Catching Up With Sekou Sanyika
From time to time, Bear Territory will look back on great Cal Bears of the past. Here is the first in the series:
Sekou Sanyika was flat on his back, looking up at the sky.
His groin muscle had just been completely torn loose from the bone on his upper left leg.
But through the pain and the agony, he heard a message from up on high.
"God was telling me to let go," said Sanyika. "And then I knew it was time to say goodbye to the game I had played for 20 years."
It was the culmination of a rough few seasons for Sanyika, who at 6-3, 240 pounds, was a two-time team captain and All-Pac-10 selection, as well as the all-time school career tackle-for-loss leader (an amazing 63 TFLs!) while playing for the Bears from 1995-1999.
It all started when his knee flared up in January 1999--a few months after bursting onto the national scene with 23 tackles for loss as a junior.
"Many people don't know this, but I barely made it back for that 1999 season," said Sanyika.
He had degenerative cartilage under his bone that required microfracture surgery. He made it through his senior year, playing through pain, but the injury hurt his draft status, as he went in round seven to the Arizona Cardinals.
He had surgery on the knee again following his second season with the Cardinals. That's when he knew that his career was in trouble.
"I was doing irreparable damage to my knee," said Sanyika. "I rehabbed to the point where I was maybe 80 per cent and then tried to make it back. But that was a terrible idea. The NFL is a business and if you are injured, they go after you."
Eventually, he was hurt again and then released by the Cardinals in 2002. He attempted to make a few more teams, but he carried his injury reputation with him.
Despite another round of rehabbing and an improvement in his mobility, teams still raised red flags when it came to his durability.
After the San Francisco 49ers refused to sign him (one season short of earning his NFL pension) he decided to go North of the border to the Canadian Football League. He was signed by the Saskatchewan Rough Riders.
"I was itching to get back on the field," said Sanyika. "I hadn't played in a couple years and I wanted to prove to the NFL that I could stay healthy."
That proved to be a tough task. The CFL plays many of its games on Astroturf and Sanyika didn't feel the same explosiveness that served him so well at Cal. He came back to the NFL for another tryout and that's when his groin came undone.
"It was the result of my leg not healing completely from the previous injuries," said Sanyika.
With the game he loved ripped away, he had to come to terms--like everyone else, he would have to enter the workforce.
"It was quite a shock for me," said Sanyika, who holds a degree in Economics from Cal. "I was nearly 27 and had to play catch up with everyone else out there. I had to take an entry level job, which was hard to accept after all the money I had made as an NFL player."
Still living in Phoenix, he started an entertainment venture that ultimately left him unsatisfied. Depression set in for a while. Then, things started to turn around.
"I took at trip to Los Angeles with (former Cal teammate) Dameane Douglas and we stayed down at Venice Beach," said Sanyika. "Again, God seemed to speak to me and that's when I knew I needed to change scenery and be in L.A."
For a while, he had his own once-a-week radio gig on 99.3 KCLA FM in L.A., as he mixed his sports commentary with the latest entertainment news. There's a saying that some people have a face for radio, but that wasn't the case for Sanyika, who soon fell into the modeling world.
"A friend of mine at the last minute asked me if I wanted to be a part of an ad campaign so I tried it out," said Sanyika. "It was an ad campaign for women's purses, but it came out great. I had no idea that modeling was so hard, but I started getting into it."
He began taking more and more pictures. He cut 32 pounds from his playing weight of 240 so that his abs would ripple. Soon, his modeling career led him to acting.
"I got a national speaking role playing Daunte Culpepper on a Fox PreGame Show," said Sanyika. "As a result, I was able to get Screen Actor's Guild credits. Later, I took some acting classes and I realized that I had some talent. I was able to get work acting. Things were starting to come together."
Sanyika continues to dabble in a bit of everything--modeling, acting, sports commentary. He even has been writing an HBO-style sitcom about his days in the NFL.
Through all that he has gone through, though, he still looks back on his Cal days with joy.
"For a kid like me who grew up going to Cal games, it was quite a great thing to play there," said Sanyika. "Breaking the all-time tackles for loss record was dear to me. I do admit that I miss being at Cal from time to time."
Staying close to his former teammates keeps him connected. He counts Douglas, Keith Miller, Albert Dorsey, Matt Beck and other former teammates as among his closest friends.
"The best part of college football is the relationships you build," said Sanyika. "I have a solid group of Cal friends that I always hang out with."
He even gets a chance to gloat when he runs into some former opponents.
"I was shooting an AT&T commercial in the Coliseum recently and there were a lot of USC guys there, too," said Sanyika. "Probably my favorite game as a Bear was when we came back to beat USC, 32-31, after being down 21. I sacked Carson Palmer for a safety and had three sacks that day. It's nice to rub my 3-1 career record against USC in their face a little."
What does he miss most about Cal?
"I miss Laval's and their 50 cent beer night on Wednesday," said Sanyika laughing. "But seriously, the atmosphere is so unique in Berkeley. It's an experience I'll never forget. I miss being in Memorial Stadium and being on campus. College was care-free and worry-free. We didn't have much money, but we had good times."
Sanyika sees good things for the Bears on the horizon as well.
"They've got a lot going on right now," said Sanyika. "They've recruited a good crop of talent and the national attention they are getting is well-deserved. I think the Bears may be a darkhorse contender for the national title."
Indeed, for both Sanyika and the Bears, it's nothing but good times ahead.