This article was first published in the Spring 2014 print edition of UConn Magazine. To access more stories like this, visit s.uconn.edu/spring 14 or download UConn Magazine’s free app for tablet devices.
The call came from his agent in late 2012. The New York Jets were interested in bringing him in for a tryout.
It had been three years since Danny Lansanah ’08 (CLAS), a former UConn linebacker, had been in the NFL. But the Harrisburg, Pa., native had never given up on his dreams.
Giving up was never an option for Lansanah. He was a role model, after all. Having spent the past year counseling at-risk youth in his hometown, Lansanah wanted to show the kids he worked with that there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
“I am able to show the kids that you can come from a rough area and still have a positive outcome in life,” says Lansanah, who ended up spending the majority of the 2013 season on the Jets practice squad.
The year before the call from his agent came through, Lansanah had been serving as a counselor at Alternative Rehabilitation Communities in Harrisburg, which puts court-adjudicated youths through structured programs, from one-on-one education to group counseling. With a degree in sociology from UConn, Lansanah was providing support for at-risk teens who came from criminal backgrounds or suffered from drug addictions.
Even though he is now a plane ride away, Lansanah still makes it a point to go back and visit those teens he worked with “every chance he gets.” During the Jets bye week this past season, he went back to Harrisburg and stopped by the center. He says that it makes an impact for the kids to see his face and let them know that they are supported.
“Seeing their faces light up is priceless,” says Lansanah. “These kids are coming from the bottom of the totem pole. To see them working to get their GEDs and going through a transformation, that’s what it’s all about.”
Toughing It Out
Though the NFL was always his dream, Lansanah never wavered on his goal of counseling those in need.
“A lot of people grow up with struggles,” he says. “I wanted to help kids who grew up without role models. I wanted to show them that someone who came from the same place can do something good.”
Once his football career is over, Lansanah says he wants to get right back into counseling. For the 6’1”, 255-lb. linebacker, there’s something inimitable about having the chance to help others, especially those who have come from a similar background.
Like the youths he has counseled, Lansanah grew up in a tough area. But rather than get swallowed by the darkness he saw around him, he chose a different path – and that’s the message he hopes to convey to the youths with whom he has worked.
“Where I came from was one of the worst areas of Harrisburg,” he says. “I saw drugs and violence. Being from the same areas, it helps the kids relate to me. … I’ve seen both sides, and they can see the road that I ended up taking.”
Lansanah is particularly qualified to teach about perseverance. At UConn, where he played from 2004 to 2007, he was the team’s leading tackler as a sophomore, junior, and senior, recording 299 tackles, 10 interceptions, and seven sacks over his final three seasons. After his college days, he went undrafted, but was able to land a contract with Green Bay. He appeared in five games for the Packers, notching a pair of tackles, but was eventually released. Lansanah would go on to have stints with the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions, yet he never made either team’s active roster. He later spent a few seasons in the now-defunct United Football League with the Hartford Colonials and Las Vegas Locomotives.
And though the call would eventually come from the Jets, it wasn’t always easy to keep grinding.
“It was tough; it all didn’t come right away,” he says.
Back in the Game
Now back in the NFL, the hard work hasn’t stopped for Lansanah. Each morning, he is up by 5:30 a.m. and ready to start weightlifting. After breakfast, he attends meetings for several hours before hitting the field for practice at noon. And following another two-and-a-half hours of practice, he is icing down and then hitting the hot tub, for a nearly 12-hour workday.
The hard work seems to be paying off. Toward the end of the regular season, Lansanah’s life changed once more – again for the better. Early this past December, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Lansanah from the Jets practice squad, adding him to their active roster and giving him a chance to stand on the sidelines once again.
For Lansanah, this season has brought a feeling like none other. “It’s great to have your dream job,” he says. “It’s what I always wanted to do.”
As he continues to bask in getting another chance in the pros, he knows that having the opportunity to put on that pewter No. 51 jersey on Sundays has an impact that extends a thousand miles beyond Tampa.
“For the kids to be able to see me on TV, it shows them what you can do,” he says. “It gives them a perspective on what you can do with your life.”
Follow Lansanah on Twitter at twitter.com/dannylan51.