All posts in feature


nick sundberg loves life as a long snapper

(photo by Brian Murphy)

[Editor’s note: Today’s guest post is brought to you by Joel Murphy, the man behind the pop-culture site HoboTrashcan who also happens to be my brother. Please show him some love so I might be able to convince him to do this again sometime down the road.]

Before the Washington Redskins took on the New England Patriots this past Sunday, long snapper Nick Sundberg rushed out of the entrance tunnel, through the giant inflatable Redskins helmet and out onto the field. No one announced Sundberg’s name over the PA as he took the field. There was no music or pyrotechnics or theatrics of any kind. In fact, hardly anyone in attendance noticed. But that didn’t stop Sundberg from running out of the gate in a crisscross pattern with his arms fully extended out to his sides, enthusiastically mimicking an airplane as he made his grand entrance.

No one becomes a long snapper in the NFL for the glory. And most long snappers are content to sidestep the inflatable helmets and quietly make their entrances onto the field each week. But Nick Sundberg isn’t like most long snappers.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time,” Sundberg said. “Never got to do it in college because kickers, punters, snappers, we always go out early. In the NFL, it’s the same way — we always run around it. I always thought that was kind of weird. The whole team runs through it except for us. We run around it.”

So Sundberg said that one day he was making his way out to the field with kicker Graham Gano and punter Sav Rocca and he decided to just go for it. He tried to get the other two special teams players to go with him, but they wouldn’t do it.

“You know how kickers are with their stupid routines,” he said.

But Sundberg went for it and he had a blast.

“It was like the best time ever. It really gave me a lot of joy,” Sundberg explained.

From that week on, he makes the most out of his entrance at every home game. He eventually convinced Gano to go through the tunnel with him before the game against the New York Jets, but 38-year-old Rocca has steadfastly refused. Sundberg is hoping to convince the punter to join him in his pregame entrance soon, before it’s too late.

“He’s not going to be able to run very much longer in his old age,” joked Sundberg.

However, convincing the punter to participate appears to be an uphill battle. When asked what the chances are he’d ever make a grand entrance alongside his long snapper, Rocca said it’s “never going to happen.”

While Sundberg likes to have fun off the field, it has taken a lot of hard work and dedication for him to make it to the NFL. Growing up in Phoenix, Ariz., Sundberg spent a lot of time outside — camping, fishing and exploring the vast land. He also played everything he could, from soccer to basketball to hockey. His mom was adamant that he try his hand at every sport. Every sport except football, that is.

“My mom didn’t actually want me to play football because she thought it was too dangerous,” Sundberg said. “So she held me out of it as long as she could.”

But the summer before he started high school, a letter arrived from the North Canyon High School football team inviting incoming freshmen out to a summer workout. Being bigger than the other kids and having an athletic background, North Canyon’s coach wanted Sundberg to start as the team’s varsity left tackle his freshman year. Reluctantly, his mom let him go out for the team.

Eventually, he was moved to center. Then, a new offensive line coach came to the team after his sophomore year and convinced Sundberg to become the team’s long snapper. Long snapping was a passion of his new coach, Ben Bernard, and Sundberg soon found himself lifting weights four days a week and snapping the ball five days a week, 150 to 200 balls a day. He says by the end of his senior year, he was good, but not great.

The following summer, he attended a kicking and snapping camp in Las Vegas, Nev., where he impressed the scouts for the University of California, Berkeley, who were looking for a new long snapper after their starter tore his ACL. Sundberg was able to leverage interest from other teams into a full scholarship to Cal.

Read more →


santana moss loves beating dallas

(photo by Brian Murphy)

[Editor’s note: This is part two of an exclusive one-on-one interview with Redskins receiver Santana Moss. To read part one, please click here.]

Twice during the first two weeks of the 2011 season, the Washington Redskins have opted to keep the offense on the field and go for it on fourth down.

In both instances, the ball was put in the hands of receiver Santana Moss, and both times the veteran receiver came up huge when his team needed him most.

Washington’s biggest play of the season thus far came on 4th-and-3 in the fourth quarter, when the Redskins trailed the Arizona Cardinals by two scores with just over five minutes remaining in the game.

Rather than turning to kicker Graham Gano, who continues to blow easy opportunities, head coach Mike Shanahan asked his offense to step up and make a play when the game was on the line.

Quarterback Rex Grossman dropped back and delivered a ball to the back corner of the end zone, where Moss hauled in an 18-yard score to pull Washington within two points with 5:17 left in the game.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the play is the fact that Moss swears he wasn’t aware it was 4th down. He was too focused on being ready if the football was thrown his way.

“Did I catch a fourth down pass,” Moss asked after the game. “I didn’t even know. When you’re out there, you’re just trying to make plays regardless of what down it is. I sometimes don’t know what’s going on out of the field. I’m just looking at that play.

