Former Sacramento State teammates Darnell Sankey and Lars Hanson call it a big opportunity and a nice way to stage a reunion.
The senior football standouts are in Carson this week to practice and prepare to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl on Saturday at the Stub Hub Center.
In its fifth year, the game gives seniors an opportunity to showcase their talents in front of nearly 200 NFL scouts, player personnel staff members and head coaches. Players will receive instructions, go through drills and will be interviewed by NFL team representatives.
The week will have the feeling of going through a job interview. The real fun will come in the nationally televised game on ESPN2 with those coaching the teams an NFL who’s who of former players and coaches.
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Former NFL head coaches Mike Holmgren and Mike Martz head the respective American and National teams. Assistants include former NFL stars Andre Reed, Darrell Green, Nolan Cromwell and Priest Holmes.
While many of the 113 players hail from high-profile Football Bowl Subdivision programs, a number of players from lower-tier schools also will be represented. Sankey and Hanson, who are set to play for Martz’ Team National, are among six players from the Big Sky Conference.
It’s definitely a blessing, an honor to be in this game, especially being a small-school guy who wants to play at the next level. I’m definitely not going to take it for granted, and I’m ready to open some eyes.
Sacramento State linebacker Darnell Sankey
“It’s definitely a blessing, an honor to be in this game, especially being a small-school guy who wants to play at the next level,” said Sankey, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound linebacker. “I’m definitely not going to take it for granted, and I’m ready to open some eyes.”
Sankey comes into the game as one of Sac State’s most decorated players. The defensive end was the first consensus All-American in the school’s Division I-AA and Football Championship Subdivision history and could be the first Sac State player to be drafted by an NFL team since offensive tackle Marko Cavkawas taken in the sixth round by the New York Jets in 2004.
“I know there is interest but I have no clue if I’m going to be drafted or not – it’s crazy how it works,” Sankey said. “But I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make my dream of playing in the NFL come true.”
Sankey was second in the FCS and first in the Big Sky Conference with 153 tackles last season. He set a school record of 27 tackles against Weber State.
While Sankey gobbled up a slew of honors, Hanson flew largely under the radar for the 2-9 Hornets, though the offensive tackle was Big Sky honorable mention.
But his size – 6-foot-8, 305 pounds with room to grow – along with his athletic genes – he played basketball, water polo and swam in high school – earned him a chance to play in the game.
“I have no doubt that I have the ability to play football at the next level,” Hanson said. “So I think I can turn a few heads this coming week.”
Both have been working hard since the end of the season to be in their best shape.
I have no doubt that I have the ability to play football at the next level. So I think I can turn a few heads this coming week.
Sacramento State offensive tackle Lars Hanson
Hanson, who has graduated, is working out in Denver with Loren Landow, a well-known trainer of pro athletes. Hanson decided to go to Denver not just for the training expertise but also for the altitude.
“My first workouts were exhausting,” Hanson said “But I feel myself getting bigger, stronger and faster. My conditioning has been taken to whole other level.”
Sankey, who expects to graduate in May, has stayed in Sacramento and works out almost daily at Game Fit, a Sacramento-area gym, with a like-minded group of college football workaholics.
“It’s definitely paying off,” Sankey said. “I feel I’m in the best shape of my life.”
While in Carson, Sankey says, he’s eager for coaching insights he’s getting. Former Pro Bowl linebacker Michael Merriweather, now athletic director at Vacaville Christian High School, will be Sankey’s linebackers coach.
“I am going to soak up everything I can,” Sankey said. “There is always something to learn and these coaches are a great source.”
Hanson may say hello to Duke wide receiver Max McCaffrey, older brother of Stanford star and Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey.
Hanson, who grew up in Bermuda Dunes, said he is a huge fan of their father, Ed McCaffrey, a former NFL wide receiver.
“He was my childhood idol growing up,” Hanson said. “Back then I was thinking I was going to be a wide receiver or a tight end, and I loved the way he played.”
The former roommates will pull for each other, not just for this game but also when the NFL Pro Day takes place in March at Sac State and whatever waits beyond.
“I’m so happy for Lars, he’s a big dude and great man,” Sankey said. “Once the scouts see him they’ll be impressed. We definitely have learned a lot from each other.”
Hanson said Sankey’s work ethic and intensity has rubbed off on him.
“Darnell is a hell of a player,” Hanson said. “He’s super tough and always plays with a great heart.”
What: NFLPA Collegiate Bowl
Where: StubHub Center, Carson
Notable: In the week leading up to the game, draft-eligible players practice and are introduced to the business of the NFL. The game is hosted by the NFL Players Association.