There may not be a player who better encapsulates the drama that unfolded with Nebraska football in the early 2000s than kicker Sandro DeAngelis.
In his five years as a Husker, DeAngelis went through as many ups and downs as any of his teammates, as he won and lost the starting placekicking job six different times during his career.
However, while both Nebraska and DeAngelis went through more than their share of hard times between 2000-04, both have been able to regroup and get back on their respective right tracks.
HuskersIllustrated.com caught up with the talented and eccentric Husker kicker in our final edition of "Where Are They Now?" for the summer.
You had a pretty interesting career at Nebraska, to say the least. Can you just talk about your time here and what exactly happened?
"I had a very difficult career at Nebraska; a lot of ups and a lot of downs. I never quiet found my stride there, but the lessons I learned definitely helped me and served me well as a pro. In 2003, I honestly thought I'd never play football again when I was benched for the second time in my career. I never thought I'd play football again. The CFL Draft came and went and nobody drafted me.
"Then Coach (Frank) Solich got fired and I was lucky enough to win my job back under Coach (Bill) Callahan, and it was just amazing how in just a few short years I became the CFL's all-time most accurate kicker, from 2003 thinking I'd never play and then kind of reaching the pinnacle and winning the Grey Cup (in 2008). All of these amazing things have happened to me in such a short time, and I truly thank my lucky stars every day that I'm still playing ball, because it didn't look too good in '03.
"I'm just very blessed and fortunate that I've had this opportunity, and I'm just going to enjoy it. But like I said, playing at Nebraska really prepared me for the pressures and the life of pro ball, because the expectations at Nebraska are so, so high that, dare I even say, it was almost worse than playing pro ball. The pressure to win at Nebraska is almost worse than the pressure of pro ball."
Would you say that pressure to perform at Nebraska was almost a little overwhelming for you at the time?
"Overwhelming is a pretty good word. You sit back and you reflect, and you've got 18-22 year old kids, and you go to Nebraska and you expect to win national championships and you expect pressure. But sometimes I don't think you really know what you're getting into until you see it. That's not to say that that's a bad thing, I think it's a good thing. I think those expectations are the reason you go to Nebraska, to meet those expectations.
"But I think that we just went through a spell there where we were so good for so long that maybe we got spoiled and forgot that kids are going to make mistakes. I think we set a really dangerous precedent when Coach Solich got fired after a 9-3 season. Like I said, I just think that little era for Nebraska football just kind of got caught up in a really, really tough time, and there were a lot of really great players who had similar experiences to me who would go out there and maybe have a bad game and then were benched instantly instead of letting people feel their way through it. That definitely happened to Coach as well.
"It was just a really interesting and unique time for Nebraska football, and like I said, it really taught me a lot of very valuable lessons, and without those lessons I wouldn't be nearly as successful as I am now because I went through all that tough stuff at Nebraska and all the horrible years, so to speak, for me personally, that now I feel like I can take on anything."
|Where are they now? |
|Player: Sandro DeAngelis, 2000-04 |
Current city: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Family: Wife: Cassie. Son: Max (15 months), expecting another son in October.
Current profession: After five years with the Canadian Football League's Calgary Stampeders, DeAngelis's contract expired and he became a free agent following the end of last season. He tried out for some NFL teams, but eventually ended up back in the CFL with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, which are just north of his native Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Professional career: DeAngelis went undrafted after his senior season at Nebraska in 2004-05, but he was able to sign with Calgary as a free agent for the '05 season. For the next five seasons, he would go on to become the most accurate kicker in CFL history, leading the league in several other kicking categories at different points during his career. The pique of his career came in 2008, when the Stampede won the Grey Cup with the help of five DeAngelis field goals, including two of longer than 50 yards in the final minute to seal the victory. He was awarded the Dick Suderman Trophy, given to the game's Most Outstanding Canadian, for his performance.
NU career accomplishments: DeAngelis's time at Nebraska was the definition of a rollercoaster career. After starting four of the first five games of his redshirt freshman season in 2001, he eventually lost his starting job to Josh Brown midway though the season. He then didn't play at all his sophomore season, as a broken foot kept him on the sidelines for good after being unable to beat out Brown through the earlier portion of the season. As a junior in '03, DeAngelis once again took over as the starting kicker and held the spot for the first two games. However, he was eventually surpassed by freshman David Dyches for the rest of the year. Finally, DeAngelis won the job for good in '03 when Bill Callahan took over and made him the starter for nearly the entire season. He finished his senior year 33-of-34 on extra points and 4-of-9 on field goals.
