Bears Rookie Gives Extra Effort
CHICAGO (AP) _ Robert Chancey’s injury plagued baseball career was coming to an end, and he knew he needed to find something else to do with his life.
He’d never gone to college, trading the textbooks and a football scholarship for the paycheck of a professional baseball player. But as he watched his cousin, Antowain Smith, play at the University of Houston, Chancey wondered if his football days really were over.
``Watching his games, I was like, `I could do the same thing,‴ Chancey said. ``I had to get stronger, of course, because guys are big and strong out here. But I had it in my head that I always could play.″
His self confidence is paying off. Less than 18 months after getting back into football, he’s listed as the Chicago Bears’ starting fullback for the season opener Sunday against Jacksonville.
Chancey’s story is one of hard work and perseverance, of someone determined to chase a dream. Few players make it to the NFL without playing at least some college football, but that never bothered him. He simply worked as hard as he could, and figured everything else would fall into place.
``It was because of his work ethic and his eagerness to become a good football player that he’s been able to get to where he is,″ said Bobby Beathard, general manager of the San Diego Chargers, who signed Chancey last year but cut him before training camp this season.
``We’re really happy for him. He’s a terrific young guy.″
Chancey was a highly recruited running back at Stanhope Elmore High School in Millbrook, Ala., but he was an even better baseball player. When Baltimore drafted him in 1992, Chancey figured his football days were over.
``I really didn’t think about playing college football,″ he said. ``The first thing that was on my mind was the money and baseball.″
A rib injury his second year curtailed his career, though he bounced around the minor leagues through the 1996 season.
Chancey started his quest for the NFL by getting back into shape. He spent countless hours running bleachers and sprints, and there were more hours in the weight room.
He admits there were days he wanted to quit and go back home. But he knew he’d regret it, and Smith was there to encourage him.
``It helped a lot,″ Chancey said. ``He pushed me a lot. He even got me up early in the mornings to work out.″
When Smith held his NFL workouts, Chancey was there, too. Somewhat of a curiosity, the scouts asked him to run a 40-yard dash. When he did it in 4.58 seconds, they wanted to see what else he could do.
Jim Jauch, a Chargers scout, was so impressed he tracked down Beathard.
``(Jauch) said, `We ran into a young guy here that’s really something. What should we do?‴ Beathard recalled. ``I said, `sign him.‴
After spending most of last season on the practice squad, the Chargers signed him to the active roster on Nov. 4. Five days later, he played in his first NFL game.
He played in six games, spending most of his time on special teams. But when he got to Chargers training camp this summer, he was told he’d been cut.
``In my opinion, it was a mistake,″ Beathard said. ``He’s got running skills, he’s got terrific hands. Most of all, he’s got a great, great attitude.″
With Ty Hallock out with a hamstring injury, the Bears were looking for a fullback when Chancey was cut. Mark Hatley, Chicago’s vice president of player personnel, noticed Chancey’s name and called Beathard.
Two days after training camp began, Chancey was in Platteville, Wis., signing his contract on the hood of a golf cart.
``Truthfully? He was a guy that had been on a roster and was one of the latest guys cut so we thought he’d be in good shape,″ Hatley said. ``I really thought he was probably going to be a practice squad guy.″
Instead, Chancey became one of the few bright spots of Chicago’s preseason. He was the team’s second-leading receiver, catching nine passes for 49 yards, and he also averaged 4.0 yards per rush.
``There are not very many players who can do what he’s done so far,″ Hatley said. ``He’s just got talent. ... He’s got football instincts. A lot of it comes to him naturally. He’s got a lot of things he’s got to improve on, but he’s got all the skills to be pretty good.″
Good like Kimble Anders, a three-time Pro Bowl selection with Kansas City, Hatley said. So good Hallock might not get the starting job back now that he’s recovered from his hamstring injury.
``I’ll be rejoicing if I can be the starter, but you never know what can happen,″ Chancey said. ``I’m just going to play it day by day.″