As we’ve seen time and time again in football, there’s more than one path to glory on the field. Sure, some players start as 5 star recruits out of high school, play at a D-I powerhouse and get drafted in the first round, but others have to scrap for playing time.
That’s exactly what Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi did. This time last year, he was essentially out of football. Despite lighting up the NJCAA as a punt returner where he scored 6 times in one season, Division I schools turned a cold shoulder to his tape, and he found himself on the outside looking in.
He showed up at Arena League and CFL tryouts, but soon found out that those camps rarely yielded contracts to hopefuls like himself.
He ended up hearing about a Cleveland Browns tryout from a friend, but it was an invite only event. That wasn’t going to stop him. He made his way to the camp in Miami, and pretended to know personnel VP Alonzo Highsmith. He’d just googled Alonzo outside the facility, then walked up to him and said hi just to keep up appearances.
It might not’ve been a textbook first impression, but that didn’t matter once he took to the field. He caught eyes with his electric 4.38 speed, and he displayed good route running ability and sticky hands. Alonzo Highsmith knew him now. If the XFL still had nicknames on jersey’s, Sheehy’s would’ve read “Finesse”.
He earned himself an invite to the Browns camp the next week, but was stranded in a new city without funds.
Having spent his savings traveling around looking for a shot, he found himself camped out by an elite football gym in Miami where he was using the last of his money to work out. He slept in the grass, charged his phone at a laundromat and fell back on friends and family back home to order him food online.
It takes a special kind of person to keep grinding away while they’re sleeping rough, but DSG wasn’t ready to quit on his dream. It wasn’t ready to quit on him either.
He made his way to Cleveland, where he got a bed and three square meals a day at the team facility. He stuck around all through camp, but that was just the beginning.
It was his first snap in pro football OBJ had just given him a pair of new cleats, and the Redskins were trying to pin him inside the 20 on a punt. He caught it, jetted right through the teeth of the gunners and glided around the rest of the skins coverage, 86 yards to the house.
Four months ago, Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi was sleeping outside because he couldn’t afford a hotel.
He talked his way into a contract with the @Browns and today he scored an 86-yard punt return TD!
— NFL (@NFL) August 9, 2019
Cleveland’s whole bench cleared and dawg piled him, and the scrappy 24 year old had done it. He’d just proved to the whole football world that he could ball out if they called on him.
Unfortunately, the Browns didn’t have a roster spot for him, but the impression he made in Cleveland has stuck. Starting WR’s OBJ and Jarvis Landry showed love after his exit, and this fall our very own New York Guardians signed him to their squad. When I asked him about it, this is what he had to say about the XFL opportunity.
“Your name has been making headlines, how does it feel that people are finally starting to notice your talent?“
“It’s just a blessing. I’ve come a long way, and before I was just trying to get in the door, and now the door is calling me in. Two years ago I was trying to get in the AAF, and I couldn’t get in there, now to get a call like ‘do you want to be in the XFL’ is just such a blessing”
He’s on the Injured/Reserve list right now, but he’s still grinding, and it looks like he’s working hard to stay sharp. ARP Wave squats are no joke.
If this isn’t what the XFL is about, I don’t know what is. A crazy talented underdog is gunning to get his shot, and I’m here for it. I think the New York Guardians will call him up sooner rather than later, and he could tear it up on the field for them.
It’s still early in the season, we’re dealing with the roster olympics and the offseason process, but what are you hoping to get done this spring?
“Hopefully just to become a more complete player, a more confident receiver, to fine tune those details…and just to stay explosive, stay fast and become better athletically overall, my focus is to win in everything I can possibly do.”
— New York Guardians (@XFLGuardians) December 17, 2019
First off, the XFL special teams rules intensify the action, and bring the return game more to the forefront. On punts, we’re using CFL rules, where there are no fair catches, but coverage units have to give returners 5 yards of space to make the catch. On kickoffs, coverage and return teams have to stand still until the returner has the ball, and this should give him plenty of opportunities to dice up tacklers.
“There’s a lot of new stuff going on in the XFL these days, how are you feeling about those new kickoff rules?“
“It’s something to look forward to, something to bring more explosiveness and excitement to the game… It’s gonna give you a lot more to have fun with, you know you get to go back there and return, instead of wondering if he’s going to kick it you or send it out of bounds”
Returners will have more time to read the field and react, and I think Sheehy is primed to be one of the best here. He scored on 4 kickoffs and 2 punts in 2016 at Phoenix College, but I think he can pump those numbers way, way up.
“Fans are gonna remember you from that crazy 86 yard TD return with the Browns last year, but how are you hoping to grow as a receiver and become a part of an offense this year?“
“I’m looking to work on the details of the route running, and work on learning how to adjust according to the defense and how they line up.“
“I’m learning from all that experience and knowledge from getting all the reps I didn’t get growing up playing football, and I’m more natural and more fluid, hoping to grow and learn the techniques and the little details that a receiver has to do.“
Alonzo Highsmith also expressed that Sheehy is cut from the right cloth to be a slot receiver, and I think he could be a valuable part of this passing game. With NFL vet Matt McGloin under center, he has the speed, size and grit to be a threat over the middle and up the seam. He’s previously said in interviews that he wants to score on every play, and that mentality will serve him well in the slot. He’s also excited about some of the tech innovations that the XFL is bringing to make offenses faster.
“Another one of the interesting thing with the rules is the offense has a running clock, and it’s that 25 seconds so are you guys running the hurry-up offenses or anything like that out there?“
“It was kinda cool, because all the WR’s have speakers in our helmets so we get the play the same time the QB does. We don’t have to go into the huddle then run out, and run back and forth. It goes a lot smoother than you think, we don’t have to run a hurry up technically, it’s gonna be exciting to watch, to run something so fast but it’s not gonna make us rush. It’s gonna be up paced out there.“
“I’m excited to see how it all works out, I’m excited to just see IT, in a real game in motion, to see how explosive the game turns out.“
I worked with his agent for weeks to set up an interview, and finally locked it down the day he was placed on IR, but he’s not giving up.
“It’s been a crazy year for you obviously, from finessing your way into the NFL and sleeping rough in Miami to making it to the XFL, and I just gotta say it’s inspiring to see somebody stay positive and keep grinding through tough situations.“
“I appreciate it, I appreciate that so much because sometimes I just get all in my head, but the only thing you can do is remain positive and focus on that main goal, and achieving whatever you have in mind.”
“It’s hard out here for people, what would you say to someone who’s out there struggling, trying to hold onto their dream these days?”
“Some people have to grind for years, that’s really what the grind is: when you don’t really have anything going for you but you’re still working for something and you have no idea what could happen…don’t fall off on your main goals just because there might be some short term money out there… Don’t lose yourself in the grind and keep going on what you want to do with your life. Don’t fall off the grind.”
DSG has already made a name for himself in the football world, but he’s not a just a heartwarming and inspirational story, he could make a real impact on the field. The Guardians currently have 6 receivers on the active roster, but only one of those (Justice Liggins) has ever scored in NFL action like DSG. They also don’t have either at KR/PR listed here, so he could make his way back up on special teams again.
I get the feeling his young career is just getting started, and I’m excited to see where he ends up.