By Mendel Levy – COLlive
For the first time in college football history, a player who is Shomer Shabbos is competing in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) football season, taking place during the 2022 NCAA Division I FBS football season.
Sam Salz, originally from Philadelphia, joined the Texas A&M “Aggies” football team as a running back in the middle of the season and has been training with their squad since.
Salz, who learned at the Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Merion, Pennsylvania, knew that he’d have to make plenty of sacrifices to become a player, as almost 50% of the games are played on Shabbos.
So, when he had to pick a number for his shirt, Salz chose the number 39 as a constant reminder of the laws of Shabbos that are divided into 39 categories of work (“Lamed Tes Melachos”).
Salz told COLlive.com that he is proud to be Jewish and that he does not hide it. Now in his second year at A&M as an undergraduate, he is seen sporting a yarmulke and tzitzis on the field and around campus.
Outside of school and football, Salz frequents the Chabad at A&M, directed by Rabbi Yossi and Manya Lazaroff. He often arrives at the Chabad House early in the morning to daven before dashing off to train with his team.
He is also a Sinai Scholars fellow and an active participant in their programs and events. Last year, he participated in the annual Pegisha weekend for Jewish college students in Crown Heights. “Our mission is to give Sam the support he needs to stay true to his Jewish values while pursuing his dream,” Mrs. Lazaroff commented.
Salz’s close relationship with Chabad began in his early teens. His Bar Mitzvah was celebrated at the Bnei Abraham Chabad Shul in Philadelphia and he was a leader in his local Cteen chapter throughout High School.
The inspiration he felt from those experiences helped to strengthen his resolve to continue living as a frum Jew even while pursuing his career in sports as the first Shomer Shabbos college football player, Salz said.
In his new role with the Aggies, Salz joins the ranks of other frum Jews competing in professional sports. Ryan Turrell is a frum professional basketball player named the 2022 Division III Player of the Year. He recently played his first professional game for his new team, the Detroit Pistons. Jacob Steinmetz is a frum pitcher playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Like Sam, they, too play with a yarmulke.
Asked whether his team supported his frum lifestyle, Sam said emphatically: “Absolutely! From the coaches to the assistant coaches to my teammates, everyone involved here has been extremely friendly and respectful.”
He added, “A small example of this is that for an upcoming banquet being held for the players and their guests, they arranged kosher food to be brought in from out of town just so that I should feel comfortable.”
When games begin right after Shabbos, Salz walks to the stadium early. There, he has a locker with seforim (holy books) to learn from to preserve the spirit of Shabbos even while everyone around him prepares for the game.
“It taught me a lesson that when you stay strong to your values, people will respect you for it,” he said. “I try to encourage my fellow Jewish students with that message.”
Chabad at A&M is currently running its end-of-year campaign. Make your donation at JewishAggies.com/match