The game of football calls people to its gridironed fields through many different ways. Some are immediately drawn to it by its history, its strategies, its physicality; while some find different ways to it. Danny Kanell found his way to the game of football relatively late in his athletic career.
As a junior at Westminster Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Kanell was a star both in baseball and basketball. After an “opening” on the varsity roster came up, it took some persuasion from his friends to take up football.
“It was all peer pressure,” explained Kanell, with his trademark wit, on how he got into football. “All my buddies played football and our school’s quarterback had graduated. My friends knew I had a good arm so they talked me into joining them.”
Once he got onto the field, he was the proverbial duck taking to water. He loved being a part of the team and the unique experience of camaraderie that football brings. When it came time to decide where he wanted to attend college, Kanell didn’t envision a scenario in which football would be the deciding factor. His first love was baseball, but it would be football that gave him some of his biggest opportunities in life.
“Football really chose me. When I started playing football it never occurred to me that I would play in college,” he said. “I thought I’d play football and have a good time and it would keep me in shape for basketball and baseball season. But my high school team won the state championship my Junior year and because we made it that far our game film made it to most college coaches across the country.”
Scouts and college coaches began to flood Kanell’s school. They came to practices beginning in the spring, which was something that had never happened before at Westminster. It was during this recruitment process that Kanell decided that the chance to play for the legendary Bobby Bowden at Florida State was too great of an opportunity to pass up.
“Coach Bobby Bowden and quarterbacks coach Mark Richt were the reason I felt so comfortable choosing FSU on the football side of things,” he said. “They were honest through the recruiting process and I felt like they cared about my development not only as a football player but also as a human being.”
In spite of being relatively new to the game and the all-important Field General position of quarterback, Kanell had the natural instincts and skill-set to be able to not only survive, but thrive. Following almost immediately in the footsteps of Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward, Kanell led the Seminoles as the starting signal caller in his junior year.
“Quarterback is the toughest position in all of sports,” he said. “It challenges you both mentally and physically on almost every single play. You have to know where everyone of the offense has to be at all times. You have to be able to bounce back from a bad throw, a big hit, or a tough interception. More importantly you have to be able to look every other player in the eye in the huddle every single play and make sure they believe you can lead them down the field.”
Kanell would find great success while at Florida State. The team was a perennial powerhouse and he led his teams to victories in the Sugar Bowl in 1995 and Orange Bowl in 1996. He earned Honorary All-American honors in his senior year and was inducted into the Florida State Athletics Hall of Fame. He was also a 1995 NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
“Being the starting QB at FSU was an incredible experience,” he said. “We were ranked #1 or #2 most of the time I was there and never dropped outside of the top five. It came with a lot of pressure especially following Charlie Ward who had just won a Heisman and a national championship. But we had so much confidence in our athletes and I had so much confidence in the system and the players around me that I knew if I just made good decisions all the athletes around me would make me look good!”
Kanell had a solid eight-year career in professional football, playing for the New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons, and Denver Broncos in the NFL and one season in the Arena Football League for the New York Forest Dragons. After retiring from the game, he tried his hand at finance before a chance opportunity at broadcasting set him on a new course.
“I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after my NFL career was over,” he said. “A friend of mine who worked for the NFL Network asked me to be an analyst for an NFL Europe game. I did it and got some good feedback and it really gave me the bug. I started to do more and more and then finally jumped in with both feet by moving my family to Connecticut where ESPN is located.”
Kanell is now one of the network’s top college football analysts and is the co-host of the popular Russillo and Kanell daily sports talk show. He has not fully settled into this role in the media, but he is thriving. Learning to live with and overcome life’s ups and downs, he attributes that directly to the game of football.
“I found extreme value in getting knocked down and getting back up,” he said. “It sounds really basic but it’s something everyone has to deal with at some point in their life. [Everyone] will deal with adversity and you will never be able to succeed until you learn how to overcome it. Football really taught me the value of ‘getting back up’ over and over again and the value that comes with it.”