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Woodbridge's Antoine Sampah (left)

Antoine Sampah stood on the sidelines of Woodbridge’s new turf field watching a recent practice with an observant eye. At the moment, it was the most football-related activity he could do outside of conditioning on his own.

Dressed in a gray Nike T-shirt and shorts instead of a helmet and pads, he was, in his words, an “assistant coach,” offering encouragement and tips, as he continues to recover from surgery Jan. 17 to repair a torn ACL in his right knee.

Fueled by his competitive fire, the senior envisioned returning sooner to the field. But he had not been cleared yet for contact.

The delay will push back his return to the starting lineup. As he works his way back into game shape, Sampah said he expects to miss the Vikings’ first two regular-season games. He’s targeting the third game Sept. 20th as his first game back wen Woodbridge hosts Battlefield. If everything goes well, he was scheduled to only miss the first two weeks of practice.

On the surface, Sampah looked fine. He was not wearing a knee brace or propped up by crutches. There was no visible scar or any limping.

But everyone from his doctor to his Woodbridge coaches to his future college coaches at LSU counseled patience. There was no need for him to rush back prematurely and possibly do more damage.

“I don’t like it, but I understand,” said Sampah, ranked the No. 1 player in Virginia and the nation’s No. 1 inside linebacker by Rivals.com for the class of 2020. “I have to look at the bigger picture.”

In the Vikings’ eighth regular-season game of 2018, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Sampah hurt himself while carrying the ball in the third quarter Oct. 19 against Colgan. After being tackled, his right leg got stuck behind him as he fell to the ground. At the time, Sampah knew something was wrong, but figured it was something minor.

“I did not scream,” Sampah said. “It happened so fast. I didn’t even hear a little pop.”

For precautionary purposes, Sampah missed Woodbridge’s final two games. Two weeks later after the injury, an MRI confirmed the torn ACL.

Sampah didn’t broadcast the injury or the surgery, but kept colleges in the loop, including LSU, the school he eventually committed to April 20.

As Sampah recovers, Woodbridge has enough depth at linebacker to fill the void for the time being. Freedom transfer Nazir Armstrong and Colgan transfer Sam Bowen can step in.

“I have to wait a little bit,” Sampah said.

David Fawcett is the sports editor for InsideNoVa.com. Reach him at dfawcett@insidenova.com

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