College Sports

Linebacker Darnell Sankey is Sacramento State’s one-handed wonder

Video: Darnell Sankey belongs to a special club at Sacramento State

Sacramento State senior linebacker Darnell Sankey ranks third nationally in tackles despite playing with a fractured bone in his hand. Sankey talks about his season and playing injured on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015.
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Sacramento State senior linebacker Darnell Sankey ranks third nationally in tackles despite playing with a fractured bone in his hand. Sankey talks about his season and playing injured on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015.

Sacramento State senior linebacker Darnell Sankey is third nationally in tackles in the Football Championship Subdivision, and he’s done it playing almost one-handed.

“It’s just a testament to his heart, the competitive warrior that’s inside of him,” Hornets coach Jody Sears said. “You probably could tape it behind his back, and he’d still be out there making plays.”

Sankey, 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, fractured the scaphoid bone in his right wrist during spring ball. He had surgery in May, but the bone didn’t heal properly, so he had a bone graft and another surgery in July. He’s played the entire season with a cast on his hand and his wrist wrapped in foam rubber and tape. He calls it “The Club.”

He’s been our rock. He’s been our leader. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s the first one here every morning.

Sac State coach Jody Sears on linebacker Darnell Sankey

Although Sankey thinks he might have been able to do more with two good hands for the struggling Hornets (2-8, 1-6 Big Sky Conference), he isn’t complaining.

“I could say it has had an impact and make excuses,” Sankey said. “But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. Nobody cares that I have a cast on. I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to help my team. That’s the mentality I went into the season with.”

Entering Saturday’s 62nd Causeway Classic against rival UC Davis (1-9, 1-6), Sankey has 136 tackles in 10 games. He trails only Norfolk State linebacker Deon King (149) and Missouri State linebacker Dylan Cole (138) in the FCS.

Sankey’s 136 tackles tie Rob Patton for second on the Hornets’ all-time season list. With a strong game against the Aggies, he could challenge Ryan Wickman’s record of 154. He also can rise to No. 2 on Sac State’s career tackles list. Sankey has 333, Cyrus Mulitolo has 336, and Sankey’s former teammate, Todd Davis, a linebacker for the Denver Broncos, has 351. Wickman is the Hornets’ career leader with 435.

Sankey set Sac State’s game record with 27 tackles at Weber State on Sept. 19, topping Wickman’s 22 against Eastern Washington in 1997. And Sankey has had 10 or more tackles in 16 games.

“He’s been our rock,” Sears said. “He’s been our leader. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s the first one here every morning.”

136 Darnell Sankey’s tackle total this season, third in the nation in the FCS

Sankey has lived up to his preseason accolades. He was one of four linebackers on the STATS FCS Preseason All-America team and one of 22 players named to the FCS Defensive Player of the Year watch list. And he has been scouted by several NFL teams.

This season, Sankey has nine tackles for losses, 3 1/2 sacks, five pass breakups and one forced fumble. He has yet to intercept a pass, and he’d like nothing better than to do so against the Aggies.

“That’s a goal,” Sankey said. “But the bigger goal is to get the victory against Davis, not only for us but for our fans and alumni. Obviously, the season hasn’t gone according to plan, but this has been the tightest group of teammates I’ve been a part of throughout my life.”

Win or lose Saturday, Sankey said he will relish the memories of his last college game. He agrees it’s been quite a journey.

A basketball player growing up, Sankey didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school. Even through he led the Central Coast Section in tackles with 155 as a senior at Branham High School in San Jose, he went unnoticed by college recruiters. He already was working out with the De Anza College team when he received a late scholarship offer from then-Sac State coach Marshall Sperbeck.

I could say it has had an impact and make excuses. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. Nobody cares that I have a cast on. I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to help my team. That’s the mentality I went into the season with.

Sacramento State linebacker Darnell Sankey

“It’s kind of surreal,” Sankey said. “It’s been a great journey. From not being recruited, to getting a late offer, to getting an opportunity to have an amazing career here at Sac State to possibly getting the chance to play at the next level, I’m thankful for it all.”

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP

Causeway Classic

  • What: 62nd annual football game between Sacramento State and UC Davis
  • When: Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
  • Where: Hornet Stadium
  • TV: CSNBA
  • Radio: 105.5, 90.3
  • Series: UC Davis leads 43-19 (including playoff meeting in 1988)
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