While most of the country gets prepared to watch the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams face off in Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3, Wadsworth native Bishop Sankey is among a group of players and coaches working to jumpstart a new football endeavor.
Sankey is currently training in San Antonio as a running back for the San Diego Fleet, one of eight teams preparing to compete in the inaugural season of the Association of American Football (AAF).
“Things are going really well right now,” Sankey said in a phone interview. “Everybody’s grinding, just taking it one day at a time. Lots of guys are just excited about the chance to play football and the chance to play in this new league.”
The Fleet offers Sankey a chance to re-boot his professional career, which was cut short before the start of his fourth season in the NFL by a torn ACL suffered in the first preseason game of 2017 with the Minnesota Vikings.
“My knee is feeling really good right now,” Sankey said. “I’m working to be able to make all the moves and cuts I need to on the field.”
Sankey has been impressed by the level of coaching and knowledge that is present in the league. San Diego is coached by Mike Martz, who is best known as the mastermind of the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams teams from the turn of the century. Martz’s Rams teams featured Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk having some of the best years of his career.
“Coach Martz is a legend and has done a great job of teaching not just about the game, but about life,” Sankey said. “All of the coaches are really knowledgeable, and the league has done a good job of bringing in coaches with NFL experience. It’s great being around this level of wisdom.”
Sankey was born in Wadsworth and lived there until he was 8. He still considers the area to be home and returns to visit family members as often as he can.
“I’m still really fond of Wadsworth and the Akron area,” he said. “It just has a nice, homey feel. I love the passion the people in Ohio have for their sports teams and just for who they are.
“I still have a lot of family in the area that I try to visit at least a few times a year and I still consider it to be just like home.”
When Sankey was 8, his father’s career in the Air Force took the family to Dayton, which was a small precursor to a much larger move to come. When Sankey was in the eighth grade, Christopher Sankey’s career took his family to Spokane, Wash.
“It was a really transforming time for me,” Sankey said. “Moving across the country was a big deal, but it taught me some really important life lessons. If I didn’t move out west, the University of Washington probably doesn’t recruit me.”
The 5-foot-10, 202-pound running back enrolled at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, where he had a prolific career under coach Dave McKenna. Sankey was named the Greater Spokane League MVP in 2010, when the senior rushed for a conference record 2,518 yards, including 359 against Mead High School. Sankey finished as the school’s all-time leading rusher with 4,355 yards and was a two-time All-Washington running back.
“I had a great time playing for Gonzaga,” Sankey said. “Coach McKenna was a great coach.”
After his time with the Bullpups, Sankey went on to star for the Huskies. In three seasons, the talented runner gained 4,062 yards from scrimmage and scored 38 touchdowns. Sankey had career bests with 1,869 yards rushing, 304 yards receiving and 21 touchdowns in 2013, his final season at Washington.
“I just remember those as some of the best years of my life growing up,” Sankey said. “It was my first time away from home and I had a lot of fun playing in the PAC-12, going up and down the West Coast playing with players and coaches that are just really great people.”
Following his junior season with the Huskies, Sankey declared for the NFL Draft and was the first running back selected in 2014, by the Tennessee Titans in the second round.
Sankey spent two seasons with the Titans, amassing 762 yards rushing and 272 receiving with 23 touchdowns. After the 2015 season with Tennessee, he went from the New England Patriots practice squad to the Kansas City Chiefs and then the Vikings in 2016 without entering a game.
“It’s been a roller coaster, but I’m thankful for my time in the NFL and that the AAF has given me a chance to work to get back there,” Sankey said. “It really has been a childhood dream of mine to play football in the NFL.”
While he hopes to play in the NFL again, Sankey is focused on living in the moment and making the most out of his opportunity with the Fleet.
“We have high expectations for this season,” he said. “We’re aiming for a championship.”
The Fleet will play its home games at San Diego Stadium, the former home of the San Diego Chargers. The team begins play Feb. 9 on the road against the San Antonio Commanders. Each team will play a 10-game schedule, with playoffs to follow.