I’m blessed just to be out there, to represent this school. – BYU kicker Trevor Samson

PROVO — In his BYU football debut at Connecticut on Aug. 29, place-kicker Trevor Samson’s first kick, a PAT, barely fluttered over the crossbar after an errant snap. Then he booted a couple of short kickoffs, and missed a 33-yard field goal.

While Samson was disappointed with his missed field goal, he called the experience “a dream come true,” adding, “I’m blessed just to be out there, to represent this school.”

Compared to what the 5-foot-11, 183-pounder from Fresno, California, has been through in his life, the kind of adversity faced in a football game is nothing.

His parents, Kelly and Pennie Samson, sat in the stands at Rentschler Field that night, and they couldn’t have been happier. They say just to see him on the field, playing college football on ESPN, was surreal.

“It’s a total miracle in my eyes,” Pennie said.

The Samsons believe a series of miracles have allowed Trevor the opportunity to kick for the Cougars.

Trevor Samson was born with a disease called biliary atresia, a life-threatening condition in infants in which the bile ducts inside or outside the liver do not have normal openings.

Trevor endured his first surgery six weeks after his birth, and doctors told his parents that he would need a liver transplant or he would die. When he was 10 months old, he underwent a grueling transplant surgery, with his mom giving him part — 20 percent — of her liver so he could live.

The total surgery time for mom and son was 13 hours.

“As a parent, you’re willing to give your own life for your kids,” Pennie said. “If that meant having him for a little bit longer on this earth, I would do it again. Any parent would. ... What’s great about the liver is, it regenerates itself. Whatever part was taken out of me grew back within about 6-8 weeks. The tissue itself grows back to normal size.”

Throughout his life as a transplant recipient, Trevor has been hospitalized numerous times. Due to the illness, he takes medication every day and probably will the rest of his life. His body tried rejecting the liver a few times, but doctors were able to help him survive. He has blood work done periodically so a team of doctors at Stanford Medical Center can monitor his condition.

Trevor, who's not a member of the LDS Church, is deeply grateful to his mom for prolonging his life, and he doesn't take anything for granted. He relies heavily on his faith.

“Going to the hospital, being sick a lot, going into rejection a couple of times, it’s mentally and physically draining,” Trevor said. “You always pull through and you realize life moves on and you’re going to be fine. God’s with you every step of the way. You have to trust in him and everything will work out OK.”

An active and upbeat boy, Trevor was drawn to sports, and his parents let him try to lead a normal life. He played soccer, baseball, basketball and ran track.

“We didn’t want to keep him in a bubble,” Pennie said. “It helped him live life to the fullest.”

But there were plenty of challenges.

“As he grew up, he would get sick and one of the things he would ask is, ‘Am I going to die?’ ” said his dad, Kelly. “For him to understand his mortality at such a young age allowed him to appreciate everything that was there.”

When he was young, doctors told Trevor to avoid contact sports.

Like football.

But he's passionate about football — he and his family are big San Francisco 49ers fans — and as a high school junior, he tried out for his Clovis West High football team. Trevor found out that kickers could earn a college scholarship, and he set a goal to be a kicker at the highest level of college football.

But first, he had to get on the field, and his mom was understandably nervous.

“You want to protect him,” Pennie said. “He started playing football and he loved it. He flourished because he loved football.”

His parents were supportive of his decision to play football in spite of the potential risks.

“The doctors warned me about not getting tackled,” Trevor said. “My immune system isn’t very strong, and I wouldn’t be able to recover as quickly as everyone else. Being a transplant patient, you kind of grow up not being the most confident person in the world. Football helped me grow.”

After graduating from Clovis West, he played at Fresno City College for two seasons. He was recruited primarily by smaller schools like Sacramento State, and seriously considered signing with one of them when his Fresno City College coach told Trevor that BYU was interested in him.

“But I’m not Mormon,” he responded.

“I told him you didn’t have to be Mormon to go to BYU,” Kelly said. “He took a visit to BYU and he fell in love with the place. He was offered a chance to walk on. He was debating it with some offers from Division II schools. I told him, ‘Look at the places you could play. Look at the stadium. It’s everything you asked for, is it not?’ That’s when he said he would take it. He was willing to work for it.”

Trevor redshirted last season at BYU, and he has one more year of eligibility remaining after this season.

“The BYU offer came out of nowhere,” he recalled. “I thought it would be cool to get out of Fresno and do something new. I knew it would make me grow spiritually, physically and mentally. Especially spiritually. I grew up with a strong belief in God and the Bible. BYU is different. There’s so much more to live up to here as far as expectations. It pushes you to be a better person, which is what I liked about it. It’s another reason why I came here.”

Trevor worked hard to become the Cougars’ starting kicker this season, beating out a couple of other hopefuls during fall camp. He found out he would be the starter just days before the season-opener at UConn.

“Growing up with a transplant definitely humbles you,” Trevor said. “It teaches you how to go through life. It helped me learn that with God, nothing is impossible.”

Then, last Tuesday, coach Bronco Mendenhall approached Trevor during practice and let him know he had been awarded a scholarship.

“He found it hard to keep his composure throughout the rest of practice,” Kelly said.

In last Saturday’s 41-7 win at Texas, Trevor drilled field goals from 21 and 29 yards to put the Cougars up 6-0 at halftime. He made all five of his PATs.

“Never in a million years would I have thought that this boy who we were told wouldn’t live past 2 years old without a transplant, to see him out there fulfilling his dream is the most awesome experience any parent with a child that’s had a lot of obstacles could have," Pennie said. "Not just to play football, but the type of man he’s become. You can’t get any prouder than that.”

Coming from a religious family, living by the Honor Code wasn’t a big adjustment for Trevor. Because of his illness, he can’t drink alcohol, “but he’s never had a desire to do that anyway,” Pennie said. “He’s a good kid. He knows what he’s there at BYU for. He’s enjoying every single second.”

At the team’s fireside in Hartford, Conn., on the eve of the season-opener at UConn, Samson was asked to deliver a spiritual message. "This is my first time speaking at a fireside, not to mention my first fireside,” Samson told the large congregation that attended, then he shared a little about his story.

Back home in Fresno, his parents and his younger sister, Taylor, who runs cross-country and track at Fresno State, are just part of his support system.

Trevor started attending a camp for transplant recipients when he was 13 years old. The friends he knows from there, and his former teammates and coaches at Clovis West and Fresno City College, are proud of him.

“The response he gets from kids is amazing,” Kelly said. “They say, ‘It couldn’t have happened to a better kid.' A lot of people are thrilled to see what he’s gone through and where he is now.”

So even when things don’t go well for Samson on the field, those who know him realize he’s accomplished what many considered to be impossible.

“Trevor understands the blessings he’s been given,” Pennie said. “It’s a total God thing.”

Through his faith and hard work, Trevor Samson has kicked down barriers in order to realize his dreams.

“He takes pride,” Kelly said, “in showing what a transplant kid can do.”