He felt his phone buzz. He saw the name of his agent flash on the screen. But he didn't answer. When the phone buzzed again, indicating a voice mail, he clicked it quiet.

He thought his dream was dead.

But again his phone buzzed, first a Facebook notification, then a Twitter message. And finally, exhausted by his agent's persistence, Danny Lansanah listened.

And on that day, his life changed.


Lansanah, a strongside linebacker for the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is still somewhat new to a starting gig as a professional football player. And yet, even as he preps for another week as a pass-rushing, run-stopping cog in defensive coordinator Leslie Frazer's methodical Tampa 2 machine, Lansanah stills finds himself dreaming - California dreaming, in fact.

It's not something the former undrafted free agent is doing all on his own though. No, Bucs head coach Lovie Smith has Lansanah and his 52 other Tampa Bay teammates thinking big, aiming high. And there's no bigger aim than Levi's Stadium, no greater goal than Super Bowl 50.

And while the 3-5 Bucs might seem a longshot to make it to the NFL's annual championship game, set to be played this season in SoCal, for Lansanah, nothing, whether it be football or otherwise, seems all that impossible now.


"I was looking at the roster, and I saw they had A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett and those guys, so I was just trying to make the team any way possible at that point," Lansanah says with an easy laugh, the buffer of time likely affording the memory a certain levity it, for so long, didn't carry.

Lansanah came out of the University of Connecticut, a school not necessarily known as a collegiate football powerhouse - though the success of recent draft picks like the Dallas Cowboys' Byron Jones and New York Giants tackle Will Beatty seems to have altered that narrative a bit recently. As one of the NFL's latest bountiful crop of undrafted free agents, he was just hoping to latch on with the Green Bay Packers. Even as an All Big-East selection at UConn, Lansanah was just hoping to find a way to settle in and extend his NFL dream, to control what he could control.

And latch on he did, with Lansanah doing just enough in training camp and the preseason to earn a handful of snaps and two tackles during five games of the 2008 NFL season, before landing on the Packers' practice squad - for a short while, at least. Lansanah was cut by the Packers the next year, and when the Miami Dolphins and then-head coach Tony Sparano came calling, Lansanah jumped at the chance to rejoin an NFL roster.

After only a month on Miami's practice squad, Lansanah was out on the street again. The Harrisburg, Pa., native was licked.

Or so he thought.

A tryout offer from the Detroit Lions brought light back into Lansanah's life. But again, the elation of another chance at making a childhood dream a reality was short-lived. After dragging himself through the effort of the tryout, a month of grinding and working out and learning the Lions' playbook, Lansanah found himself, for the third time, without a professional football home.

And this time, he thought it might be for good.


Alternative Rehabilitation Communities is a facility based in Harrisburg whose aim is to help at-risk youth through structure and social rehabilitation in a community setting.

For three years, Lansanah worked at ARC.

And for three years, Lansanah trained. And for three years, Lansanah continued to dream.

He spent those three years working at ARC also playing in the now-defunct United Football League - something similar to the Fall Experimental Football League, profiled recently by HNGN, the latest in an ever-lengthening line of leagues hoping to position themselves as a viable farm system for the NFL - between the Harford Colonials and the Las Vegas Locomotives. There was no pay in the UFL, players spent their time living out of suitcases and hotel rooms. And in Lansanah's last year with the league, the UFL cut the season short after only three games. It was an experience that again brought Lansanah to the edge of belief, again had the specter of failure swirling.

But he didn't quit, didn't quit on the dream that had already brought him so much pain and frustration.

And finally, in the winter of 2013, after three years of doubt, of wondering if this was it, of wondering if the hope, the dream, really was finished, its death knell signaled by the failings of the UFL, another opportunity finally came calling. Or, more acurrately, Lansanah's agent came calling.

"I went back home, started working again, kept working out," Lansanah says. "And my agent called me one day while I was at work."

But Lansanah, struggling to keep his flagging hopes up, didn't answer.

Fortunately for Lansanah, his agent, Ed Wasielewski of EMG Sports, is persistent.

