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Bucs' Danny Lansanah takes long road back to NFL

TAMPA — Danny Lansanah was done.

He had briefly lived his dream of playing in the NFL, until the Packers let him go for the second time and the Dolphins cut him, too.

After another failed tryout, Lansanah was flying home to Harrisburg, Pa., for good. When he landed, he planned to call the Lions back and say he wasn't interested in their workout. He was tired of getting turned down. He was ready to put his college degree to use.

"I wanted to give up," the Bucs linebacker said.

There was one problem: His dad wouldn't let him.

•••

When Lansanah was a kid, he pointed to the football players on TV and told his dad, Keith Avery, that's what he wanted to do when he grew up.

When he was 9, a prophet came to Avery's church. She pulled Lansanah from the congregation and shared her vision: God tucked a football in one of his arms and a Bible in the other.

"That's when I took it more seriously," said Avery, the pastor of Victory Outreach Fellowship Church in Harrisburg.

And that's when Avery promised to do everything he could to help his son make it to the NFL. Avery kept him out of trouble in a rough neighborhood and made him focus on schoolwork so his grades would be good enough for college.

Lansanah rose from a two-star high school recruit to an All-Big East linebacker at Connecticut. He made the Packers' practice squad as an undrafted rookie in 2008 and made two special-teams tackles in five games.

A year later, he was cut by Green Bay. Then he lost his spot after one month on Miami's practice squad. Lansanah was devastated about being out of a job again.

"I had never seen him like that," Avery said.

But Avery had made a promise. So he drove to the Harrisburg International Airport to tell his beaten-down son that he wouldn't let him come home until he finished his long-shot audition with the Lions.

"My job is to make sure you get back on this plane," Avery told him. "You said this is what you wanted to do. Just because you got a 'no' doesn't mean your 'yes' isn't out there."

Lansanah picked up his bag and took the next plane to Detroit, where the Lions signed him to the practice squad.

A month later, Lansanah was cut again.

•••

Desperate for another chance to live his dream, Lansanah spent three seasons in the now-defunct United Football League to give NFL teams new film to evaluate.

He got a day job, using his sociology degree to counsel children at Alternative Rehabilitation Communities, a Harrisburg facility for children with criminal backgrounds.

"I like to show them you can get out of the bad situation that you're in, no matter what," Lansanah said.

He kept trying to do that, too.

He worked with personal trainer Ryan Mackes in the mornings before work, then used his lunch break to train again. He lost almost 15 pounds.

Lansanah was busy counseling a child in late 2012 when his agent kept calling. Finally, Lansanah saw a text message: "Well I'll tell the Jets that you don't want to come for a workout."

Lansanah ran out of the building and figured out the details. He spent most of last season on New York's practice squad before the Bucs signed him in December.

When he played in the Bucs' 2013 finale, he became the 12th player since 1998 with at least five years between NFL appearances, the Elias Sports Bureau says.

"It was overwhelming, just walking in there and getting ready for that game, thinking back to what I've been through," Lansanah said. "Dang, I'm back."

Eight months later, the 28-year-old is still here.

To fit coach Lovie Smith's system, he dropped another 13 pounds last offseason, putting his 6-foot-1 frame closer to 230 than the 260 he carried in Green Bay. He entered Friday night's preseason opener at Jacksonville as the No. 2 weakside linebacker and led the Bucs with four tackles.

Though he has caught Smith's attention with his hard hits and interceptions, Lansanah is one of six players vying for two or three roster spots.

"It's a battle out there," Smith said.

After seven years of mostly losing, Lansanah is ready to win again.

Bucs' Danny Lansanah takes long road back to NFL 08/10/14 [Last modified: Sunday, August 10, 2014 10:06pm]
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