From obscurity to national recognition.
That's how much life has changed for Sacramento State sophomore defensive end Darnell Sankey since his breakout game Saturday in the Hornets' 31-3 win at Weber State.
Sankey had 10 tackles, including 4 1/2 for 36 yards in losses, three sacks, and a forced fumble and fumble recovery on the same play.
On Monday, he was named the national Football Championship Subdivision Defensive Player of the Week and the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week. That's impressive recognition for someone who didn't put on shoulder pads for the first time until he was a high school junior four years ago, received only one scholarship offer last-minute at that and has started just three college games.
"To tell you the truth, I never even knew there was a national Player of the Week honor until (coach Marshall Sperbeck) told me," Sankey said. "I've enjoyed the five minutes of fame, but now it's time to move on to the next game."
Sankey (6-foot-3, 250 pounds) said it wasn't an individual honor, insisting he's just one player on a defense that held Weber State to 234 yards, recovered four fumbles and had four sacks as the Hornets won for the first time in nine tries against the Wildcats in Ogden, Utah.
"I was just trying to go out there and help our team get a win against a team we've never beaten there," Sankey said. "I couldn't have done nearly as (well) without my teammates."
Still, his teammates and coaches were impressed, though not necessarily surprised, even though Sankey shares playing time with junior Jaycee Totty.
"He's still developing and figuring this game out," Sperbeck said. "He has a bright future because he's relentless, strong and has good moves. He's just a great athlete."
Senior linebacker Todd Davis, who had a career-high 16 tackles last week, said Sankey plays at one speed.
"He's a great player for us," Davis said. "We could see it when he got here, even if the public didn't see it. Whether it's a game or practice, he's a person who can only go full speed."
Growing up, Sankey hoped to follow in the footsteps of his father, Erskine, who played basketball in high school and at San Jose City College. But football coaches at Branham High School in San Jose kept pestering him.
"At first I said no," he said. "My love was basketball, and I didn't want to get injured."
He finally decided to give the sport a try his junior year. Then 6-2 and 190 pounds, he became an impact player immediately, leading the team in tackles with 95. As a senior, he led the Central Coast Section with 155 tackles, including 14 for losses.
Sankey relished the speed, hitting and ferocity so much that basketball, in which he excelled as a scorer, rebounder and shot blocker, became his second love.
But Branham is a Division III school that went 4-16 during his two football seasons, so Sankey attracted little recruiting interest.
"I had been practicing during the summer at De Anza College (in Cupertino) and figured I was going to play JC," Sankey said.
But he got a call from Sac State assistant coach Tyler Almond in late July. "They wanted me to come and take an unofficial visit the next day," Sankey said.
But when Sperbeck made the offer the day Sankey toured the campus, he initially thought it might be a prank. "At first I didn't believe him because I was in shock. I asked, 'So am I on scholarship?' He said, 'Of course you are.'
"I was excited. It was always my dream to play Division I football."
Sankey played in all 11 games last year as a freshman, making 13 tackles, including a sack. His first two games, on special teams, were played at New Mexico State and Colorado.
"That first game, I was so nervous," he said. "It was a crazy experience playing in front of such a big crowd after playing at such a small school."
The Hornets struggled to start off this season, going 1-3, including a 55-0 loss at Arizona State and a disappointing 24-21 overtime loss at home to Southern Utah. But Sankey hopes last week's impressive win is a sign the Hornets are turning things around.
"I definitely noticed a feeling of unity on Saturday," Sankey said. "No one was saying, 'I did this, I did that.' It was, 'We did this, we did that.' I think our attitude is improving. We're definitely ready to win more games."
Sankey, now third on the team in tackles with 33, is ready to play more, too. He expects to be in the lineup for tonight's homecoming game against visiting Northern Colorado despite suffering bruised ribs against Weber State.
"I'm OK," he said. "I'm ready to go."
NORTHERN COLORADO (1-4, 0-1) AT SACRAMENTO STATE (2-3, 1-0)
When: 6:05 p.m.
Where: Hornet Stadium (21,195)
Bears at a glance: Northern Colorado has never beaten the Hornets, a big reason it is Sacramento State's homecoming opponent. The Bears have lost their last four games, including their Big Sky Conference opener 27-21 at home against Southern Utah last Saturday. But Hornets coach Marshall Sperbeck says the Bears have one of the conference's best receiving corps in Jace Davis (28 receptions, 309 yards, four touchdowns), Dimitri Stimphil (24, 441, three) and Will Jefferson (20, 243, one). "They're explosive and one of the top (trios) we've seen in the conference in a while," Sperbeck said. Senior quarterback Seth Lobato has passed for 828 yards and six touchdowns in three games, but he missed the last two games with a shoulder injury. If he is unable to play, Tim Tancik will get the call.
Hornets at a glance: Sacramento State turned a close game through most of the first half into a 31-3 rout last Saturday at Weber State for the Hornets' first win in nine tries in Ogden, Utah. Wide receiver DeAndre Carter had eight receptions for a career-high 148 yards and three touchdowns, and he's tied with Erik Lora of Eastern Illinois for the Football Championship Subdivision national lead with nine touchdown receptions. With senior Ezekiel Graham and redshirt freshman Demetrius Warren sidelined by injuries, sophomore De'Jon Coleman and junior Brandon Kellerman (Sierra College, Bella Vista High School) are expected to share running back duties.
Series: The Hornets lead 7-0, though five wins have been decided by nine points or fewer, including last season's 28-17 nonconference game at Hornet Stadium.
TODAY'S OTHER AREA GAMES
UC Davis: at Southern Utah, 12:05 p.m., 1140
Stanford: vs. Washington, 7:30 p.m., ESPN, 1050
Cal: vs. Washington State, 1 p.m., FS1, 810, 950
Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.