Patrick Ochs

Gulf Coast hopes Sam Bruce has learned from past mistakes at Miami

St. Thomas Aquinas star Sam Bruce chooses UM

St. Thomas Aquinas star receiver Sam Bruce capped a long recruiting odyssey by signing with the Miami Hurricanes on National Signing Day at the school Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016.
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St. Thomas Aquinas star receiver Sam Bruce capped a long recruiting odyssey by signing with the Miami Hurricanes on National Signing Day at the school Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016.

Sam Bruce is getting another chance to prove he’s the elite receiver most recruiting services pegged him as out of St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.).

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College announced last week it signed the former Under Armour All-American and four-star recruit to a letter of intent.

The former prep standout was courted by the likes of Ohio State, Alabama, South Carolina and other college football powers before ultimately joining Mark Richt’s first signing class at Miami.

Bruce’s tenure with the Hurricanes got off to a rough start, however, and he never saw the field for “The U.”

That’s where MGCCC comes into play. After a series of events led to his dismissal at Miami, Bruce is hoping to rehab his image while at Perkinston before moving back to the next level.

According to a Miami Herald source, Bruce was suspended by the Hurricanes after an incident “that allegedly involved Bruce holding a gun in a photograph.” Although the incident reportedly happened while he was in high school, Richt suspended Bruce for the Hurricanes’ first three games. Bruce then sustained a season-ending injury in September, while playing basketball. Before ever catching a pass for the Canes, Bruce was dismissed from the team in October due to “multiple violations of team rules and a failure on his part to meet the clear expectations established to be a part of the Miami football program,” according to a school release. Shortly after, Bruce was reportedly arrested on a marijuana possession charge, according to the Miami Herald.

MGCCC coach Chad Huff said he’s aware of Bruce’s past but believes the 5-foot-8 receiver has turned the page and is ready for a clean start.

“You have to make sure you do a really good job of looking at the situation at hand and visiting with the family,” Huff told the Sun Herald during Sunday’s Mississippi Bowl at A.L. May Memorial Stadium. “After visiting with him, he’s just like any kid in that situation. He’ll tell you. He made some choices. He was a freshman and wishes he could have them back over again. You have to make sure those types of kids, that there’s some foundation there and he has a good supportive family with him to lean on and help.”

For what it’s worth, Richt, despite dismissing Bruce, said he’s a believer in Bruce, too.

“I do wish the very best for Sam, and I think Sam’s going to get it right and finish strong in his career,” he said.

Risk/reward

Anytime a program takes a transfer with a “past,” there’s a delicate risk-reward balance, which Huff acknowledged.

“As a coach, you have to look at everything,” he said. “After looking at the situation, I felt like after visiting with him and his family that he was definitely remorseful and grateful for an opportunity to get back on the field. He’s hungry and wanting to get going again.”

On the field, Bruce, who is the nephew of former NFL standout Isaac Bruce, should provide a spark in the Bulldogs’ passing attack.

Bruce was a go-to playmaker on national powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas during his prep career, finishing with 113 receptions for 1,380 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also carried the ball 48 times for 355 yards and six touchdowns during his high school career.

“He’s not a 6-4, 6-5 wideout, but he’s a kid who can catch the ball and can really run,” Huff said. “He played a little running back in high school, so a little like Tevaris McCormick or Lester (Wells). He’s a guy who can do a lot of things and hopefully he can bring his talents with him here and mix with the guys we already have.”

Although Bruce was considered one of the top players in the 2016 signing class, Huff isn’t ready to anoint him just yet.

“He has to go to work and come in and get going, but we’re excited about the potential he might bring to the team with his speed and athleticism and leadership,” Huff said. “I think he can help us on and off the football field.”

Confident receiver

Bruce certainly doesn’t lack for confidence. In an October 2015 interview with USA Today, Bruce was asked about his uncle.

“People hold me to a high standard because he’s my uncle, but those barriers are about to be broken,” Bruce said.

Bruce later added: “He’s nowhere near the athletic level that I am now,” Bruce said with laughter again. “I’m faster, I’m bigger, I’m smarter, I’m quicker than he was, but I have to say he did some exceptional things at the collegiate level and in the NFL. I’m looking forward to accomplishing what he did.”

Interestingly enough, in the same interview, Bruce talked about being a role model for younger athletes from his hometown.

“So many younger guys look up to me and it’d be a disappointment to not be successful and show the kids in this area that there’s more than drugs and gangs,” Bruce told USA Today. “I’m trying to use football to show them that you can make something positive out of nothing.”

Bruce will certainly have that chance once he’s in Perkinston in January for spring ball. The Bulldogs are counting on it.

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs

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