Sambursky remains humble after great achievements

Sambursky remains humble after great achievements

By Symone Woolridge

Alumnus Joel Sambursky has gone from football field to boardroom during his time in Carbondale.

Sambursky, 31, is a big name in SIU football, holding the school record in most passing yards and most rushing yards for a quarterback. He is now a member of the Board of Trustees as well as founder and president of his own business, Liberty Wealth Management.

As a boy growing up in Kansas City, Sambursky began his early football career as a backup tight end on the B-team of his middle school. Sambursky was not always motivated to play football. Three days after he made the B-team, Sambursky did not feel his interest was high enough to continue playing. He then decided he would no longer show up to football practice.


Shortly after noticing his son was not hitching a ride to practice with his teammate, Sambursky’s father told him quitting was not an option.

“I don’t know if you’re going to play football for the rest of your life, and that’s fine if you don’t,” his father said. “But you’ve made a commitment to yourself and the team, you’re not going to quit.”

Sambursky said his life would’ve been much different if he never listened to his father.

“If I didn’t show back up (to the team), I definitely wouldn’t be here today,” Sambursky said.

As a 142 pound sophomore quarterback in high school, Sambursky was the first Liberty High School student athlete to start as a varsity quarterback.

“To start varsity at Liberty as a freshman never happens,” Sambursky said. “But it’s equally the same as starting varsity as a sophomore, and that never happens either.”

Although Sambursky was the smallest and youngest quarterback at Liberty, he quickly made a name for himself. Division I and II colleges began to notice Sambursky’s talent; However, a few Division I schools told Sambursky he would be more ideal if he were taller and bigger.


As Sambursky became a dominant athlete, SIU coaches began to watch him and eventually offered him a chance to play Saluki football. Sambursky committed to Northwest Missouri State, which at the time was an astonishing Division II program that had won three national championships.

Once Sambursky came to visit the SIU campus, he was instantly sold. He said he admired the campus as well as the staff.

“Being from Kansas City, I hadn’t really heard of SIU,” Sambursky said. “But after seeing the diversity of the school, the size of the school, just the beauty of the school was so appealing to me.”

Sambursky committed to SIU at a time when the university’s football team was considered a joke. The team was playing in facilities that were some of the worst in the country, making it impossible to play as the sun set with no lights in the stadium, Sambursky said.

“I fell in love with the idea of turning around a program,” he said. “After

de-committing, people were wondering why I would chose a losing football university over a nationally-ranked team but once I told them why I loved SIU, people began to understand.”

Former Saluki head coach Jerry Kill has coached for almost three decades and is now head coach for the University of Minnesota. Kill, who coached Sambursky, said he most certainty would not be Minnesota’s head coach if it was not for the SIU staff and Sambursky.

“Joel turned the program around with his leadership,” Kill said. “He had great respect for his teammates and was a phenomenal player.”

Kill and Sambursky have maintained a great relationship since their departure from Southern. Sambursky said he considers Kill like a father to him and highly respects him as a role model.

Kill said he enjoyed having Sambursky as a part of the team, and also as a vocal player. Their relationship has become so close that Sambursky handles Kill’s finances.

“He is a good football player and a good businessman, but he was a difference-maker for us in football and I know he will be a difference-maker in his business,” Kill said. “He can do just about anything that he wants to do.”

Kill was extremely tough on Sambursky as an athlete. Kill said he knew he had a lot of talent, and as a coach he pushed him hard, he said.

“All he wanted to do was be the best he could be,” Kill said. “You knew once he hit the field he was going to give to you 110 percent and when he finished playing, he didn’t have anything left.”

Kill said his Minnesota staff has nothing but love for Sambursky.

“90 percent of the guys that are here at Minnesota were at Southern,” Kill said. “We’re all fond of him, and there is not a coach that wouldn’t die for the kid.”

As Sambursky played at SIU, Director of External and Broadcast Operations and the voice of the Salukis Mike Reis, covered Saluki football play-by-play. Reis has covered play-by-play for SIU football, basketball and baseball for more than three decades and said he knew Sambursky was an athlete to watch out for.

“He was 18 when he came here but he was really 28,” Reis said. “He was just that mature.”

Reis said Sambursky was a remarkable leader who produced tremendous athleticism but also showed great leadership.

“As a freshman, you didn’t say “wow, this is Peyton Manning,” but what you did say as you got to know him was, “wow, this could be a Peyton Manning-type leader,”” Reis said. “You could see how players gravitated to him.”

As Reis got to know Sambursky off of the field, they became much more than just a reporter and a quarterback. The two are excellent friends and have maintained a very good relationship.

“He’s motivated by people saying he can’t do something, and he’s motivated by people saying he’s not good enough,” Reis said. “Now look at him, he’s one of the best quarterbacks to ever play at SIU.”

Sambursky has decided to reside in southern Illinois, and has no intention of leaving anytime soon. He plans on staying in the Carbondale area to raise his family of four with his wife, former Saluki golfer Sam Sambursky.

“Anybody that knows me well, knows that I love my university,” he said. “I had a chance to chase a bigger paycheck somewhere else but I decided to stay here.”

As a freshman, Sambursky threw a game-winning touchdown pass as the time wound down against Western Illinois University. As a sophomore, he was named Second-Team All-Gateway Conference and earned player of the week. As a junior, Sambursky’s passing rating ranked second in Division I-AA and he was named to the Division I AA Athletic Director Association Academic All-Star team.

After graduating from SIU, Sambursky was approached by members in the community about an opening for the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce Executive Director position. While working as an Executive Director, Sambursky received his master of business administration in finance. He then became the youngest director of the Chambers of Commerce, and one of the youngest members on the Board of Trustees as of a month ago.

Sambursky led the Salukis to three MVC championships and national playoff appearances. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012.

While Sambursky was an SIU student, he did not think beyond graduation. But years later he has earned the title of a great businessman, athlete, father and role model.

“If you work hard and do the right things, good things will happen to you,” he said. “It’s truly an honor to achieve some of the things that I have achieved and I thank southern Illinois for that.”