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Faith and Perseverance: Chris Canty’s rise to the NFL

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This is the first of several player profiles we will feature this offseason.

In November, 2007 my grandfather surprised me with a trip to see the Dallas Cowboys play the New York Giants at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. This trip included an exclusive dinner the night before the game at the Cowboys team hotel with two guest players who would be there for the Dallas Cowboys radio road show. All the die hard Cowboys fans attending the dinner were anticipating who these players might be and were anxious at the thought of meeting Terrell Owens or Tony Romo. I admit to being a bit disappointed when we learned that the guest Cowboys would be Kevin Burnett and Chris Canty. Burnett was just a backup linebacker and Chris Canty was a faceless third year player to me but I still lined up to get both guys' autographs. Kevin Burnett was clearly not used to the attention he was getting and uneasily smiled every time a fan asked for a picture. Chris Canty though was in his element, completely at ease in the crowd and taking his time to chat with each fan that came through the line. After the radio show was over the crowd started to disperse and mill about the lobby, waiting to catch a passing Cowboy. I stayed behind in the conference room with my grandfather and on my way out I passed Chris Canty sitting at one of the tables talking with two other fans. He paused and asked me if I had enjoyed the show and if I was going to the game the next day. I sat down with the others and joined in on one of the most intriguing and uplifting conversations of my young life.

Chris Canty's parents were basketball players; his mother a player in high school and his father had been a member of the Harlem Wizards, an exhibition basketball team that toured around the world in the 1970's. Chris decided to try football after seeing Randy Moss on T.V. in 1998. He joined his North Carolina high school team his junior year and was named an all-state player his senior year as both a defensive end and tight end. He also was an all-conference letterman in basketball. Playing college at Virginia, Chris established himself as one of the top defensive ends in the ACC, leading all players at his position in tackles both his sophomore and junior years. Named a team captain in 2004, he was hopeful his senior year would set the tables for a successful ascension to the NFL. Many experts had penned him a late first to second round prospect; his experience in the 3-4 in college made him valuable to NFL teams. Things would not be so easy.

In the fourth game of the season at Syracuse a teammate fell onto Chris' left knee. His ACL had been completely torn and it left his leg in a severe position.

"The pile just caved in on a play right into my left knee," [Chris Canty] said. "I tried to walk it off, but I fell down and collapsed. My teammates said, `Don't look,' but of course when someone says that to you, you want to look."

Chris had season ending surgery and immediately went to work rehabbing his knee to prepare for the draft. His injury had no doubt affected his draft status but he set his mind on working hard and regaining his status as a top defensive player in the draft. He went to Arizona to work out with other prospects for the NFL combine and disaster struck once again. While at nightclub a fight broke out on the other side of the bar. Chris and his friends tried to get out but a beer bottle flew across the room and struck him in his eye. The injury left him with two large cuts and a detached retina.

Unable to work out for the draft Chris tried to convince teams that if drafted he would be ready for training camp. When the draft came in April many teams that had rated him high on their draft boards passed on him with the thought that he was damaged goods. Teams were uneasy about spending a high draft pick on a player they were uncertain would be able to play at the same level he did in college.

The Dallas Cowboys that year under Bill Parcells were making the switch to the 3-4 and were drafting players to fit the scheme. The Cowboys had already drafted DeMarcus Ware and Marcus Spears and thought highly of Chris. Virginia head coach Al Groh convinced Parcells that Canty was worth the risk and the Cowboys traded up into the fourth round and drafted Chris Canty.

He initially split time at defensive end with Greg Ellis his rookie year, starting two games and finishing the season with 35 tackles and 2.5 sacks. When Ellis made the move to outside linebacker in 2006, Chris stepped up as the full time starter. As the year progressed he and fellow defensive end Marcus Spears were called out by coach Bill Parcells as guys that need to improve their play and make more of a difference in the game. Chris finished the year as a guy that had yet to live up to expectations and heading into 2007 the pressure was mounting.

The faith that Chris has comes from his mother, a Methodist pastor for 23 years. He believes that if you work hard and believe in yourself and your faith that good things will happen. Even after overcoming multiple devastating injuries to become a starter in the NFL, he was still thought of a player not living up to his potential. In 2007 Chris finally began to silence his critics. Finishing the season with 3.5 sacks and a critical field goal block that led to a touchdown, he established himself as a forceful defensive end that could make a big play at any time. Looking back at the brief conversation in November it is easy to see that he looks upon his past as experiences to build upon as he moves on in his career.

Chris told us about how his faith carried him along in his career and his life and through the hardships he faced on his road to the NFL. He was friendly, down to earth and genuinely concerned with us as fans and how his team was perceived. The conversation lasted only a few minutes but his words stayed with me for the rest of the night and into the next day. The game was great and every play I kept a look out for the guy who had quickly become one of my favorite players. He was no longer just a name on a score sheet. He was a man whose faith had kept him afloat long enough to get him to his spot on the field as an emerging star for the Dallas Cowboys.

Sources used for this story:
Charlotte Obsever
USA Today
Chris Canty Official Website
NFLPlayers.com