Saint Elizabeth’s Sam Janicki wears two purple bracelets on his right wrist, and they have all the meaning in the world.
Sam’s dad, Matt Janicki, was an assistant coach for the Vikings, but died after a long bout with pancreatic cancer on June 6, 2018, about 8 weeks before Saint Elizabeth opened up training camp for Sam’s junior year.
(VIDEO | Sam Janicki & Marvin Dooley talk about Matt Janicki)
Sam was making a move from defensive back to linebacker, but his head coach Marvin Dooley was making a move from William Penn to Saint Elizabeth and was just starting to know his new squad better.
Dooley played in the same Holy Spirit program as Matt Janicki, and watched him to go onto a strong Saint Mark’s team. Dooley said Matt was someone everyone looked up to.
“Matt Janicki, just like Sam, is a leader through work ethic. The way he works, and does things on and off the field set Matt apart from everyone else. As a kid growing up, we were always taught to look to the kids who did it right.”
Matt Janicki served 28 years with the Delaware Army National Guard, while also being employed as a Senior Application Support Specialist with the State of Delaware.
His other side job hit home with Sam, the one where he was known as “Coach.”
“He coached me ever since I was a baby. Ever since I started playing sports, he coached me in soccer, football, baseball, basketball, every single sport that I played, he was the coach, and he loved to coach. He was one who could talk to the players. When the coaches got on their ass about everything, he could see the other side of them and why they were struggling. He could be the guy you could talk to about it.”
Sam took full appreciation of the time with his dad, and said he’ll miss moments like one early in his high school career.
“I scored a touchdown one time in a J.V. game and I ran up to him after the game and hugged him, it was awesome. I know he’s up there watching me, and I’m going to do something awesome for him.”
The jolt of losing a father can be tough, but Sam said he was able to get refocused.
“Coach let me take a week off before camp and get right back to work. We had a new coach, and I knew I had to get back to work. I always had it in the back of my mind about my dad, but football was the main goal. You have to keep moving on with things in life, you can’t stop.”
Coach Dooley made a point to check in with Sam, as part of an open-door policy with all of his players, but he said, if anything, he became more impressed with his linebacker.
“Sam played with a lot of emotion, which was a given, but he has a high motor anyway. I really was excited by that. Sam sometimes played too high with energy, and we’d have to slow him down and get him into assignment mode before he went flying around. Sam made a ton of plays, and was a big contributor on special teams, I think he’s one of the best punters in the state, colleges have asked around about him, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do.”
Saint Elizabeth made sure to keep the memory of Matt Janicki fresh. In week 4, after a disappointing 48-0 loss to eventual-champion Delmar, Saint Elizabeth welcomed in perennial playoff contender Delaware Military Academy to Baynard Stadium for Matt Janicki Night, a game they won 20-7.
"We did a whole ceremony for him at halftime, there was a big plaque. Everybody was playing for me, and the energy was high that night. We beat DMA, and we hadn’t beaten DMA in two years, it was an awesome night.”
Having more special nights like that means putting in extra work, and Sam said he did that in the weight room, putting on 40 pounds, a help for any player moving to linebacker. Sam says his goal is to reach the 100-tackle mark that former teammate Ray Jones just missed in 2018, but putting on weight wasn’t a smooth process.
“It made me a bit slower, but I recovered and I’ve gotten a lot faster. I’ve done a lot of physical therapy and other training with weight so I got faster and agile with the weight that I’ve gained. “
Sam says he wants to play college football, and eventually study exercise science and open his own gym, but besides the obvious team goals, there’s one achievement of his dad’s he’d like to duplicate.
“He was a Blue-Gold player, and that’s what I’m trying to do. I want to play in the Blue-Gold Game like him. If I could do that, that would be the ultimate tribute to him.”
Running onto the field at Delaware Stadium next June would be special, but as long as he looks down on his wrists and sees purple, he knows his father is right there with him.
VIKINGS NOTES: Saint Elizabeth returns 28 players from last year’s 5-5 team, and Dooley said they could add as many as 13 athletes from inside the school who didn’t play last year, along with the incoming freshman class… They’ll also be boosted by transfers Gavin McCarthy (Saint Mark’s) and Thomas Mosely (A.I. duPont), Mosely figures to be the favorite to be their starting running back… There’s still a lot to replace, including Ray Jones who rushed for 1,208 yards and 6 touchdowns, and was their leading tackler…. They drop Delmar from their 2019 schedule, but add Tower Hill and Caravel in one of the better all-D2 schedules in the state. Not playing a D1 opponent will put pressure to win games over other prospective tournament teams due to the point system that rewards games against larger schools, even if they having losing records.