“When I’m out there I just go back to thinking about practice and how I did this in practice,” he continued. “How was it when I was tired in practice? Mentally, I’m everywhere, but I’m not worried about the downs or situations. I’m just trying to make a play because my team is calling on me right now.”

Clearly, that mindset has served Moss well, especially against next week’s opponent – the Dallas Cowboys.

In 11 games against Dallas as a member of the Redskins, Moss has 68 catches for 990 yards and six touchdowns.

Some of the 32-year-old’s best performances have come against Washington’s biggest rival, and Moss admits it’s not a coincidence.

“The Redskins-Cowboys games are something I remember watching growing up,” he said. “To get a chance to be a part of that — and to be here with the team I always felt I should be with — it inspired me to go out and play my best against Dallas. I couldn’t tell you why I’m able to have more success against them than some other teams, it just happened that way.

“I don’t really circle that game on the calendar or anything,” Moss added. “It’s just, when those lights come on with a chance to play on the biggest stage — every game is big to me — but for some reason the lights just shine a little brighter when it’s the Redskins and Cowboys.”

Read more →


santana moss still plays for sean taylor

(photo by Brian Murphy)

If it was up to Santana Moss, the Washington Redskins would have been the only NFL team he’s ever known.

But, as the University of Miami standout quickly learned, life rarely goes according to plan.

Moss was still on the board when it was Washington’s turn to pick in the 2001 NFL Draft, but the Redskins used the 15th overall pick on a different receiver – Clemson’s Rod Gardner.

The New York Jets selected Moss with the very next pick, and the 5-foot-10 receiver was on his way to the Big Apple.

“The night before the draft, everyone said the Redskins had me at the top of their board,” Moss said. “And then, I guess something changed and I went to the Jets. I wasn’t mad because I got drafted, but once I finally got the chance to come here, it felt like I was finally in the place I needed to be.”

While it wasn’t exactly a secret the Redskins were interested in Moss in the days leading up to the draft, the front office did a good job of holding their cards close to their proverbial chest.

“I never met with the Redskins before the draft,” he said. “I had heard a lot — especially the morning of the draft — but I never got a chance to meet with the team. I just kept hearing that was the place I was going to end up.”

Although he left Miami as the school’s all-time leader in receiving yards with 2,546 yards, ranked third in career receptions (143) and career touchdown receptions list (19), Moss was the fourth receiver taken in the 2001 NFL Draft.

“David Terrell, Koren Robinson and Rod Gardner,” Moss said without missing a beat. “Those are the guy taken ahead of me.

“It was said that if I was an inch or two taller, I would have been the first receiver taken in the draft,” he said. “I think that’s kind of harsh because I think I showed throughout my college career that I can play, even at this size. Now, you see guys my size drafted high all the time. People don’t even think about it anymore — if a guy has speed and can do more than one thing, they get picked high.

“I don’t look back at it like I should have been picked higher,” Moss continued. “I’ve always believed everything happens for a reason and maybe I helped break that stereotype about smaller receivers. I don’t know. I probably had something to do with that.”

After four up-and-down seasons in New York, Moss was traded to the Redskins for wide out Laveranues Coles. While Moss was grateful the Jets were the team to give him his first chance in the NFL, he admits he couldn’t have been happier about being shipped to Washington in time for the 2005 season.

Read more →


darrel young’s dreams come true vs giants

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Forgive Darrel Young if he was a little caught up in the moment as he took the field for the Washington Redskins against the New York Giants Sunday.

This offseason, Young was named the team’s starting fullback over 12-year-veteran Mike Sellers, so the season opener was his first chance to show the world what he’s got.

There was also the significance of the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, which wasn’t lost on the native New Yorker and, if that’s not enough, Young’s brother – Sgt. 1st Class David Young – was back from an Afghanistan deployment and in attendance at FedEx Field.

That meant the older Young was watching his baby brother play a regular season game for the first time in person, rather than being forced to watch each game in a tent halfway around the world.

“It was just an honor to be able to play in a game on a national stage like that, but at the same time, it was a very emotional day for me,” Young said. “My brother was in the stands and thinking back to 9/11 – being from New York and being about 45 minutes away from where everything happened. All of that was on my mind.

“And then, seeing all of the fans in attendance and the video tributes during the game – especially the Soldiers on the JumboTron over in Afghanistan,” he continued. “I obviously have strong feelings for those people because I know what they go through. I don’t like it, but I understand that someone has to fight for our country. It definitely hits me more than the average person.”

While Young appreciated the patriotic sentiment shown throughout the NFL Week 1, he’s hopeful that those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center tragedy are honored in a more fitting way.

“Being from New York and seeing how many people were affected, I mean, we’re still trying to rebuild,” Young said. “I’ve heard talk about them possibly building the towers back, but I’d really like to see them turn that site into something like Arlington National Cemetery. Make it a symbol of something meaningful to this country and honor the people who gave their lives that day.”

