Canadian Football League

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Canadian Football League kicker living his dream

Jay SkurskiNiagara Gazette
All his life, Sandro DeAngelis wanted nothing more than to be a football player.As a child growing up in Niagara Falls, Ontario, he would play football in the yard with his two older brothers, Steve and Dan.“They were the guys that pushed me,” DeAngelis said.The fact that his brothers were 15 and 16 years older than him and playing high school football when Sandro was born meant he got used to playing against bigger competition at a young age.Knee problems would eventually end Steve’s playing career, while Dan suited up at the collegiate level for Buffalo State. The older DeAngelis brothers’ main goal, however, was to push Sandro. The long days of playing in the yard would eventually pay off.After a high school career at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute in which he earned Connolly Cup honors as Western New York’s best player, DeAngelis went on to have a tumultuous four-year career with the Nebraska Cornhuskers.“They were the best and worst years of my life,” he said of his time spent in the Midwest.DeAngelis recently completed his first year as place kicker for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. He finished second in the league in scoring as a rookie, connecting for 179 points.While his career as a professional is off to a good start, the road to get there was certainly a bumpy one.High schoolDeAngelis made the 40-minute daily commute from the Canadian side of the falls. Although the DeAngelis family isn’t wealthy, they found a way to pay Sandro’s $6,500 annual tuition in order to facilitate his dream of playing football.“That first year was a huge struggle, both physically and financially,” he said. “If it weren’t for my family, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”DeAngelis was a star for the Marauders. Playing running back, linebacker and place kicker, he was a first team all-state selection in 1998 as a junior. That same year, he became the first Marauder to win the Connolly Cup.“He was all over the field,” St. Joe’s athletic director Joe Wolf recalled. “He was a legitimate superstar here.”Former teammate and current St. Joe’s assistant coach Mark Campanella said beside being a tremendous athlete, DeAngelis was a nicer person.“He’d score a game-winning touchdown and be more worried about thanking the blockers,” Campanella said.DeAngelis’ humble personality shouldn’t be taken as weakness, however.Campanella said DeAngelis was leg-pressing 500 pounds in high school. At 6-foot-3, Campanella was leg-pressing about 450 pounds. DeAngelis is only 5-foot-8.“He had me beat,” Campanella joked. “His leg strength was just amazing.”DeAngelis was also clutch under pressure. Campanella recalled a late October game against arch-rival Bishop Timon/St. Jude. The Tigers had scored a touchdown in overtime, but went for two instead of attempting an extra point because of the wind. The try failed and on the next possession St. Joe’s scored. DeAngelis nailed the extra point, securing the victory and keeping intact the Marauders’ perfect season. St. Joe’s would go on to finish 10-0 on the year.“That was the best high school game I’ve ever been a part of,” Campanella said.An ankle injury hobbled DeAngelis much of his senior year, but he had proved enough during his career to earn a scholarship to the University of Nebraska.CollegeWearing the red and white of the Cornhuskers was a dream come true for DeAngelis.“That was my Graceland, even as a little kid,” he said.When he arrived in Lincoln, however, DeAngelis realized how much faster the game had become.After running over defenses in Western New York, DeAngelis became a kicker exclusively. At first, he was disappointed.“To be a fullback, you had to be 250 pounds and to be an I-back you had to have 4.4 speed,” he said. “And I didn’t have any of those.”DeAngelis decided if he were to have a future in the game, kicking would be his meal ticket.“I realized that if I ever wanted to make any money in this game, that would be the way to do it,” he said. “I sort of enjoy the pressure and adversity of kicking anyway.”DeAngelis red-shirted in 2000. As a freshman in 2001, he started four of the first five games, hitting 2-of-3 field goals and 15-of-16 PATs.Being on the field for a game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Week 3 drove home the fact DeAngelis was playing a key role for one of the most storied college football programs in the nation.“It’s an experience I’ll always hold dear to my heart,” he said.The Cornhuskers were cruising along in 2001 until the last week of the regular season, when the Colorado Buffaloes pulled off a shocking 62-36 upset. Still, Nebraska reached the national title game, facing the Miami Hurricanes in the Rose Bowl.Nebraska was defeated in that game as well, beginning a downward slide for both DeAngelis and the program.DeAngelis missed his sophomore season in 2002 with a stress fracture in his left foot. The following year, he started the first two games — but in the third week against Utah State, DeAngelis missed an extra point in the first quarter. He was benched, and would only see the field four more times all year.He disagreed with coach Frank Solich’s decision.“I just thought it was a knee-jerk reaction,” he said.Solich was dismissed prior to the 2004 season, replaced by former Oakland Raiders coach Bill Callahan.Though the Cornhuskers struggled on the field, finishing with a 5-6 record, DeAngelis was able to resurrect his career. He handled kickoff duties and got a look from Calgary.After graduating May 7, he was in Stampeders’ training camp by May 23.Seeing Nebraska struggle to a 6-4 record has pained him.“It kills me,” he said. “But I know Coach Callahan. He’s one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. He’ll get it turned around.”Going proDuring his first year in the CFL, DeAngelis put together one of the best seasons ever by a rookie kicker. He started the preseason by connecting on his first six field goal attempts. The momentum carried over to the regular season, as DeAngelis hit his first 11 field goals.His performance in Week 8, a 40-37 victory over the Montreal Alouettes in which DeAngelis kicked the game-winning field goal, earned him CFL Special Teams Player of the Week honors. He kicked six field goals during a 29-21 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Week 16, in the process earning Player of the Week honors for a second time. The win guaranteed the Stampeders a spot in the playoffs. It was there that Calgary would falter, though. The Stampeders turned the ball over six times in losing to the Edmonton Eskimos 33-26, ending their season Nov. 13.“It was a bitter, bitter loss,” DeAngelis said. “But it just makes me hungrier. My goal next year is to win a Grey Cup.”DeAngelis finished the year 40 for 49 on field goal attempts, helping to rack up 179 points, good for second in the CFL. He was recently named a CFL West All-Star — the only unanimous selection in the league.Although he plays in Calgary, DeAngelis’ family was able to see him play some this year. The Stampeders had road games in Hamilton and Toronto — relatively short commutes from Niagara Falls.“It’s tough being away from family and friends,” he said. “But my family supports me, they know I’m living my dream.”The futureDeAngelis makes his off-season home in Lincoln. He has a busy winter planned — he and his fiancé, Cassi, are planning to wed. “I met her at school, so this will always be a special place for me,” he said.With a year remaining on his contract with Calgary, DeAngelis will be back with the Stampeders come May. Like most CFLers, the dream of playing in the National Football League remains.“Without a doubt, the NFL is a goal, but I’m going to work hard this off-season to try and help Calgary make it back to the playoffs,” he said. “Once you get a taste, you want more.”When Campanella was promoted to assistant on the varsity squad, DeAngelis was one of the first to call and congratulate him.“Here he is making a good living kicking in the CFL, and he’s worried about how I’m doing,” Campanella said. “That’s just the type of guy he is.”Though his playing career is far from over, DeAngelis has considered a coaching future.“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about walking the sidelines at St. Joe’s someday,” he said.


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