Every morning on his social media channels, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel posts a morning motivation.
I know you've heard it a thousand times before. But it's true – hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don't love something, then don't do it.
— Deebo (@19problemz) November 19, 2021
“So, it’s actually a motivational app that me and my mom were reading one day, and they have certain quotes every day,” Samuel said. “I get on there every morning when I wake up. I brush my teeth and stuff, and we get on there. I call my mom, we read one, and she says she likes it. I kind of like it, so she’s like, ‘You should start posting this on your social media.’ So, this is how that came about. Just reading quotes every morning just to get me going and just on the way to work.”
Mom really does always know best.
As a rookie in 2019, Samuel had 57 receptions for 802 yards and three touchdowns, along with 159 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. The future looked bright, but various injuries dampened his 2020 campaign.
“[C]oming back into a second year, I know how hard he was preparing to not have a sophomore slump,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. “And then he had those injuries, which kind of made it inevitable. And to watch the frustration he had all year, you could tell he was very hungry coming into this year.”
The hunger has Samuel at 54 receptions for 979 yards (second in the league) and five touchdowns coming into Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He also has 58 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns and has been named NFC Offensive Player of the Week twice.
“Deebo is one of the most natural players I’ve been around,” Shanahan said. “He’s very smart. He’s very perceptive. I think he’s extremely socially aware. He kind of has an idea of how everyone is and things aren’t that hard to him. I think what Deebo has gotten better at is sometimes when you have a tendency for things not to be hard, you don’t always go through every single little thing. And I think he’s done a much better job of going through the little things, so he can be closer to perfect than not.”
Samuel suffered an offseason foot fracture in 2020 which led to various other ailments. As a result, he played in just seven games last season.
“[I]njury-wise, you kind of get in that dark space, like, ‘God, football’s been taken away,'” Samuel said. “So, you go to someone that’s really, really close to you and you can just talk to them about anything. After I got over the little dark spell, you can see, last year, I ended up working out with Emmanuel for a week…just keeping in contact with him and just keep progressing.”
There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.
— Deebo (@19problemz) November 17, 2021
Samuel is referring to Buffalo Bills wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who was traded from the Denver Broncos to the 49ers midway through the 2019 season. Sanders’ leadership was invaluable to Samuel and the San Francisco offense as a whole.
“I think it helped a ton for him when Emmanuel came here,” Shanahan said. “That’s when I saw the biggest [shift]. Deebo is one of the guys who we were counting on a lot as a rookie. And I think when Emmanuel got here, he really saw a true pro and not just how he prepared, but how he attacked practice every day. And Emmanuel only knew one way, like he went as hard as he could all the time and if he couldn’t, you had to protect him from himself. And I think it was really cool for Deebo to get to see. I think that’s why they clicked so much.”
Samuel learned from Sanders, and Sanders started to learn from the young group of receivers the 49ers had that year.
“For me, it was just his work ethic,” Samuel said. “Just coming in meetings. He made his start coming in at 6:30, and we ain’t supposed to be here until, like 7:30, just getting ahead of the playbook. The way he carried himself every practice is just the leader he was and the energy that he brought. As you can see, as the year went on that year, he started to act like us, dancing…which made it kind of fun. So, it was great playing with him that year.”
It’s a relationship that did not end when Sanders’ tenure with San Francisco did. The two men talk frequently.
“Every week,” Samuel said. “Every week. Once a week. I actually talked to him after the [Monday Night Football win over the Los Angeles Rams], and he was just excited. He was like, ‘Hey man, you becoming the guy that I knew you was going to be,’ and he just congratulated me. We just go back and forth. Not just about football. Just life…Just regular conversations.”
Sanders didn’t just help the receiver room, he helped the offense as a whole.
“I can’t say enough great things about Emmanuel,” said tight end George Kittle. “Just the mindset he brought every single day of working. He never got tired. He never took himself out of the game. He ran, he would block his tail off every single time. That mindset he brought, I think Deebo learned a lot from him. I learned a lot from him. And I think if you didn’t learn from him, then you had your head under your rock because he’s a hell of a football player who does everything right.”
Samuel has brought some of the intangibles to the wide receiving corps as well, and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo saw that really flourish this past training camp.
“Some time in training camp…I can’t remember a specific day, but in training camp there was a sort of a lull in our receiver room of just like, you know, who the leader is and we didn’t really have a vocal leader,” Garoppolo said. “And I can remember Deebo just kind of, you know, Deebo’s not the most vocal guy in the world, but he leads by example and in one-on-ones, he would always go first. He would step up first, kind of set the tone for everybody, make big plays, get guys excited….[H]e’s always been phenomenal, don’t get me wrong, but that’s when he started to open up and really become a leader of that room.”
49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel has a similar view.
“…[T]he rigors of the NFL season are brutal, they get one true day off,” said McDaniel. “…[I]t’s six months of grind…This year training camp, August, we saw it in practice. I think he was looking around and saying, ‘Okay, well, who’s going to get everyone going?’ It’s kind of me and since maybe right when preseason games started going and he had a couple outings in the preseason he wasn’t too fired up about, he’s really put his foot on the gas and he hasn’t looked back.”
Leading by example is the place that Samuel is most comfortable.
“[I]’m not a rah-rah guy,” Samuel said. “…How I show leadership is how I go out there and play every day…Lead by example of guy, not a guy that will call a guy out…We have certain guys that do that, but I just lead by example.”
Now back to mom, who Samuel said he talks to every day and who attends every home game.
“When we lose, she’s like, ‘Well, you did this, and you did good,'” Samuel said.
“I’m like, ‘Momma, we still lost.’ She’s like, ‘Well, you did good, though.’ I was like, ‘All right.’ Then, I just end up getting off the phone, because she’ll just keep on going and going. She just do that. Whether win or lose, she’s going to be the same person. She’s going to be the shout-out of the day for me. When I leave here today, I’m going to call her on the way home. She going to have something to talk about, and I end up, ‘All right. I got to go.'”
Read motivational quotes. Learn from your co-workers. And don’t forget to call your mother.