Darnell Sankey pursuing NFL career

Jeremiah Martinez

Before accepting his only Division I scholarship offer from Sacramento State in 2012, linebacker Darnell Sankey wasn’t highly recruited in high school. Four years later, he faces adversity again, as he’ll be pursuing a career in the NFL as a small-school prospect, and he will begin the pre-draft process with the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Carson, California, on Jan. 26, 2016.

The college all-star game is the top priority for Sankey, who will have a chance to showcase his skills to several NFL scouts.

“I got an official email, and they asked me if I wanted to participate and I obviously said yes,” Sankey said.

As a small-school prospect, Sankey needs to have an impressive week of practice in Southern California to impress NFL scouts before the collegiate all-star game to improve his chances of being drafted to the league in late April.

“Well obviously when I get to this all-star game, I’m sure a lot of guys are going to look down on me because I’m from a small school like every other small-school guy there,” Sankey said. “But I’m just going to get out there and [I’m] going to do what I got to do, you know, and command the troops especially as a linebacker and just force respect.”

Sankey put on several tremendous performances in his senior season at Sac State, including breaking a single-game record in tackles against Weber State on Sept. 19, recording 27. He was three shy of tying the Football Championship Subdivision record of 30 tackles in a game.

In 2015, he posted 153 tackles and was one shy of tying the program’s single-season record of 154.

Sac State linebacker coach Tyler Almond, who has been on the staff since 2011, said Sankey is a competitor who doesn’t pay attention to stats.

“I think that just a tribute to whom he is as a person,” Almond said. “After tough losses, I don’t think he’s too caught up in the stats. He just wants to win, he wants to compete.”

Even though he played his last game as a Hornet, Sankey said it’s surreal he won’t be suiting up to play at Hornet Stadium again.

“I don’t think it’s hit me yet that I’m done as a Hornet,” Sankey said. “It’s on to the next chapter.”

Recruited as a linebacker, Sankey moved to defensive end going into his sophomore season in 2013 due to the lack of depth at the position after John Bloomfield died in a coma 2012.

When Todd Davis, who currently plays for the Denver Broncos, left, Sankey was moved back to linebacker going into his junior year because of a lack of depth and his experience at the position.

Sankey said the move back to linebacker benefited him.

“D-ends in the league are 6’5″ and 280 [pounds]; size doesn’t matter, but I think I’m better sized for linebacker,” he said. “I play better as a linebacker, I played my whole career as a linebacker, but at the same time if I go into the league and they need me at [a] 3-4 [scheme] at outside linebacker or D-end, then I’ll do whatever I have to do to make that roster.”

Sankey has played linebacker since he put on pads for the first time during his junior year at Branham High School in San Jose, California. Growing up in a basketball family, he was reluctant to play football for his first two years in high school until his former linebacker coach and defensive coordinator at Branham, Marcus Reese, persuaded him to play. Reese had stints in the NFL with the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers.

Sankey’s reasoning for not playing football in his first two years of high school was due to the increase risk of getting injured.

“I just didn’t want to get injured really,” he said. “My junior year, I was like ‘You know what I’m just going to go for it, if I get injured, I get injured and if I don’t then I’ll be fine.’ God has blessed me and [has] watched over me.”

When he made the transition from basketball to football, Sankey knew he made the right choice once he put on a pair of shoulder pads.

“As soon as I started playing, as soon as I started hitting, I was like ‘Oh yeah, football is where it’s at,’” he said. “I started getting looked at on top of that.”

Sankey said many college scouts didn’t want to take a chance on him because he only had two years of experience playing and Branham High wasn’t known as a “football school.” Branham went 1-9 and 3-7 in his junior and senior years, respectively.

As a senior at Branham, Sankey recorded a Central Coast Section-leading 155 tackles and had at least 12 in every game.

“They didn’t really care,” he said. “They were like ‘Well you play for Branham, a real low high school’ and they were like ‘A second year player?’ Nobody doesn’t (sic) want to take that risk I feel like; luckily Sac State gave me an opportunity.”

Sac State coach Jody Sears, who coached during Sankey’s final two years with the program, knew there was something special in the linebacker when he coached against him in 2013 during his tenure at Weber State.

“He made a believer out of me real quick as I was on the other sideline,” Sears said. “Then you get here [at Sac State] and you get to see what the kid is all about in terms of work ethic, determination, toughness, loyalty and the tremendous amount of heart the kid plays [with] is really special.”

Sankey said he will start training during the winter and will continue to do so throughout his final semester at Sac State in the spring. He is also on track to graduate from the university in May.