"He left me a message on Facebook. Wrote me a tweet on Twitter. And he finally texted me and was like, 'Uh, I'm going to tell the New York Jets that you don't want to take this opportunity.' So I ran outside real quick and called him back and he said, '[The New York Jets] want to bring you in for a workout.'"

Rex Ryan, then the Jets' brash defensive-minded head coach, had sent a scout to watch one of Lansanah's final Locomotives games in October 2012 - a game in which the rangy 'backer wound up intercepting two passes. Intrigued by the potential of the still relatively young defender, the team offered him a reserve/futures contract as it wrapped up a 6-10, playoff-less season that culminated in the firing of general manager Mike Tannenbaum.

But Lansanah wasn't concerned with the immediate questions facing the Jets franchise - he was just happy to be back playing the game he loved at its highest level.

"I was just so happy to get another opportunity after being out of the league for so long," he says. "Guys that have been out of the league one year, one-and-a-half years, it's hard for them to get back in so for me, being out three, four years, it was kind of surreal. I just told myself I have to take advantage of this opportunity and that's what I did. I worked out and they liked me and they gave me an opportunity."

The next season, Lansanah played well in training camp, made what he considered to be more than his fair share of plays in the preseason's slate of games and again, thought he was in line for a roster spot. But Lansanah lasted on the Jets' active roster for just one week. After the game - ironically, a game against the Buccaneers, a game in which Lansanah didn't see the field - the Jets cut him and re-signed him to the practice squad.

Yet another setback in what had, seemingly, become a career littered with letdowns.

But, as had been the case for most of Lansanah's career, even with all the trials, all the heart-rending tribulations, there was a silver lining, a saving grace.

On Dec. 4, 2013, after a season-ending injury to linebacker Jonathan Casillas, Tampa Bay signed Lansanah off New York's practice squad.

Lansanah's struggle for recognition wasn't over though - far from it. After spending the remainder of 2013 split between Tampa's practice squad and active roster, operating solely as a backup who saw almost no playing time, and with Lovie Smith taking over for the gruff, gritty Greg Schiano at season's end, Lansanah knew that 2014 was going to mean proving himself all over again.

"Had a new coaching staff, at the bottom of the depth chart, nobody really knew who I was, so I had to work myself up," Lansanah says, strain creeping into his voice. "Training camp and things like that made a lot of plays, and figured by the end of preseason I'm bound to be one of the starting linebackers."

Casillas - a player Lansanah knew well, having hosted him at UConn for a recruiting visit - and Lansanah battled throughout training camp and the early portion of the 2014 season for playing time. It looked like Casillas would wind up seeing the majority of reps, when Lansanah, during a Week 3 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons - a game in which Matt Ryan and Co. hung 56 points on the hapless Bucs - picked off T.J. Yates late, returning it for a touchdown.

And when a Week 5 injury again brought Casillas' campaign to an early close, Lansanah laid claim to the strongside spot for good and, with strength born of years of dismissal, of three lost seasons spent outside the NFL entirely, gripped it for all he was worth.


For Lansanah, it was the opportunity - literally - of a lifetime. And he didn't disappoint. In 16 total games of work in 2014, Lansanah, at age 29, broke out at the NFL level for the very first time, collecting 81 tackles, 1.5 sacks and three interceptions, an astounding two of which he returned for touchdowns.

In what could only be deemed a fitting turn of events, that underestimation, that being passed over, followed Lansanah this season as well. Bruce Carter, a former second-round draft pick of the Cowboys, unexpectedly started the preseason at the top of the Buccaneers' depth chart at middle linebacker. Rookie fourth-rounder Kwon Alexander found himself on the strong side. With standout Lavonte David entrenched at weakside linebacker, it looked to be shaping up as just another season struggling for snaps for Lansanah.

Again Lansanah battled. And again, he dreamed.

And in the end, Lansanah persevered.

"It's just been the story of my life," he says. "I always had to battle my whole life. You can tell from my story. It didn't catch me by surprise. It kind of hurt my feelings a little bit, but at the end of the day I have the mentality that I'm going to control what I can control and I'm going to just ball and let the chips fall where they may. And that's what I did and that's what I continue to do to this day, playing ball at a high level."

