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FOURTH DOWN AND LONG : Former CSUN Tight End’s Prospects of Pro Career Dimmed After Tryout

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Richard Ane had just put together a three-move pattern that left the defensive back stumbling. Running free now along the sideline, he saw the pass coming, a perfect, tight spiral, white laces gleaming in the morning sun. Ane already had snared 10 passes this morning, and this one would be the capper, the catch that would catch the eye of the coaches and make Ane, finally, a professional football player. With his eyes focused on the brown leather, he brought his strong, sure hands up quickly to meet the ball . . .

Ane, a standout tight end at Saugus High, Valley College and Cal State Northridge, had tried this before. He worked his way through another scouting combine earlier this year and was grabbed by the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League. In the Lions’ camp, Ane was very impressive. From a field of more than 80 candidates, he became one of just five to nail down a roster position.

“All I ever wanted was one year, one season,” Ane said. “Just one year as a professional football player.”

Three days into the Lions’ training camp, however, as Ane battled for a starting berth, the muscles in his right calf ripped. He fell heavily to the ground, clutching the leg in great pain. A few days later, the Lions released him.

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The leg healed during the summer, and, on Sunday, he rose from his bed with the first light and headed excitedly to Occidental College in Eagle Rock, where the new World League of American Football--an NFL-supported league that in the spring will have franchises in Barcelona, London and Frankfurt as well as in several North American cities--was holding tryouts. Ane was one of 100 former college players to be invited.

In small groups, the players sweated and grunted and tried desperately to impress the collection of World League coaches--many of whom had strong Texas accents that made it clear that this was big-time football. At the end of the tryout, a league official would offer contracts to perhaps 15 of the players.

Ane was impressive. He sent his taut, 6-foot-3, 220-pound body through every drill with abandon. In the vertical-leap drill he soared above all others in his group. His leap of 36 inches brought loud, we-are-impressed sounds from the mouths of his rivals. By comparison, NBA superstar Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest leaper on the planet among creatures without paws, can put out a 42-inch vertical leap.

In the 40-yard dash, however, Ane faltered. He said he has run a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. Sunday, with a half-dozen stopwatches poised at the finish line, he needed 4.7 seconds to complete the run. And even though other tight ends and receivers in his group fared no better, Ane knew it would be a mark against him.

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But now, in the pass-catching drills, he knew he would gather some attention. Five crisp passes from the quarterback and five nice, solid receptions. Five more passes and Ane, who was putting some professional moves on the defensive backs, snared all five of those too. And then came his best pattern of all, a flashing inside-outside-inside move that had the defensive back reeling. Ane was alone on the sideline. The coaches were staring.

There appeared to be no reason for what happened. Ane brought his large hands to the ball as he had done hundreds and hundreds of times in games and practices. He had caught so many of these passes, these easy ones, that perhaps his concentration lapsed for a split-second. Perhaps the pressure of the moment, with the coaches and the contract-wavers hovering, drew his attention from the ball. As it arrived he brought his hands together. And dropped it.

Four more passes followed, and Ane snatched each from the air. Fifteen passes. Fourteen catches. Some of them spectacular.

And one drop.

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“Just one,” Ane said. “I just dropped one pass. One pass out of 15. And I just don’t understand how I could have done that. It was bump and run and I put a great three-move pattern on the guy and was wide open. And I just dropped it. I knew that wasn’t good. I could feel them looking at me.”

A while later, the candidates were called together. By jersey number, the chosen few were announced, those who were officially invited to the World League combine camp in Orlando, Fla., in mid-February. Ane, number 76, stood nervously.

Number 12 was called. And 29 and 38 and 39. And number 47 and 51 and 56. And number 60 and 68, and now Ane was tingling. And number 82. And then some higher numbers.

And Ane, a handsome man who comes from a Hawaiian family that has sent many of its men to the mainland for football careers--including two in the NFL--smiled.

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Then he went home.

“I didn’t make it,” he said. “I just didn’t make it. I don’t know what happened. I dropped that pass, but I did well in everything else. To be honest, I was shocked. I didn’t ask anybody the reason. It’s like talking to a referee during a game. It doesn’t do any good at all. So I left. I feel confident that they knew what they were doing. I felt sure I would be asked to stay, but I didn’t (get asked). I got a chance to go down there and compete and then they made their decision. I’m disappointed. But I’m thankful I got the chance.”

League officials said the list of those fortunate few who were singled out on Sunday would not be the final list, however. The coaches, according to publicist Mike Wade, will compare notes during the next few weeks and tender offers to attend the Florida camp to many other players.

“I hope to get one of those calls,” Ane said.

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“I was pleased with my performance on Sunday, pleased with what I did. Maybe I wasn’t what they were looking for. But that’s the thing about football that I enjoy. You get one shot sometimes, and one shot only. You’ve got to come with your best on that one day, right now, or it’s all over. I enjoy that part of football, the competition, the do-it-now aspect of the game.”

In 1986 and 1987, he did do it for Valley College. He was All-State honorable mention in his first year and the team’s MVP in his second season.

“Ricky Ane is just a tremendous kid,” said Chuck Ferrero, the Valley College coach. “He is everything you could want as a football coach. Just a super kid that will give you every ounce that he has, every time out. Guys don’t get much nicer than Ricky Ane.”

At CSUN, Ane caught 29 passes for 400 yards in two seasons and was named a co-captain of the team as a senior.

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He is working on his degree at CSUN, a degree in teaching and coaching because Ane knows that football is where he wants to spend some more time. He hopes in cleats and tape. But a whistle around his neck wouldn’t be so bad, either.

Ane changed his major at CSUN from business because he “finally realized that’s where my heart is.” An uncle, Charlie Ane, played football at USC and two other relatives played in the NFL, including cousin Kale Ane who played seven years for the Kansas City Chiefs.

“There is a long line of us,” Ane said. “I want to make it a little longer. At this point I know I want to start coaching, but I just want that one year of pro ball to bring with me into coaching.”

If not, Ane knows he already has collected volumes of knowledge from more than a decade of football. Knowledge, he said, that will serve him well for the next 50 years.

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“Football has so much to offer people,” he said. “It teaches you so many lessons that you can use in your life. It teaches you amazing dedication, the dedication to work out and get pounded in practice and come right back again. It teaches you how to succeed, and it teaches you not to give up.

“Our society today has so much individualism, people (are) worried only about themselves. Football teaches you how to work with people for a common goal.

“In the real world, in life, that is so important. You may not like the guy you work next to, but you better learn to get along with him and to work with him.”


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