l Capital University Journal
Former Hornets tackle the big time
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—a Super
Bowl ring—twice: John Gesek with the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 and
1993 and Lonie Paxton with the New England Patriots in 2001 and 2003.
At press time, Paxton’s Patriots were headed to Super Bowl XXXIX,
giving him a chance at a third ring.
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 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.”
John Gesek caught the eye
of the scouts almost by accident. When Gesek, who played offensive
line during Sac State’s non-scholarship Division II days, asked his
Oakland Raiders position coach what convinced the team to draft him,
he found it was hard work—and being in the right place at the
The coach said the Raiders had been scouting another Hornet player
but kept seeing Gesek in the background making key plays. “He told
me, ‘You kept showing up on ﬁlm,’” Gesek says. “Other
guys bring attention and you sometimes have a lucky break.” From
his non-descript start, Gesek went on to win two Super Bowls with the
superstar-laden Dallas Cowboys in the early ‘90s, in an offense
that included Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.
of another sort paid off for Ricky Ray. After graduation, the former
Hornet quarterback landed a management trainee position with the FritoLay
Corporation. But he never gave up on a career in professional football.
migration between gridiron positions with the NFL’s San Francisco
49ers and New York Jets, the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton
Eskimos, and the snack food company earned him the nickname “Frito
Ray” in the Canadian press.
He guided the Eskimos to a Grey Cup in 2003, their ﬁrst in 10
years. This season he suited up as a backup quarterback for the Jets.
Shastanative Ray looks back on his days as a Hornet as an important ﬁrst
step into the spotlight. “Coming from a small town to go down and
play Division I football, it was big for a kid like me,” he says. “Getting
picked by the 49ers changed my whole career. Then in Canada I got the
chance to play.” In New York he also met up with a familiar face,
rookie tackle Marko Cavka, who was a freshman at Sac State during Ray’s
Sometimes it’s the little things that make a player —even
a 260-pounder— stand out. Lonie 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
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.
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.”
who made their mark in the pros include:
played for 10 seasons in the NFL with three different teams—the
Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders. With the Cardinals
he had the longest overtime interception return for a touchdown in NFL
history—72 yards against the Seattle Seahawks in 1995. It’s
a record that still stands. Today he is active with the Oakland Raiders
Roberts: At 5 feet 6 inches, you
might not expect Roberts to make a mark in pro football. But he followed
a career as the leading rusher in NCAA Division I-AA history by being
named the Canadian Football
League’s Outstanding Rookie in the
league’s east division in 2001. He went on to lead the CFL in
combined yards in 2002 and in rushing yards in 2003.
Shelton: Shelton has made a career of making other players look good,
blocking for Jacksonville Jaguars running back Fred Taylor’s
1,223-yard and 1,399-yard seasons and Chicago Bears running back Anthony
Thomas’s 1,283-yard season. This season, the fullback, currently
with the Buffalo Bills, paved the way for rising star Willis McGahee’s ﬁrst
NFL touchdown. The Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, N.Y.) says
he is “considered one of the best blocking fullbacks in the
course, getting drafted by a pro team is one thing. Playing at that
level is another.
“Football is as much mental as it is physical,” says
Mooshagian. “It requires a lot of prep time to learn the position.
They’re not in school any more— school is the job. The
classroom is working with the coach. It’s a very competitive
Paxton says, “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.”
prepared for it at all,” Gesek laughs. “The Division
I players had a much better grasp.” He says he did ﬁnd
a level of comfort once he became part of a system. “Coaches
know they can count on you and give you the beneﬁt of the
even moved with his offensive coordinator at Dallas, Norv Turner,
when Turner went to coach with the Washington Redskins.
their days at Hornet Stadium have ended, the pros haven’t left
it far behind. Paxton keeps in close touch with his former linemen.
Ray played with several in his CFL days. Lynch makes frequent Sacramento-area
appearances with the Oakland Raiders alumni association. And Gesek
looks back on Sac State’s Division II days as the end of an
was a funny situation, unlike now, where it’s very structured.
We were just a bunch of guys who played football together.”