Despite playing with low numbers, Imani Christian Academy is slowly growing into a hotbed of talented football recruits. One of those star recruits is senior Sam Fairley. Holding scholarship offers from Miami (OH), Army, Robert Morris and Columbia, the standout wide receiver and safety has also seen interest from larger Division 1 programs like Pitt, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Fairley started his high school career playing for University Prep (played football for USO) in Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood. However after two seasons at USO, he made the decision to transfer to Imani Christian, a decision he does not regret.
“There were a lot of distractions that could’ve messed my life up so I had to get away from them,” Fairley said. “So I moved back with my grandparents and Imani is only five minutes away from them.”
Though University Prep is one of the top academic high schools in the City of Pittsburgh, Fairley believes Imani is a much better environment for students.
“Imani is more helpful when it comes to the school work,” Fairly said. “There’s 80 minutes in a class so I have a lot more 1-on-1 time with my teacher when I need it and I’m able to take free college classes so I can have college credits already when I start college.”
Despite transferring from the City League to the WPIAL, Fairley and USO teammate Asante Watkins were ruled ineligible for the first six games of 2016. A claim was made that the pair transferred to Imani Christian to follow former USO quarterback Kenny Robinson and LaRoi Johnson, who coached the two at USO before becoming the offensive coordinator for Imani Christian.
Without Fairley and Watson in the lineup, the undermanned Saints struggled to find their footings in their first season since 2013. Imani Christian dropped five of their first seven games, bu rallied to win their final two games to clinch a spot in the Class A playoffs. After defeating Our Lady Scared Heart 44-13, the first playoff win in school history, they were routed by Rochester 32-6 in the quarterfinals.
After a tough 2016, Fairley believes they are ready to compete with the best in the WPIAL.
“This season I feel we will be a real good one,” Fairley said. “We’ve been working real hard since January & I think all the work we’ve been putting in will show when the season starts. We are going to shock a lot of people.”
Even in limited action, Fairley was able to rack up 27 catches for 459 yards and 12 touchdowns. But with Robinson off to West Virginia, it is up to the Hill District native to assume the role of team leader. Johnson knows Fairley is more than up to the task.
“It has been truly remarkable watching him,” Johnson said. “Sam has always been a talented player, but now he is just stepping into the light and embracing the fact that he has to be the leader. He has really stepped up in his leadership role.”
Not only is Fairley one of the more talented players in the WPIAL, but he is also one of the hardest working. According to Johnson, he never misses a workout for Imani Christian and even goes to practices afterwards with Evolve Athletics, which specializes in football training and runs a 7-on-7 team. With Evolve, Fairley has been able to compete in multiple camps. At the West Virginia camp this month, he had one of the best showings of any defensive back.
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So far, Fairley has been able to attract attention from Division 1 schools all around the northeast and midwest. Though it would be nice to play at a college close to home, the star receiver wants to play where he feels most comfortable.
“Playing at a Pitt or Penn State or WVU would be pretty cool but I would have no problem going away for school at all,” Fairley said. “I feel like whatever school shows me the most love. If the place feels like home, no matter where it is I will go.”
And though he been a playmaker on offense for the Saints, Johnson believes Fairley will fit best at the next level on defense.
“At the Division One level he will probably be a free or strong safety,” Johnson said. “He has outstanding awareness and his football knowledge is very good.We run a lot of combo coverage and his ability to understand who we are combing and when to combo a certain guy or not to combo him. It’s little stuff like that that kind of remains me of Delvon Randall (former Gateway Gator and current Temple Owl).”