CORTLAND, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Danny Lansanah was counseling troubled teens when a text message buzzed on his phone.
Then came a few more, and a couple of calls. Lansanah’s agent was desperately trying to get in touch with his client last December.
“He was blowing my phone up, but I was at work,” the New York Jets linebacker recalled with a laugh after a recent training camp practice. “After like the fifth or sixth call, I’m like, ‘Man, it’s probably something important.'”
Ed Wasielewski tried reaching him through Twitter and Facebook, too, before Lansanah finally stepped away from his job at Alternative Rehabilitation Communities in Harrisburg, Pa., and called him back. The news stunned Lansanah: The Jets had seen him play in a United Football League game a few months earlier and wanted to bring him in for a tryout.
Two weeks later, the 27-year-old Lansanah signed with the Jets and was back in the NFL for the first time since the 2009 season.
“It was a good moment because all Danny was trying to get was one more opportunity,” Wasielewski said. “That’s why he was playing in the UFL and keeping himself in great shape and working hard. That’s what the Jets have given him. He took nothing for granted. This is his dream.”
Lansanah has had a solid training camp this summer, and New York’s preseason game Saturday night against Jacksonville will give him another chance to make the 53-man roster as a backup.
“I remember sitting in the hotel after they signed me, just staring at the wall and I was like, ‘Man, I need to make the best of this opportunity because it’s a second chance,'” Lansanah said. “A lot of people in this profession don’t get second chances, especially coming from where I came from.”
Lansanah is used to beating the odds. He grew up on the rough-and-tumble streets of Harrisburg, where he found a safe haven in sports, starring in basketball and football at Harrisburg High School. He parlayed his success into a scholarship and a standout football career at the University of Connecticut — he was a First-team All-Big East selection in 2007 — but went undrafted in 2008.
Lansanah signed with Green Bay as a free agent and spent that year with the Packers, first as a member of the practice squad before playing in five games and making the only two tackles — so far — of his NFL career. He was cut after training camp the next year, but hooked up with the practice squads of Miami and later Detroit. But by 2010, Lansanah was out of the NFL and uncertain if he’d ever be back.
“My whole life, I’ve always been an underdog,” Lansanah said. “I’ve always had to push through an obstacle to get to where I wanted to go, but once I got to Green Bay, I think I got kind of complacent, being a young guy seeing those kinds of checks at that age and not working as hard.
“After that last cut, though, I was thinking about life without football.”
Lansanah, who has a sociology degree from UConn, decided to work at A.R.C., an agency that helps kids from the ages of 14-19 who have drug and alcohol issues, anger management problems or troubles with the law. He is involved with counseling and acting as a mentor to boys who lacked role models.
“A lot of those guys know I played football, and they saw I was in the Madden (video) game, so I was kind of like a big brother to them,” Lansanah said. “I let them see that there’s something more to life than the streets.”
Lansanah, who married his high school sweetheart Sheena Crosson in May, has regularly held charity football and softball events to benefit the youth of Harrisburg.
“He’s a godsend,” said Mike Elby, director of operations at A.R.C. “The kids absolutely love him. For his age, to have the passion he has to work with young people, it’s phenomenal. In the time he’s around, you would never know what his status is because he comes to work and rolls his sleeves up and his whole mission is to make a difference. You can’t ask for anything better than that.”
Lansanah never closed the door on the NFL, though. He considered the Canadian Football League, and played for Hartford of the UFL in 2010 and then for the Las Vegas franchise during the 2011-12 seasons. The breakthrough came in a game last October when he had two interceptions — with a Jets scout watching.
“It’s just mind-boggling,” Lansanah said. “It’s been a long road. I’m just going to let the chips fall where they may because where I came from, the only way you can go is up from here.”
Lansanah had three tackles in the Jets’ preseason opener and played 32 snaps, fourth-most among linebackers behind just Nick Bellore, Ricky Sapp and Demario Davis.
“He’s a player that has shown he has some playmaking ability and I think that’s flashed at all of us at times,” Jets linebackers coach Brian VanGorder said. “That’s there, but we’re working on getting consistency on every play. He’s working hard at it and he’s an ascending player.”
That’s an interesting word choice for a linebacker who’ll be 28 later this month and had been out of the league for so long. But, VanGorder doesn’t consider Lansanah’s age when evaluating him.
“I still think of him as kind of a young player in the NFL, still in the learning process,” VanGorder said. “His career is still evolving, so I don’t look at that as a factor.”
Back home in Harrisburg, Lansanah has plenty of people rooting for him — and a job waiting whenever his football journey ends.
“I’m 1,000 percent behind him because he’s everything good about a young athlete,” Elby said. “When he’s home, he’s just a kid from the neighborhood who wants to help out. Just a phenomenal young man.”
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