There are some football players that inevitably leave fans wondering about what could have been. Bo Jackson, Barry Sanders, and even Calvin Johnson are some notable names that come to mind. Each of these players prematurely in one way or another, and left quite a bit on the table. While he may not have ever reached the level of the aforementioned players, Jeff Samardzija quit football when many had extremely high expectations for him.
“Shark”, as he was aptly nicknamed, seemed destined to go in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish wideout had jockeyed with Calvin Johnson for the title of “Best Wide Receiver” for his junior and senior years of college. While he admittedly came up short in the public’s eye (he was runner up to Johnson in voting for the Biletnikoff Award), his impact on the Irish was undeniable.
Hailing from Valparaiso, Indiana, Jeff Samardzija was ranked as the 25th best receiver in the nation coming out of highschool. His first two years as a Notre Dame receiver yielded minimal production (24 receptions, 327 yards), but the 6’5 225 lb Samardzija exploded onto the scene during his junior year in 2005.
As Samardzija matured into a phenomenal wideout for the Irish football team, he grew into a great pitcher for the. In 2005, he posted a 3.89 ERA and led the Irish to an 8-1 record.
What Samardzija was doing for the Irish was something that fans of the program had not been able to appreciate for some time. Not only was Samardzija providing a presence on the football field that was good enough to put him in contention with Calvin Johnson, he also was making Fighting Irish baseball a force to be reckoned with. Rarely does such an athlete come along that he can be a star in two sports.
Let’s put just how special Jeff Samardzija was and is into perspective. He was projected to go in the first round of the NFL draft, and went in the fifth round of the MLB draft. The percentage chance of a Division I football player going pro is estimated at 1.9%; for baseball, the odds are approximated at 9.4%. Through some simple math, an athlete like shark shows up about .1786% of the time. This means that, to get an athlete like Samardzija, you’d have to take a pool of about 500 Division I athletes before you got one “Shark”.
That is special.
Jeff Samardzija was a freak athlete. He stood at 6’5, weighed in at 225 lbs, and unofficially ran a 4.48 while at Notre Dame. For reference, the following players also ran 40 yard dashes in that range: Christian McCaffrey ran a 4.48, Antonio Brown ran a 4.47, and Tyrann Mathieu ran a 4.51. Aren’t taller and heavier guys generally supposed to slower? Samardzija was running at a speed in the same range as guys that he was half a foot taller than and at least 20 lbs heavier than. That’s just ridiculous.
When you look back on the time that Samardzija had with the Irish, you have to appreciate what he brought to this team. He gave that team a presence like no other. He was big enough and strong enough to bully defensive backs on the boundary, but fast enough and agile enough to take an underneath pass to the house. The Irish haven’t had a receiver quite like Samardzija since he left.
Jeff Samardzija’s football career was too good to be true. The size, speed, and overall athletic potential will never be realized on a professional football field. But that’s okay, because it puts even more emphasis on the short time that he had donning an Irish uniform and makes it impossible not to respect what he did during that time.
In parting, I’ll leave you with this (slightly corny but still fun) highlight video of Shark put together by a fan in 2007. Watch it, and reminisce on what once was. Relive those fond memories of a deadly shark attack, and remember just how great Jeff Samardzija was for the Irish.