Sam Lunt feels the timing is right.
Known for his stoic, professional demeanor — not to mention a dry sense of humor and a gift for impersonations — Lunt has decided to retire this summer after 31 years in Florida State’s athletics department.
Think about that commitment – 31 years, oh my.
Lunt is the longest tenured athletic trainer at FSU and the longest tenured member of the men’s basketball staff. He has been part of more than 930 games, worked under coaches Pat Kennedy, Steve Robinson and Leonard Hamilton and has watched FSU athletics transform into a complex, multifaceted business operation.
The bespectacled, 56-year-old has kept his decision to retire relatively quiet heading into the Seminoles’ regular-season finale against visiting Miami on Saturday.
That’s not surprising if you know Sam.
Lunt has worked in relative anonymity over the years, day and night, in his respected, unassuming manner. FSU’s associate director of sports medicine has specialized in the prevention, assessment, care and rehabilitation of injuries – punctuated by offering a cordial, confidential ear for players who discover that reassuring conversation can also lead to a healthy return to the court.
“I know from personal experience that Sam went above and beyond the call of duty in a lot of areas,” said Charlie Ward, who won the Heisman Trophy and a football national championship at FSU in 1993 and pushed the Seminoles to the brink of the 1993 Final Four.
“Overall, he’s a great guy and key contributor to the program.”
Ward dealt with shoulder, feet and back issues that included a broken tailbone during his FSU hoops career. And it was Lunt who collaborated with FSU physicians and was involved in treating and helping the quiet, heralded point guard behind the scenes.
Where have the years gone?
Lunt arrived at FSU in 1983 after receiving his bachelor’s degree in athletic training from the University of Miami. He worked with the Seminole football team while he earned his master’s degree in sports psychology. Lunt returned to FSU fulltime in July 1986 after stops in the USFL and at Louisville and started to work with men’s basketball in 1988.
Waves of players have passed through FSU during Lunt’s tenure, and many continue to reach out to him when they return to visit.
“There’s no question I spent more time in my six years with Sam than any person at FSU, and that includes roommates, assistant coaches, and any support staff there while I was around,” said Andrew Wilson, the first player in ACC history to play at least one game in six different seasons (2001-2006) due to injuries that resulted in two medical hardship years.
Wilson, an assistant basketball coach at Georgia Southern, remains appreciative of Lunt’s unbridled encouragement during his Seminole career that saw Wilson play in a school-record 129 games.
“Sam had to be so tired of me because he had a full team to worry about,” Wilson said and laughed.
“He plays such an important role because there’s a lot more than the physical standpoint of just getting guys better and back on the court. There’s a mental aspect involved in the process that can wear on you.”
When New Jersey product Terrell Baker arrived at FSU following two junior college stops in Texas and Vermont in 1997, he was still recovering from reconstructive knee surgery. Lunt worked closely with Baker to strengthen his knee and confidence.
That one-on-one process was built on trust. A healthy Baker played in 61 games and averaged nearly 14 points per game at FSU.
“He’s kind of like your doctor’s babysitter,” said Baker, who remained in Tallahassee and works for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet.
”When Sam tells you something, it comes from his heart. It’s not like do this, do that, do this. It’s not frantic and he doesn’t talk down to you. He explains what he wants and expects. It’s loving, but in a big brother kind of way.”
Baker said Lunt’s decision to retire is a “sad day” for FSU basketball and athletics, pointing to Lunt’s experience, professional manner and connections.
Life is about timing. Lunt, married with three children, feels good about his decision to retire this summer. He has embraced personal and professional growth during his time at FSU.
And plenty of basketball remains. March Madness is around the corner, baby.
Hamilton and the 23-7 Seminoles are on the verge of securing their first NCAA Tournament berth since the 2011-12 season.
Lunt will be recognized Saturday against his alma mater during the game’s first television timeout.
His 30-plus years of service will be honored over those three minutes, with Ward traveling from Pensacola and making a special presentation.
Here’s hoping the crowd responds with a rousing ovation for Sam.
And, when the time comes to step away, Lunt looks forward to taking an active role with Game Ready, a company that offers active compression and cold therapy systems for injury recovery.
He also looks forward to focusing on his wife Agnes and their three teenage children, Ryan, a sophomore at FSU, and 16-year-old twins, Sean and Erin.
The timing is right.
“I have had a great ride, no regrets,” Lunt said.
“I have done this my whole life but it’s not who I am. I have done everything in my power to get players healthy and back on the field. But my legacy is going to be determined by how successful my children are. I am looking forward to spending more time with my family.”