Through nine games of his age-30 season, just his second seeing starter's snaps, Lansanah has managed a fitting 30 tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles operating alongside the electrifying Alexander and the somewhat fallen-back-to-earth David.

For Lansanah, the road has been long and it has certainly been arduous, but there's no time to reflect on the past now. No, there's only time to consider the looming matchup with Dallas and the remainder of the current season. Only time to control what he can control.

"Just keep progressing and help my team win games, do whatever my coach asks me to do and do it to the best of my ability," Lansanah says, when asked what he expects out of the rest of the Bucs' 2015 season. "And hopefully we get this thing turned around and win games. A lot of games we've been in or had a chance to win, so we just got to get over that hump and keep working and hopefully we'll come out on top in some of our games that are coming up here."


On paper, the Bucs' second-half slate seems to feature a fair amount of winnable games. The next two weeks - a pair of NFC East battles versus a desperate Cowboys team and the potentially blossoming Philadelphia Eagles - certainly look tough, but after that things seem to take a fortuitous turn for Tampa. There's the Andrew Luck-less Colts, a Falcons team that's lost three of its last four after opening the season on a 5-0 run, a Saints group whose defensive struggles are of nearly historical proportions, a Rams team with almost no passing game to speak of and a Bears squad that will only go as far as Jay Cutler takes it, before Lansanah and Co. finish up the season with a final NFC South brawl against Cam Newton and the currently undefeated Carolina Panthers.

But Lansanah isn't worried about the upcoming teams on the schedule. He's worried about what he can control, what he and his Tampa teammates can take care of in the weight room, the film room, on the practice field. The rest will work itself out.

"Every game we had a chance to win a game except one," he says. "Our offense is playing great. They're giving us a chance to be in games. Defensively we have to find a way to stop the other team and make a big play. Coach Lovie always emphasizes turnovers, getting turnovers, and we've got to make those things happen."

Now entrenched in the Bucs' defense, Lansanah has allowed himself the luxury of feeling - of living and dying with the fortunes of the team with which he was finally able to blossom as an NFL player. And for Lansanah, as for the rest of his Buccaneers teammates, the immediate focus rests on their Week 10 matchup with Dallas.

But it also rests on California, and the dream of every NFL team, born anew every NFL season.

"We call it 'California Dreamin','" he says with a laugh. "It's always been the goal since this thing started rolling this year, and it's still our goal to get there. We just have to take it one game at a time."

Before every meeting at One Buc Way, Smith puts a picture up on the projector screen depicting Levi's Stadium with "50" superimposed over it in large lettering, an in-no-way subtle reminder that the goal isn't just to return the Tampa franchise to the conversation for the league's playoff teams - it's to reach, and win, Super Bowl 50.

"You don't play the game to be a contender," Lansanah says, his voice sobering. "You play the game to win a Super Bowl."

And Lansanah wants to win. He wants to win for the city of Tampa Bay - he wants to win for his Buccaneers teammates. He believes that with new franchise quarterback Jameis Winston in place - "Man," he says, pausing before offering the word, "surprising," when asked to describe the leadership Winston's shown already this season, "lights out" when asked to gauge Winston's level of play through eight NFL games - the Bucs have a real shot to do just that.

But for Lansanah - for a man whose NFL career started in 2008, faded like only a happy memory can, resurfaced again fresher, newer in 2013 - in a way, he's already won. He's already beaten the odds, overcome the greatest obstacle he may ever face in his professional career.

Lansanah's story's not done yet though, the dream not finished by any means. And while Lansanah might be entering that decade in which most NFL stars suddenly seem to find themselves in the twilight of their career, and playing this season on a one-year restricted free agent tender, his focus isn't on what's next - his focus remains on the here, the now, Super Bowl 50 and an NFL dream that almost never was, an NFL dream that's now an NFL reality.

"I like it here. I like the guys, I like the coaches, so I would love to come back here, but at the end of the day it's the team's decision to bring me back and my agent and the team can hopefully work something out," he says, the shrug of his shoulder almost audible in the tone of his voice.

"But right now I'm just worried about winning games. Everything else will take care of itself."