And where was Young on that fateful day 10 years ago?

“I was sitting in social studies class in my first year of high school,” he said. “It was probably my second week of school and the teacher came in and told us the towers had been hit. None of us could really figure out what was going on, and then next thing I know my mom was dismissed from work and came to take me home. I still didn’t know what was going on until I got home and saw the news.

My first thought was my brother and knowing he could be affected by everything,” Young continued. “I got to talk to him for 10 minutes and he basically let me know he was waiting to find out if he was going to be shipped out overnight. He said he didn’t even know when we’d be able to talk again and that he loved me. That’s what I remember most about 9/11.”

That’s some heavy stuff for a 14-year-old to deal with — wondering when will be the next time you’re able to talk to your older brother.

“I just know that’s what my brother wants to do, so I support him to the fullest,” he said. “I don’t agree with guys being over there and getting killed, but these are people who choose to fight for this country. I’m biased because of what my brother and his wife go through – leaving their family to go over there and protect us for six months or a year at a time, but I support all of them.”

With all of that in mind, Young took the field against a divisional rival in a nationally televised game for his first-career start.

“It’s a dream come true,” Young said. “Just to know that my older brother – the guy who has supported me through everything – can be there to watch me do my trade. I look at him and his situation where he’s fighting for his life every day he’s over there and I’m fighting to play football every day. He’s fighting for our country and I have so much respect for him and what he does, so it was special to have him there with me.”

Read more →


it’s impossible to root against brooks laich

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Why are some talent evaluators so biased against handsome athletes?

I mean, everyone knows that golden boy Tom Brady wasn’t drafted until the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft, but he’s not the only attractive athlete to have to wait to hear his name called.

The ugly truth is forward/Ladies Man Brooks Laich was equally snubbed – having to wait until the sixth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft when, mercifully, he was selected by the Ottawa Senators.

Laich went 193rd overall, and although he’s gone on to become a staple of Washington Capitals’ hockey, it’s safe to say Laich wasn’t even on the team’s radar at that time.

In fact, he went just two picks after the Capitals selected a left wing allegedly named Zbynek Novak, who has failed to play a single NHL game.

But Washington wasn’t the only team who missed on the Wawota, Saskatchewan native. Sadly, the Caps were one of 29 teams who didn’t even bother with Laich prior to the draft.

“I wasn’t invited,” he said. “I wasn’t considered a top pick. I didn’t go to any combine or scouting thing like that. I guess I wasn’t as high profile as some of the other guys here in the locker room.”

Just how bad was it for Laich, who always dreamed of one day playing in the NHL, in the days leading up to the draft?

“A scout from Ottawa came to my hometown and took me for a bite to eat,” he said. “He said they were sort of interested in me or whatever, but other than that I wasn’t a guy that a lot of people were talking about. I was hopeful to get drafted, but I didn’t expect a whole lot.

“I got a phone call that Sunday morning and was told I’d been drafted by the Senators,” Laich continued. “It was a pretty exciting day, but I’m sure it was a pretty different experience than a lot of other guys have.”

Laich has amassed 100 goals and 137 assists for 237 points in 475 career games. That’s nearly 100 points more than Washington’s entire 2001 draft class, which featured defensemen Johnny Oduya, Nathan Paetsch and eight nobodies.

Looking back, it’s safe to say that’s not the best draft Caps general manager George McPhee’s tenure.

“Scouting has become a much bigger part of the game,” said the always-diplomatic Laich. “Especially in a salary cap era, you want to get good, young players and develop them and keep them rather than spending money on free agency because it drives your cap up. Teams focus on that a lot more now, I guess.

“Maybe if I was in the position now that I was in 10 years ago, maybe I would have had a different draft day experience,” he continued. “That year I didn’t though, but fortunately it all worked out.”

It would come as a surprise to no one if Laich came into the league with a chip on his shoulder after 29 of 30 teams didn’t even bother to scout him, but that’s not how the 27-year-old is wired.

Read more →


alzner is finally at home in washington

(photo by Brian Murphy)

[Editor’s note: This is part two of a magazine-style feature story on Washington Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner. For part one, click here.]

Once the initial warm and fuzzy feelings had come and gone after defenseman Karl Alzner was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 2007, reality set in that there was plenty of work to be done.

Just because Alzner donned a Caps sweater for a photo opportunity during the draft didn’t actually mean he was a lock to make the opening day roster.

“It was tough to start out in Hershey,” he said. “I had dreams of playing in the NHL, so when I got sent down to the minors, it was really tough to handle. Especially with the situation I was in – being the seventh defenseman during camp. Normally NHL teams take seven defensemen. I was kind of getting excited thinking I could be on this team and then I get sent down because of cap issues and stuff, so it was difficult to let it all sink in and just start playing hockey again.”

