This Rabbit Just Got Better and Better
By Gordon Pynes
Sometimes high school athletes get overlooked for opportunity at the college level. Physical maturity and size play a big role in college coaches evaluations for athletic scholarships. That was almost the case for former Atlanta Rabbit Sammy Epps. A slight 5’- 9” at 135 pounds soaking wet made athletics a difficult endeavor back in 1978 when Sammy played football, basketball and ran track for Atlanta High School. However, his family background made success in sports a top priority.
Rabbit sports have long enjoyed an outstanding group of both boys and girls in athletics who came out of the rural community of Shiloh. Six miles down Highway 59 at the roadside park turn leads to Shiloh. Numerous families there have contributed a load of talented athletes who have worn the Maroon and White. Many have gone on to star in college and even in the professional ranks.
Sammy was the seventh child of nine in the Epps family with six brothers and two sisters. He came to Atlanta High School with a reputation in athletics to uphold. The pressure was on and he was fondly called “Little Epps”. Pure determination to uphold what his older brothers had achieved drove him to hard work and tremendous effort in the three sports. He did well but his size and physical maturity did not allow him to catch the eyes of college coaches.
In the late 1970’s and early 80’s, Atlanta competed in a very tough District that included 12 teams divided into two zones. The Rabbits represented the smallest school among such as Kilgore and Mount Pleasant. Such competition kept Sammy from ever competing at the State Track Meet. He did excel as a long jumper in track and got off a 23 - foot leap as a senior. One of the Rabbit coaches at the time saw further potential in Sammy. Barron Christensen, a Rabbit himself, had played football for the Muleriders at Southern Arkansas University (SAU) before coming home to coach. Barron called his former coach and strongly urged that the Muleriders grant Sammy a track scholarship. To his way of thinking Sammy was to be a late bloomer physically and would give them the maximum in hardwork. Epps got his chance and quickly got better and better.
Sammy describes his success this way. A Mulerider assistant coach developed the distance guys and Sammy was put in with them for long early morning runs. This didn’t seem to fit for a jumper but soon his endurance improved and a weight program began to strengthen his small stature. By the time track season rolled around in the spring of 1982 Epps was a different athlete.
During those next four track seasons Sammy Epps firmly held up his family athletic tradition. His speed increased drastically over his high school performances and soon he was competing in the long jump, 100 and 200 hundred meters and both 400 and 1600 relays. His accomplishments over the four seasons of 1982-85 were superb. Each season he led the Muleriders to three Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championships and earned NAIA All-American status. One year SAU coaches entered Sammy in seven events and in leading them to the title he scored 45 points. His best marks set now 40 years ago stand today as outstanding. Epps holds SAU track records with 10.43 in 100 meters, 20.84 at 200 meters, 45.98 for 400 meters and 25’-5.5” in the long jump. These marks earned him recognition as an SAU Hall of Famer and since he was named to the State of Arkansas Track & Field Hall of Fame.
Sammy was invited to try out for the 1984 USA Olympic track team to compete in the Olympics held in Los Angeles. He trained at the track team training site in San Jose, California. Numerous athletes competed for spots and he made it down to the final eight. Only six could be chosen so he just missed a spot on the Olympic team.
Following graduation in 1986, Epps took a job as a management trainee at Joske’s in Dallas. He longed to coach and after a year took a coaching job in Crossett, Arkansas. Following six years there he came back to coach at Arlington Bowie and became the head track coach in 1997. He would guide Bowie to a 5A State Track title in 2003 and has since produced numerous strong boys teams during these 25 years.
He and his wife have six children and seven grandchildren. Sammy Epps epitomizes what hard work and determination can achieve. Despite his size while in high school he applied desire and a strong work ethic to expand his opportunity. A quote of his on social media certainly sums up his reason for an outstanding career as an athlete and coach. “No matter what the task is, I have always given my best so that others can be their best. I truly love helping others.”
Atlanta Athletics Hall of Fame welcomes Sammy Epps as a deserving member of the Class of 2022. He now joins his brother Phillip who was inducted in 2021.