May 28, 2017

Sac State football players aim for NFL greatness

Sacramento State had three former Hornets—quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles, wide receiver DeAndre Carter of the New England Patriots and linebacker Todd Davis of the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos—in the National Football League last season.

This list could grow in 2016 as former Sac State offensive tackle Lars Hanson and wide receiver Nnamdi Agude begin their NFL quests with the Broncos and Arizona Cardinals, respectively.

Hanson and Agude enter the league as undrafted free agents after failing to hear their names selected during a hectic three-day period from April 28-30 known as the NFL Draft.

“It was pretty crazy. All week I had calls from a bunch of teams,” Hanson said. “Probably close to 15 teams that were calling me and I was getting interest from the Washington Redskins, the New York Giants, the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland … It was just going on and on and I was waiting because I didn’t know if I was going to be drafted or if I was going to be signed as a free agent.”

Relief eventually kicked in for Hanson as he received a phone call from the Broncos telling him the words that he’d dreamt of ever since he put on shoulder pads as a freshman in high school: “Hey Lars. Welcome to the team. You’re a Denver Bronco.”

Hanson, who ended his Sac State career starting 39 consecutive games at left tackle, not only earns a shot at making an NFL team, but is also provided with the opportunity to connect with some familiar faces.

“I’ve been a Denver fan ever since I could understand the game of football … I’m eating lunch across the table from John Elway, which is unreal. I got Todd Davis and I played with him at Sac State and he’s on the team here too so that’s good,” Hanson said. “My offensive line coach [Clancy Barone] is a Sacramento State graduate. The quarterbacks coach [Greg Knapp] played ball at Sac State so there’s a lot of Sac State guys over here on the Denver Broncos now.”

Agude, who amassed a total of 112 receptions for 1,712 yards and 11 touchdowns at Sac State, may be the lone Hornet in Arizona, but is equally as excited to take on the challenge after anxiously awaiting the results of the draft.

“That was a great feeling because the draft went through and I didn’t get any calls so I was kind of down … Sunday goes by, another day goes by and nothing happens,” Agude said. “Monday morning I get the call from Arizona. One of their guys told me to come out for a rookie tryout so it was exactly what I wanted to hear.”

The next step in the careers of Agude and Hanson were taken on May 13 as the two entered rookie minicamps which included two-a-day practices, position meetings and the task of learning playbooks the size of dictionaries.

“I was confident on the field regardless, but the playbook was really thick and we had to go through three installs in three days so pretty much what a playbook was to me at Sac I learned three of those in a day each,” Agude said. “You learn it and then you have to forget it because there’s a whole new playbook that carries on to another play. It’s crazy because they want you to go fast paced and you can’t second guess yourself. You have to know the playbook.”

Luckily for Agude and Hanson, their experiences at Sac State have prepared them for the challenges that the NFL will surely throw their way in these upcoming months.

“It was definitely a roller coaster. There were ups and downs. I believe that there were mistakes made along the way and there were also many triumphs along the way … I think that playing at Sacramento State I had to take full advantage of it,” Hanson said. “It wasn’t a big school, a PAC-12 school or SEC school. It was a Big Sky school in the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision).

Surprisingly, football wasn’t a sport that Agude and Hanson played at all during their childhoods.

Agude’s focus was solely on soccer until his best friend Ejiro Ederaine, who currently plays linebacker for the Washington Redskins, persuaded him to join the football team in high school. Hanson, who stands at 6-feet-8-inches tall and weighs 300 pounds, focused primarily on water polo as a young teenager because his size wouldn’t allow him to play football until high school.

“Do I play water polo which is something that I’m extremely good at and I’m going to be a starter as a freshman on the varsity team or do I play football which is something I’ve never played before?” Hanson said. “They’re both in the same season so I chose to give football a shot. I played football all four years in high school and Sacramento State was the only place that offered me a scholarship. I came to Sac State and that’s how I ended up here.”

Agude and Hanson will look to make up for lost time as they hope to begin long careers in the league and add their names to the list of successful Sac State football players in the NFL.

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