Gridiron flashback (2004): Karlos Dansby’s rookie training camp in the NFL

This feature on Arizona Cardinals rookie linebacker Karlos Dansby, an Auburn University alum, appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun in August 2004.

EAGER TO IMPROVE

By Ed Odeven

There are no guarantees in the National Football League. Jobs are always on the line. Rookies and seasoned veterans, even Pro Bowlers, must continuously prove themselves.

Karlos Dansby is a perfect example of this.

Selected by the Arizona Cardinals as the first pick of the second round in the 2004 NFL Draft, Dansby arrived in Tempe with terrific credentials: He was a Butkus Award semifinalist as a senior at Auburn; he collected 218 tackles in 36 collegiate games; and he was one of the SEC’s top linebackers after switching from strong safety to outside linebacker as a sophomore.

Even so, Cardinals head coach Dennis Green is not just going to give a starting job to Dansby. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound rookie begins his NFL career from the bottom — think of it as an entry-level job. For now, he’s a reserve linebacker, playing on the second-team unit behind strong-side starter Gerald Hayes. Dansby will also see time on the Cardinals’ special teams units.

“He’s very hungry,” Cardinals receiver Nathan Poole said of Dansby after Tuesday’s afternoon workout at the Skydome. “For a coach to say you’re going to get playing time, you are going to have to stay hungry, anyway, to stay on your Ps and Qs. … I know that when they give him a chance on defense he’s going to excel.”

Speaking with a perspective that’s refreshing yet confident, Dansby refuses to make any outlandish predictions for his career. Instead, he’s sticking to a blue-collar, grind-it-out approach.

“I’m just going to take it a step at a time,” said Dansby, a native of Birmingham, Ala. “If big plays come, they come. I’m just going to try to go out and handle my responsibilities and help the team win.”

To become a consummate defender in the NFL, coaches will tell you, younger players need to consistently soak up the knowledge and characteristics of their successful teammates and peers.

During a brief chat with reporters, one quickly realizes Dansby is eager to do this.

He said he has to “just come out and get better and pick up some of the traits from the older guys that have been in the league a while, some of the techniques they use.”

Ten days into training camp, Dansby is showcasing the hard-nosed tenacity and determination that made him a dominant football and hoops standout at Birmingham’s Woodlawn High School. A brief recap: As a senior wideout, he caught 51 passes for 857 yards and five TDs and made 81 tackles, six sacks, three interceptions and two fumbles at linebacker while receiving All-USA Today honorable mention status. On the hardwood, Dansby helped Woodlawn win the Class 6A state title in 2000.

So it’s only natural that teammates have noticed Dansby’s potential since Day 1.

“On special teams, he’s going to be a great player,” Poole said. “He’s explosive off the ball and he picks up things well. That’s only going to be a plus as the days go.”

The same could be said for the heated competition between Hayes, a second-year pro from the University of Pittsburgh, and Dansby. Both want to impress Coach Green and earn more playing time.

“It’s a good competition, man,” Dansby said.

“Gerald’s a great player. I’m bringing everything I’ve got to the table, he’s bringing everything he’s got to the table,” he continued. “So it’s making it real competitive. That’s what we do. We like to compete. That’s why we play this game.”

Asked if he could be a starter right now, Dansby said he’s confident he could get the job done. “Like I said, man, it’s a job on the line and I’m going to go out and fight every day to try to win it,” he added.

That’s precisely the attitude he needs to succeed in this league, according to defensive end Calvin Pace.

“You’ve just got to be upbeat and positive as a rookie,” Pace said.

“You are going to have your ups and you’re going to have your downs,” Pace continued. “But really, you’ve just got to try to be as consistent as you can. Your rookie year is really your stepping stone for your career.”

Dansby said he can improve in all facets of the game, citing improving on defending tight ends as a priority for the rest of training camp. He noted that tight ends have sometimes gotten the best of him on plays because they are using some “little moves” on him.

A quick learner, Dansby plans to improve his footwork, timing and positioning in the coming days.

“By the end of this camp, I guess it’ll be different,” he said.

Before camp began, Green had a favorable impression of Dansby, thanks to plenty of visual images of the ex-Auburn Tiger in action and assessments from the Cardinals’ numerous talent evaluators.

“He’s long, lean, can run, can make a lot of plays. He’s a very explosive football player. … I think special teams is where he’ll do well (in 2004),” the coach concluded.

If Dansby has any say in the matter, special teams will only be the start.

FEATURE FLASHBACK – ‘Sharing responsibility, sharing a commitment, sharing a goal really develops athletes’

This featured on then-Flagstaff High School cross-country coach Sharon Falor, who witnessed the collegiate success of Magic Johnson, Greg Kelser and Kirk Gibson while working at Michigan State, appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Jan. 23, 2002.

