Deebo Samuel was sitting in an event room at the Marriott in downtown Spartanburg surrounded by family members and friends at about 7:20 p.m. Friday night when one of his two phones, his one for business, started to ring.
He glanced down at the number, which was from California, and knowing that the San Francisco 49ers were about to be on the clock, emotions started to take over.
Moments later the South Carolina wide receiver and kick returner was officially selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL Draft, going 36th overall.
San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan called Samuel to deliver the news that he had been waiting for. The dozens of family members and friends that were attending Samuel’s NFL draft party started to yell in the background as Samuel buried his head in his left hand and tried to fight back tears.
“I see the phone light up and I’m like ‘The moment has come,’” Samuel told The State Friday night. “It’s just a blessing just knowing that I can be an inspiration to the kids here. Not too many people make it out of where I’m from.”
Samuel caught 148 passes for 2,076 yards and 16 touchdowns in four seasons at South Carolina. He also tied the SEC career record with four kickoff return touchdowns. He was named All-SEC last season after catching 62 passes for 862 yards and 11 touchdowns and amassing 570 return yards with one touchdown, a 90-yard return against Ole Miss. His 210 receiving yards against Clemson were the second-highest total in school history.
“Deebo keeps climbing up the ladders because of the interviews and his personality and football intelligence that he shows in his interviews when he’s able to talk to the people who are making the decisions in the draft,” South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said this week before the draft.
Samuel considered entering the NFL draft after his junior season, a year that was slowed due to injuries. Instead, he opted to return to South Carolina for his senior season.
The moved paid off as he improved his draft stock before being selected with the fourth pick in the second round on Friday.
“It helped a lot just to show that I was back healthy and back to myself,” Samuel said. “It’s a blessing just to go out there and keep playing.”
Samuel joins a 49ers team that finished 4-12 in 2018. San Francisco was without quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for much of last season as he played in only three games due to injuries.
Samuel visited the 49ers about a week ago and enjoyed his time in California. He is ready to try to come in and make an immediate impact.
“I kind of got a feel for their system during the Senior Bowl,” Samuel said. “I’m very versatile and can play any position on the offensive side, even special teams. I’ve just got that dog mentality.”
Samuel elected to skip South Carolina’s appearance in the Belk Bowl in December in order to better prepare for the draft and was a standout during the the 2019 Senior Bowl. Muschamp said during a Gamecock Club meeting this week that he did not believe his team’s lackluster performance in a 28-0 loss to Virginia in the Belk Bowl “had anything to do with Deebo Samuel not playing the game.”
Samuel finished his career with 28 touchdowns, fourth in school history. He’s also in the top 10 in USC history in career receptions and yards.