At Kenyon, very few student-athletes go on to play their sport of choice professionally following graduation. Since 2000, only five Kenyon football players have pursued a career in athletics. Sam Dickey ’20 will join that rare list as he is set to play for the Wasa Royals in the Maple League, Finland’s top-tier professional football league.
Dickey started playing football in third grade. Like every kid, he dreamed of playing in the NFL. However, when picking a college, football was not the sole focus. Dickey recalled his dad saying to him at an early age that kids from Hamilton, Mass. do not make it to the pros. “Parents aren’t willing to bet on professional athletic careers. They want you to get the degree,” Dickey said.
When it came time to select a college, Dickey knew he had to look for institutions with high academic standards; academic rigor ran in the family for Dickey. His mom went to the University of Texas-Austin, while his dad attended Middlebury College. All three of Dickey’s siblings attended New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) schools.
Dickey was “in conversation” with a couple of Division I schools. Due to some issues with the early decision deadlines, Dickey transitioned his search to Division III schools. Dickey ultimately chose Kenyon “for the care the coaches showed for me as a recruit and the high academics.”
At Kenyon, Dickey was a standout linebacker. Former Defensive Line and Special Teams Coach Tom Lachendro remembers a play Dickey made in the first week of practices at Kenyon: “Our offense hit a big play up the right sideline and all of a sudden this blur of a player comes streaking across from the other side of the field and makes a play.” That is when the coaches knew they “had a real player on [their] hands.”
During his junior year season, Dickey was a force to be reckoned with at the linebacker position. He tied for fifth in total tackles in the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) with 86.
“The ideal linebacker is able to play the run, drop to cover passes and blitz the quarterback,” Lanchendro said. “Over his four years, Sam grew in all of these areas and by his senior year I would say he was strong in all of them.”
Despite being a complete linebacker, Dickey wasn’t invited to any combines for the Canadian Football League (CFL) or the National Football League (NFL). He turned to Coach Lachendro for guidance. Lachendro, who is originally from Scotland and played football in Europe, discussed other possible professional options for Dickey following his time at Kenyon. Dickey uploaded a video and put his information on a website called Euro Players, which Lachendro recommended.
Soon after, teams began to contact him. “I was looking German Football League 1, and that was where I was really hoping [to go],” Dickey said. However, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maple League became a better fit due to having a guaranteed season for 2021, and an opening at Dickey’s position. After exploring options in the Finnish league, Dickey spoke at length with Wasa Royals management. “It was pretty shortly after we made our initial contact we were ready to take the next steps to sign me,” Dickey recalled.
With the Royals, Dickey is set to play a hybrid between the safety and linebacker position. “We have been looking for a role player like him,” says Wasa Royals Head Coach John Booker.
Dickey prides himself “on being a versatile player who can kind of be plugged in anywhere.” Kenyon Head Coach James Rosenbury agrees, believing that Dickey will fit in seamlessly with his new team.“I could have done anything with Sam,” he said.
In addition to playing on the Wasa Royals team, Dickey is looking forward to the opportunity to coach the U15 team. “[Coaching] is going to be really fun for some of the younger guys who haven’t initially been exposed to American football as much,” said Dickey.
Dickey will rely on his experience as a linebackers coach at Kenyon during his senior year. “Sam was able to bridge the divide between players and coaches,” Lachendro noted. “He was able to be empathetic and speak their language.” Rosenbury adds that coaching comes naturally to him.
The Collegian asked Rosenbury if Dickey was a better coach or player. He said player, but noted that “he’s going to blow that out of the water” when he decides to coach. Dickey enjoys playing more because “playing is playing. There’s nothing like playing football to me, but coaching is not far off.”
Dickey can do both for now, but in the future, he hopes to play well in the Maple League and maybe get a tryout or a combine for the NFL or the CFL. If that doesn’t work out, he wants to use some of the connections he is making in Europe to get an internship in a NFL organization.
Dickey already has one connection: Booker, his new head coach. Booker was a guard who was with the San Francisco 49ers for about two months in 2008 before being waived.
Bringing the mentality Dickey displays on the field to future professional pursuits will surely help him gain access to an elusive sports industry. “I always wanted to feel like I was the best player on the field,” said Dickey. “If you have that mindset, you’re going to have success.”
The Wasa Royals open Friday, May 14 against the Seinäjoki Crocodiles.