So what do you think when you look back on your time at Nebraska now that you've had a few years to reflect on the whole situation?
"The best way to look at it is this way: Nebraska was the best five years of my life, but also the worst five years of my life. When I say worst five years, I mean athletically, just because things didn't turn out the way I would have liked them to turn out. I wanted to go to the NFL. I wanted to be first-team All-Big 12 and first-team All-American and all those good things.
"It didn't happen for me, but with that being said, the lessons I learned, the people I met and the experiences that I had there were just incredible, and I wouldn't trade them in for anything. I'm so proud to say that I'm a Husker and so proud to that I went to that school, and there's nothing I would change. In some sick, demented way, I'm really glad I went though all those tough times.
"They truly made me a better person. Now that I'm a dad, I think it's going to make me a better father, and it's going to make me a better husband. So I'm very pleased that these things happened to me, but at the same time wish they could have gone a little smoother on the field. Off the field, though, it was just an incredible five years for me."
Do you have any moments that you look back on fondly from your time as a Husker?
"Absolutely. My favorite moment ever was starting against Notre Dame in a nationally televised game with two storied programs going at it. Here I am, a redshirt freshman starting and Brent Musburger comes up to me before the game and is chatting with me. That was a truly amazing moment.
"Then maybe my first start my senior year. That was a lot of fun because I had been benched previously in my freshman year and then again in my junior year, and then to kind of just keep battling and battling and get my job back my senior year, I was very, very thankful for it. Those are days that I will never forget because I can sit back and reflect on all the hard work and all the tough times that I had to go through to get back my starting job. It was a lot of fun for me to get that monkey off my back, so to speak."
You look at Nebraska now, and the kicker is actually one of the most popular players on the team. From what you've seen of Alex Henery, what is it about him that makes him so good?
"From what I've seen, he's truly sensational. We've had some really good kickers out of the bunch - I don't know what his leg strength is like - but clearly he's the best out of the bunch. With Kris Brown and Josh Brown and myself, I can see that he's miles ahead of where we were.
"I don't know what his leg strength is like necessarily because they've had Adi (Kunalic) doing the kickoffs, but he's an extremely talented young man. He seems to carry himself with such confidence and such grace, that it's really amazing. I think he has a very bright future, and I hope we can see him playing on Sundays, because he's truly tremendous."
How about the team as a whole? What has been your evaluation of what Bo Pelini has been able to do with the program the past two years?
"I think they have one of the best guys in the country for the job. I had the pleasure of working with Coach (Pelini) for a year, and I'll tell you what, Bo Pelini is a special man. He's got that perfect combination of being a strict disciplinarian yet a guy who I think a lot of college kids can really relate to. You can go into his office and talk to him about maybe life outside of football and pressures that they feel and what not. I really feel that he was a tremendous hire, and I'm really happy to see the program heading in the direction it's going in because I go to see Bo first hand, and I think he's amazing."
The last time I think I saw you on national television was after you guys won the 2008 Grey Cup, when you nailed those two field goals at the end and then celebrated with one of the better dance moves I've seen on a football field. I'm pretty sure ESPN ran that dance clip for about a week straight.
"(Laughs) Yeah, what had happened was I hit a 52-yarder with a minute left to tie the game and then a 53-yarder to tie the game with five seconds left. The reason I did the dance was our team was known for its touchdown celebrations. We used to have these guys doing these crazy choreographed touchdown celebrations, because in the CFL there are no penalties for it.
"So it was kind of like I was mocking but having fun at the same time, saying hey, the kicker can do stuff too. I'm one of those guys where I don't take myself too seriously. Life's too short, and you just play football because it's fun. I just wanted to do that just to be a funny guy. It was definitely an amazing moment in my life. I think it also made (ESPN's) Pardon The Interruption, and I got so many calls from old teammates saying I looked like a crazy little Italian guy out there. That was a lot of fun that day."
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