While it might not have been his first choice, Alzner was sent to the Hershey Bears – the American Hockey League’s most storied franchise. It might have been a tough pill to swallow initially, but Alzner now admits the move was a blessing in disguise.

“It ended up being incredible for my career,” he said. “I think the best way to gain experience is to win because it’s tough to lose games and get better. You’re so worried about doing everything the coach says and everything else that you don’t necessarily do the things you need to do in order to get better.

“The coaches in Hershey gave me the green light to do anything I wanted to do,” Alzner continued. “I didn’t always take full advantage of that, but I definitely tried to do a few things I normally wouldn’t. Looking back, Hershey was a great place. I’d love to go back some time – not to play, because I want to be in the NHL – but I’d love to go back to visit.”

While Alzner’s NHL career was delayed, he’s at least able take solace in winning back-to-back Calder Cup championships with the Bears.

“It’s still frustrating that I could have been in the NHL for maybe two extra years if things were a little different,” he said. “But it was a blessing in disguise. I never would have been the player I am now if it wasn’t for Hershey.”

After playing in just 30 games in 2008-09 and 21 games in 2009-10 with the Capitals, Alzner has been a mainstay on the Washington blueline this season.

In fact, because of injuries to established defenders such as Mike Green and Tom Poti, Alzner has played in all 76 games this season – averaging just under 20 minutes of ice time a night.

“You just see a confidence,” said Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau of Alzner. “He’s no longer a guy that’s worried about getting sent down to the minors. He just plays and he’s as steady as we have back there. He’s had a great year.”

Alzner’s teammates have noticed a change in the youngster as well.

Read more →


karl alzner is living a dream with caps

(photo by Kyle Mace)

[Editor’s note: As most of you know by now, I am the editor of Hail! magazine – a free digital publication dedicated to the Washington Redskins. In each issue, we run in-depth feature stories designed to help local sports fans learn more about the athletes playing for their favorite football team.

Since it’s the offseason and there’s nothing but drama involving the owners and players, I’ve decided to turn my attention to the Capitals. So this is part one of a magazine-style feature story on Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. Please enjoy and check back tomorrow for the second chapter.]

While it might have taken a bit longer than anticipated to get to the National Hockey League, Karl Alzner got an early start to his hockey career – lacing up his skates and joining a league before his fifth birthday.

Of course, hockey is such a way of life in Burnaby, British Colombia that the Washington Capitals rookie defenseman would have gladly started his playing days even earlier if he could have.

“Right away, as soon as I first stepped onto the ice, I was in love,” he said. “There wasn’t ever a time when I wasn’t sure if hockey was for me. There were obviously times when I didn’t want to go to practice because I was too tired or I wanted to hang out with my friends, but it was something I wanted and needed to do.”

During the good old days, when Alzner and friends passed time by playing pond hockey, the youngster pretended to be Steve Yzerman or Joe Sakic – two standout centers who also came from British Columbia.

“I know I’m nothing like those guys, but those are two players I really looked up to,” Alzner said. “There wasn’t ever one person who I saw and said, ‘I’m going to try and play like that guy’ though. I mean, I liked Scott Niedermayer a ton and he’s my favorite defenseman, but I don’t play that way.

“So while I was initially drawn to a player like him,” he continued. “Once I began to watch and understand the game more, I was more drawn to someone like Nicklas Lidstrom – someone who plays smart and solid defensively. Don’t go out there and try to fight or crush everybody. Just play a more frustrating game for your opponent.”

Embracing that mentality has served Alzner well. So well, in fact, that he was drafted in the first round, fifth overall, by the Capitals in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

Being such a high draft pick, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that a young player as gifted as Alzner would automatically assume it’s a foregone conclusion he was in the express lane to the NHL.

But the 22-year-old swears he never assumed his dream was within reach until he was selected to represent Team Canada during the World Junior Hockey Championships in 2006-07.

“That was the year before I was drafted,” he said. “Once that happened, I felt I had a pretty solid chance of making it.”

The experience gained from playing for his country at such a young age – not to mention the gold medal that came with it – is easily one of Alzner’s most cherished moments on the ice.

“To be honest, my first year in juniors, I got lucky,” Alzner said. “I played a lot and I was playing with guys like Ryan Getzlaf and Dion Phaneuf. All I’m thinking is, ‘These guys are way, way better than I am right now. There’s no way I’m going to make it.’”

Alzner had one assist and two penalty minutes in six games for Team Canada, but the statistics are irrelevant. Once he made the final roster, Alzner finally believed that the NHL was a real possibility.

“I still have a sign in my room that I made when I was six or seven years old that says I will make the NHL,” he said. “Obviously it was something in my head as far back as then as something that I wanted to do. I’ve just been fortunate that I was put into good situations and I worked as hard as I could.”

Read more →

HomerMcFanboy background image