He's not an athlete, but he's a player

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Sometimes he has to tell an ambitious college player to stay in school another year to improve his prospects. Sometimes a player's father will introduce him to another father — of a hidden gem who will suddenly shoot to the top of draft talk. Sometimes, a mother will call and sound so earnest and sincere that Sam will vote to take a chance on her son, sight unseen.

"It is one of the most competitive industries out there," he says of being an agent. "You work with special people who can do amazing things. You help kids who never had a chance succeed at something. You spent your time around athletes at amazing places.

"I am vicariously living out my own athletic dreams," Sam said, laughing.

It is the result of one of those teammate-of-a-teammate, fathers-are-friends-in-the-stands kind of connections that Mr. Sarnoff and Sam are now working for University of Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson, a salt-of-the-Earth kind of young man they like to represent.

A scouting combine sensation, the 6-foot-6, 308-pound Mr. Johnson has a standing vertical jump of 34 inches and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.72 seconds. He is projected to be among the first 10 players drafted, if not the first five.

"Nobody is supposed to be that big and that fast," said Sam, who rented a truck for the big lineman to drive during the run-up to the combine because it is the only vehicle with a cab large enough for him.

Of course, in Sam's business there are also the liars and the cheaters. The sports landscape is littered with them. Sam knows secrets, and he knows gossip. Cross a line, and everybody will know.

"No amount of talent justifies a scandal. We've turned down players. There is a saying, 'Sometimes the best player you get is the one you didn't get.'"

Sam, lifelong sports junkie, watches games differently now.

"When you are a fan and a guy gets injured, you just hope the guy they send in for him is good enough to help your team win. But when one of your guys gets injured, you feel so much pain for them. Real pain. Like the 10-year veteran who breaks his leg in week eight of the season, and you and he both know he might not be back. Like the rookie who misses half of his first season with an injury. Now that I am in it, I know how hard it is for these guys."

An NFL agent. What a card to play in your hometown. The problem? Sam's old soccer pals want a tryout at placekicker for their favorite teams.

"They want to know if they should dust off their old cleats."

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at Susan.Reimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.

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