GLORIOUS RUN

By Ed Odeven

Sharon Falor has been involved with athletics for her entire life. Still, the satisfaction she’s received in the past two autumns guiding the Flagstaff High girls cross country team to back-to-back Class 4A state championships is far and away No. 1 on her list of sporting memories.

“In my senior year in high school, I scored 52 points in a (basketball) game and it didn’t come close to the feeling of winning a team state championship,” Falor said. “It didn’t even come close. It’s not even comparable.”

Experiencing those thrills of victory held an even greater sentiment for Falor while seeing her daughter Annie, an FHS sophomore, continue to shine as one of the state’s finest runners.

“From the tears of disappointment to the tears of exhilaration, it’s been the most enjoyable moments that I’ve ever experienced,” said Falor, 46, describing her role as mother/coach as “a very trying endeavor.”

The Lady Eagles’ accomplishments have not gone unnoticed.

“The community is very excited about it,” Flagstaff athletic director Tony Cullen said.

In addition, Falor has earned a reputation as a meticulous, organized leader.

“You look at her background and the level of coaching that she brings, she’s going to get a lot out of those kids,” Cullen said.

“…There are always a few parents at the beginning of the year that are a little shocked how much she demands out of (the kids), but when it comes to the end of the season they understand why and thank her for it.”

And what is Falor’s reward? Along with experiencing the ups and downs of high school athletics through her athletes, she has gained recognition from her peers as well. Falor has been named Grand Canyon Region coach of the year the last two years, and she was the Class 4A coach of the year in 2001.

A FATHER’S INFLUENCE

Falor was raised in Harbor Springs, Mich. Growing up, she had five brothers and a sister. Her father James loved baseball and football, but none of her male siblings shared their father’s passion.

Falor, however, was always fond of athletics.

“Unfortunately, there were five boys in my family and none of them like sports,” she recalled, “and then along came me who loved everything about it. So my dad devoted a lot of time trying to develop that athletic ability.

“That was what made me motivated, inspired me. I just loved every thing about it.”

In high school, she participated on the softball, basketball, skiing and track and field teams. After graduation in 1974, Falor attended Alma College, a four-year private school near Lansing, Mich. on an athletic scholarship — becoming the first person in her family to ever go to college. While there, she was on the field hockey, basketball, track and field teams and was later the first woman inducted into the college’s Sports Hall of Fame.

LEARNING TO LEAD

Falor graduated from college in 1978 and took her first coaching job at Michigan State. Dr. Nell Jackson hired her to serve as an assistant coach in the women’s athletic department, primarily with the field hockey team.

Greg Kelser and a fellow named Magic Johnson, who led MSU to the 1979 NCAA men’s basketball championship, made a lasting impression on Falor.

“I can remember going to the field house and there were so many people there just watching practice,” Falor recalled. “You would think there was a game going on. They were friendly. They were real down to earth. They enjoyed the interaction with their peers, students, little kids who came … It was just a learning experience. I would go and just sit in the field house and watch how (coach Jud) Heathcote ran his practices, how Johnson and Kelser handled their roles. They were legends already. It was terrific to be a part of it

Another legend-to-be, Kirk Gibson, was honing his skills on the baseball diamond at that time in Lansing. He was another athlete Falor admired.

“I’d go to baseball practice, and it wasn’t that I was so caught up in athletics,” she said. “I was more caught up in what made someone successful. I wanted to know what their work ethic was like. Did it just happen magically?

“The one thing I gained from all those experiences was these people worked hard,” she added. “All these players worked hard…It wasn’t something that accidentally just fell that way…”

Falor has utilized that knowledge and applied it to her coaching career. She spent 1 1/2 years at MSU and then moved on to Lansing Community College for a head coaching post with the women’s hoops team. She then coached at New Mexico Junior College and Adrian College. In 1990, she accepted a job as an assistant coach for the NAU women’s basketball team and held that post until she took a softball and basketball coaching job at Winslow High School in 1994. She’s coached at FHS for two years.

When the Flag High girls finished first in last year’s Peaks Invitational at Buffalo Park, it marked the first time the school had ever won the event. After the meet, Falor chatted with her team and praised them for their collective efforts.

She repeated the gist of that conversation Wednesday:

“Sharing responsibility, sharing a commitment, sharing a goal really develops athletes.”

FHS’ runners eagerness to improve and dedication to excellence is what motivates Falor to keep coaching.

“If they say ‘I’m going to run in the summer’, they run. They say, ‘Coach, I’m going to see you at 5:30 in the morning,’ and they are there at 5:30 in the morning.

“They reward you for the time that they give. They really respect what you give. It’s a strong group of people working for a single goal. It’s wonderful.”

There’s more to come…

“I look at the next two years in my high school as an exciting time in my life,” she said with a smile.