Paydirt with purpose

Big Horns varsity football team’s connection to Touchdowns Against Cancer

Please note that "Goal Exceeded" is an update to the following article that ran in our Sept. 5, 2019 print issue:

For the month of Sept. the Big Horns team-up with other football teams across the nation in a good old fashioned fight for good. A fundraising effort to benefit St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital allows for community members to pledge donations for every touchdown scored by the home team. Big Horns have three games to hit paydirt with purpose as often as possible – and that is just what they intend to do.  Big Sky has been in the top 10 highest contributors nationwide the past two years. Last year, $2,100 was raised while in 2017 the community raised a whopping $4,500. 

“This year, we want to eclipse the $5,000 mark,” Big Horns varsity football assistant coach Chris Samuels said. 

For Chris and Austin Samuels, senior wide receiver, the effort is personal. Cancer recently became something frequently discussed in the family home. Austin’s mother, Acra, was diagnosed with sarcoma, which is incurable, three years ago. 

An experimental drug therapy has both prolonged her life and given her quality of life. She and Chris make the monthly trip to Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute so blood tests can be performed and she can get her pills for the month. 

“It’s a long trip but it’s definitely worth it,” Chris explained. “The drug is holding the cancer and keeping the cancer from growing in her body.”

A recent issue of Cure Magazine outlines her story – how the cancer became resistant to her initial drug therapy and the tumors began growing again. 

“I had not been able to eat, I could hardly walk and there were tumors protruding from my abdomen,” she told the publication. “It was clear I wouldn’t have long at all if there wasn’t another solution.” 

The new therapy acted quickly: she was eating one day after and the tumors receded after five days of taking the medication. 

“Samuels remains on the drug with no evidence of cancer in her body,” the article states. 

“The boys look at it as a way to do something to be able to make a difference, hoping to involve family and friends in the whole process,” Chris said. Austin is the only son still in the football program, but all the Samuels children have been involved in the effort as, “part of the things that they do in terms of being able to keep their mom in their thoughts.”

The effort is young by definition – only two years old, but with athletics powerhouses MaxPreps and PLEDGE IT behind it and supported by communities all over the nation, $364,000 has been raised for St. Jude.  

“It’s a great way for my sons and me to be involved in fundraising and be involved in something that will help other people,” Chris said. Austin's mother, Acra, is incredibly proud that he has rallied behind a working cause.

Big Sky currently ranks number seven in the nation for 2019 with a $1,000 pledge. 

As stated on the Touchdowns against Cancer website: Treatments invented at St. Jude have assisted in pushing the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to more than 80 percent since it opened 50 years ago.

To contribute to the Lone Peak Big Horns campaign, visit

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