp or at a track meet. ... We've been able to see parts of the country we never would have seen without sports."

Philip and Letta Sam made regular drives to Clemson for Autumn's basketball games and even moved to Tallahassee when both P.K. and Lorne played there. They didn't miss a home game and often made road trips.

The Sams were visiting El Paso late in 2006 to see Lorne, who had transferred to UTEP, when Philip became ill. Liver and colon cancer, both discovered too late, ravaged his body. He lived only a month longer, passing away Dec. 14, 2006.

In what seemed like a flash, Letta lost her husband of 25 years. The couple's three children lost their loving father, but also the guiding influence in their athletic careers.

But to this day, they haven't forgotten lessons learned from their father, who also was typically their youth league coach.

"What I'm most proud of, and I don't mean to use the race card, but in society a lot of black males aren't there for their kids," P.K. said. "He was the complete opposite. He was always there for us. He and mom were always together. They were attached at the hip. He was a great man and a great father. Sports were a big part of what he taught us, but it was secondary to what he taught us about being a man."

"Something you don't find a lot is my parents always sacrificed a lot to be there for us," said Lorne, a wideout with the Green Bay Packers. "My dad was always there in the youth leagues. He developed our work ethic. ... He was probably our biggest fan and our toughest critic. When you have someone there who loves you and wants the best for you, it drives you to want to do better."

Philip's influence wasn't limited to his sons, who he helped become NFL wide receivers. He spent equal time with his oldest child, even though she didn't really get heavily involved in sports until high school.

Those lessons remained as Autumn followed a path in coaching, then into TV sports reporting.

"So many female anchors only know the sport they played," Autumn said. "But dad was a football coach, a baseball coach, a SportsCenter junkie. That shaped who I am and what I understand. I know certain X's and O's of football because of watching my dad and brothers go over plays at the table."

When Philip passed away, Letta moved to El Paso, where Autumn worked and Lorne played. The women still lived there until recently moving back to Georgia. Meanwhile P.K. and Lorne have continued their travels, pursuing NFL dreams.

Recently married, P.K. has a 5-month-old son - named Philip Kenwood Sam III after his late father - and he hopes to become a contributor in Buffalo. Lorne aims for the same in Green Bay.

"They really do follow their dreams," Letta said of her children. "They're not afraid of anything. I really am learning from them at this point. I come from a safe generation, think it out. They just go for it."

Those career aspirations may keep the Sams spread all over the country in the foreseeable future, but all of them hope for a reunion at some point in the future when they settle back in Georgia.

"When everything's lined up, that's where I want to be to settle down and hopefully put my kids through the Gwinnett school system," P.K. said. "It's been kind of crazy to say the least since we left high school, but it's been fun."