Ricky Ray '01 (Business Administration)
Fielding Dreams: Former Hornets tackle the big time
The script for “Hornet Football: Beyond the Causeway” is part classic sports film, part Frank Capra movie. Through persistence and happenstance, defying the odds and being at the right place at the right time, it tells the story of Sac State players who’ve advanced to football fame.
They may have had to work harder getting noticed in the beginning than players from “Football U” schools, but that effort has helped them make names for themselves and the Hornet program. Sixteen former Hornets have been on active National Football League roster with two grabbing the NFL’s top prize— Super Bowl rings: John Gesek with the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 and 1993 and Lonie Paxton with the New England Patriots in 2001, 2003 and 2005.
Players from schools like Sac State that play in smaller conferences have to go the long road more so than a player from Florida or Michigan because scouts focus at the level of competition the player faces on a consistent basis, says former Hornet head coach Steve Mooshagian, who was wide receivers coach for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1999-2002.
“Every scout is looking for certain things in a player: speed, high energy, durability. But there are 50 guys who look like him. So the question is ‘What does he do differently?’ They’re looking at how he does in the spotlight, how will he fit in the position within the scope of the game.”
Sometimes it’s the little things that make a player—even a 260-pounder— stand out. Paxton was a proud member of the Hammerheads, the Hornet offensive line that helped running back Charles Roberts set the all-time Division I-AA rushing record in 1999. But when position coach Angus McClure suggested Paxton focus his efforts in developing one of the “extra credit” tasks of his game—serving as the long snapper on special teams—he somewhat reluctantly agreed.
That decision helped earn him a Super Bowl ring when his perfect snaps aided game-winning field goals by the New England Patriots in both the 2001 AFC championship and Super Bowl XXXVI. Paxton’s celebratory snow angels and “turf angels” after the scores were replayed again and again as a highlight on ESPN’s Sports Center. Paxton gives credit to his former teammates for giving him “the fire and drive to be what I am in football.” He also remains close to his former coaches John Volek and McClure.
“They had a huge influence on me as a long snapper and going on in my career,” says Paxton, who played for the Denver Broncos from 2009-2012. “A lot of the guys I play with played at schools that were a step away from the pros—Miami, Florida, Ohio State. Even so, for as many backgrounds as we come from you turn out to be the same. Once you get into the pros, it’s not about the schools, it’s about what you can do now and tomorrow. It’s a pretty level playing field.”
And though their days at Hornet Stadium have ended, the pros haven’t left it far behind. Paxton keeps in close touch with his former linemen.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2005 edition of Sac State Magazine.