Jump to content

Pro Football Weekly- Andre Wadsworth "feel good"story

Kentucky Jet

Recommended Posts

Wadsworth's improbable comeback attempt still alive

By Mike Holbrook (mholbrook@pfwmedia.com)

Aug. 7, 2007

The feel-good story of the spring hopes to become the feel-good story of the summer, fall, winter and beyond.

Nearly seven years after he last suited up in uniform to play the game he loves, Andre Wadsworth is attempting arguably the most improbable comeback in NFL history.

When we last saw Wadsworth, he was a defensive end with wondrous skills and an insatiable work ethic who had risen from non-scholarship status to All-American at Florida State and become the third overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals in the 1998 draft.

However, after three disappointing seasons, Wadsworth was forced to the sideline. Most, including his doctors, thought he was done for good due to severe knee injuries.

Now, 13 knee surgeries later, at age 32, Wadsworth is healthy enough, at last, to make one last attempt at playing football at the highest level — this time as an outside linebacker with the New York Jets.

“You know, you just assume after all those surgeries, physically it would limit him where he couldn’t (come back),” says Titans assistant head coach/LB coach Dave McGinnis, who coached Wadsworth in Arizona. “But clearly, he can. I think that’s probably a part of his life that’s still unfulfilled because he was a very goal-oriented and driven guy. Yeah, it surprised me, but I’m pulling for him. I’m happy for him that he got a chance, and I’m happy for him that he thinks he’s got a legitimate chance.”

Wadsworth began to make contact with NFL teams late last season. He worked out for the Buccaneers before heading north to work out for the Jets.

After meeting with head coach Eric Mangini and GM Mike Tannenbaum — who later admitted they tried to discourage Wadsworth, but he was too determined to be swayed — he realized he had found the right place to attempt his comeback.

“When I came up for the visit, I would say I had more of a neutral or maybe to the side of, ‘I’ll listen to them, but most likely I won’t be a Jet.’ That’s what my attitude was,” Wadsworth explains. “But when I met Mangini and Tannenbaum, I just really enjoyed the way they viewed football. They really love their jobs. They had a youthful excitement about them, about the game. I would believe if they were athletic enough, they would play. It’s almost like they have all the mental aspect and the want-to and the heart, but I wouldn’t say they have the physical part of it. But, that same desire. I felt there was that same type of desire. There was a connection. I was shocked. I was shocked when I left. I just really liked the organization as a whole.”

Tony Mandarich knows that desire. It was what helped fuel the offensive tackle’s comeback in 1996 after three years out of the NFL. A bust in Green Bay, he surprised many by making the Colts’ roster and playing three pretty solid seasons before retiring.

“I’ve said to my friends before that desire is the best painkiller I ever took because I would ache and I would say, ‘I’m going to do whatever I have to do,” says Mandarich, who was 28 when he made his return to the NFL. “Because I would ache. I would sit in the ice tub longer, I would stretch, I would do whatever the trainer said. I basically took the attitude of, ‘I have to go above and beyond every single player that’s in this camp with me to even have a chance to make it.’ And my attitude was, ‘If I don’t make it, it definitely won’t be because of a lack of effort.’ Then I could live with myself.”

By all reports, Wadsworth has done everything asked of him since signing with the team in late March.

“He’s playing a new position for him, and I just think he’s been watching film, he’s doing everything he can physically and knowledge-wise to be here, and you can’t ask for anything more than that,” Jets DE Ken*yon Coleman says.

Just look at what he accomplished during the nearly seven years he was out of football. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, he became co-owner of six thriving car dealerships in Florida, helped to establish the Desert Life Christian Church in Scottsdale, Ariz., and, along with his wife, Subyn, is in the process of raising two children at home in Phoenix.

He also plotted his return to the NFL — “I wouldn’t say (I thought about coming back) often, I would say consistently,” he says with a laugh.

He ate right, lifted weights to build up his upper body and rehabbed his knees like a man possessed.

“He’s come a long way as far as four years ago he told me he could barely walk,” Coleman says. “And so, it’s really a miracle that he’s out there running, and he looks great. I mean, you wouldn’t know he went through all that, just looking at him.”

Simply put, Wadsworth has pretty much everything the Jets are looking for.

He’s intelligent, self-motivated, hardworking, possesses high character and, when healthy, extremely talented.

“Yeah, I think that’s great, it’s a good idea that I do fit that. I like that idea, and I’m glad that I’m their type of person, but I want to be their type of player, too,” Wadsworth says. “I want to make the team, as well as being a guy they can count on to put in the game and make some plays. Not just a guy that makes some plays every now and then, a good team-morale guy, I really want to go out there and make some plays. I really do. I want to hit hard, make some big plays, feel that enjoyment, that excitement. I want to reward myself with that feeling but also reward the people that believed in me and believe in me, because without them believing in me, there *wouldn’t be an opportunity.”

The good news is that after going through all of the team’s offseason training activities and minicamps, Wadsworth said his knees weren’t bothering him. Of course, there’s no way of knowing if this comeback will be made complete until he thoroughly tests his knees in live-contact drills, scrimmages and then preseason games.

And that will be the dilemma for Mangini and Tannenbaum this summer: Even if Wadsworth stays healthy, can they afford to keep a guy whose knees could break down at any time? Or do his intangibles outweigh the risk?

“Well, it’s going to have to be definitely by the grace of God,” Wadsworth says. “It’s not because of my own will or doing, it’s someone taking a chance and really seeing something in me and really working out. I don’t think I’ve ever really impressed anyone initially because I’ve always been a blue-collar type of guy. No excitement, a little consistency, no really big pop. But when the season gets started and things are going, by the end of the season, I’ve had big plays, big results and turned some heads. So, I hope that I continue to be consistent, and they can see something in me and the grace of God will be part of this miracle, and I can make the team and do those things.”

Coleman, who, as a fellow first-year Jet, has befriended Wadsworth, says he hopes Wadsworth makes it.

“I just think you want a guy like that on the team because overall he’s going to push you to work harder, he’s a great guy, he’s a great encourager and he’s got a lot of wisdom,” Coleman says.

“I think, how could you not get behind a guy like that?”

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...