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Former CFL player Darnell Sankey making quick adjustment to playing in XFL

It hasn't taken Darnell Sankey long to adjust to life in the XFL.
Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker Darnell Sankey (53) runs onto the field before CFL football action against BC Lions in Regina on Friday, August 19, 2022. Sankey is adjusting well to life in the XFL. The CFL's leading tackler the past two seasons was named the XFL's defensive player of the week after registering eight tackles (five solo, two for a loss) and half a sack in the Arlington Renegades' 10-9 win over the Orlando Guardians on Sunday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Heywood Yu

It hasn't taken Darnell Sankey long to adjust to life in the XFL.

Sankey, the CFL's leading tackler in each of the last two seasons, had eight tackles (five solo, two for loss) and half a sack in the Arlington Renegades' 10-9 win over the Orlando Guardians on Sunday. That earned Sankey defensive player of the week honours in just his second XFL game while platooning at linebacker.

Sankey will make his first XFL start Sunday when Arlington (2-1) visits the St. Louis Battlehawks (2-1).

"I'm just grateful for the opportunity," Sankey said in a telephone interview. "I'm truly blessed and would like to think I'm settling into the defence."

The six-foot-one, 245-pound Sankey didn't have the benefit of training camp with Arlington as he joined the club just four days before its first regular-season game. He was inactive for the Renegades' 22-20 victory over the Las Vegas Vipers on Feb. 18 and has split reps over the club's last two contests.

Sankey, 28, joined the Renegades following two very productive seasons in Canada. The San Jose native was the CFL's leading tackler with Calgary (98 in '21) and Saskatchewan (122 in '22) and signed with Arlington shortly after hitting CFL free agency.

"The CFL allowed me to showcase my talents and skills and I'll always be very grateful for that," Sankey said. "Who's to say what might happen in the future?

"I just want to continue to chase my dream."

And for Sankey, that's earning another NFL shot. Following his college career at Sacramento State, Sankey spent time with the Denver Broncos (2016), Kansas City Chiefs (2016), Indianapolis Colts (2017-18), Detroit Lions (2018) and New Orleans Saints (2018-19).

He signed with Calgary in 2020 but made his CFL debut in 2021 as the league didn't operate in '20 due to the global pandemic.

"That (NFL return) is the goal and has always been my goal," Sankey said. "Quite frankly, I wasn't even really thinking about the XFL until they called.

"When they did, I asked God if that was the right decision, I talked it over with my family and agent and we decided this was the way we were going to go."

Playing in the XFL has not only meant a return to American football for Sankey, but suiting up for games in March.

"I'd been training pretty hard since the CFL season ended and didn't really take any time off so I'd like to think I was much more ready than a lot of guys would've been in my situation," Sankey said. "It came pretty naturally, to be honest . . . I've been playing American football my whole life and only played Canadian football for two years.

"In terms of hitting and contact, it's going to take a week or two to get back into the swing of things, to get your shoulder pads popping and your legs back under you. Linebacker is linebacker, no matter what league you play in. Run, hit and command the defence, it's the same thing for me."

Kenny Kim of Summit Athletes, Sankey's Florida-based agent, didn't mince words regarding his client's XFL transition.

"I believe he's already the best linebacker in the XFL and will have opportunities at the end," Kim said. "In consulting with his family, Darnell made a great professional decision to go to this new league and showcase his talents."

Sankey said the XFL is full of players with something to prove.

"It's a lot of guys in a similar situation as me," Sankey said. "From what I see, it's a lot of guys who're hungry and have that feeling of being overlooked by the NFL, for whatever reason.

"I'd say 100 per cent, everybody here has a chip on their shoulder. Everybody wants to prove they can play and I guess this is where you go to prove that."

Sankey's goals for the remainder of the XFL season mirror those he had in Canada: To establish himself as the league's top defensive player and help his team win a title.

"I just want to show what I'm about," he said. "I want to be the No. 1 (defensive) player and lead this team to a championship.

"That's what I'm striving for."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2023.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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