Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland isn’t exactly a football powerhouse. How do I know? Well, for starters, I’m an alum. And, having spent four years going to games on Friday nights, well, just take my word for it.
Despite being one of the largest high schools in its county, the Blazers have produced only one NFL player since the 1970s: Class of 1998 grad Visanthe Shiancoe.
Given the athletic talent pool in the area (think DMV hoops), Shiancoe is as stumped as anyone that his former high school can’t get it right on the gridiron. But a lack of tradition didn’t stop “Shank” from earning a scholarship to D-I FCS college Morgan State after playing quarterback, wide receiver and tight end in high school, then molding himself into a physical specimen worthy of a third-round pick of the New York Giants in 2003.
After learning the ropes from Jeremy Shockey with the G-Men, Shank had his best seasons in Minnesota, where he signed a free agent deal in 2007. In ’09, with Brett Favre under center for the Vikings, Shiancoe hauled in a career-high 56 passes for 566 yards. That season, only three players caught more touchdown passes than Shank’s 11—Larry Fitzgerald, Randy Moss and Vernon Davis.
Amazingly, despite having 243 receptions and 27 touchdowns to his name, Shiancoe says he didn’t get serious about playing tight end full-time until the summer between his sophomore and junior seasons at Morgan State—around the same time pro scouts began showing up at practices and games.
Not taking his pro career for granted is a big part of what’s helped him stick in the league for over 10 years. “The thing is, I did come from under the radar, to the public,” Shiancoe says, “but it was a lot of scouts like everyday, so it kind of got me used to it a little bit. I wasn’t really too shellshocked going into the NFL when it came to working out and the nutrition and stuff like that, because I was already on that in college. When it came to cars and all that I wasn’t trying to keep up with the Joneses. I just worked with what I had and did what I liked. I wasn’t too easily influenced by others like that.”
Shank says when he got his first NFL paycheck, he bought himself a Denali. And with each subsequent contract, he bought one new car. But that’s it.
Instead, he’s spent his time as a professional investing in, in his words, “things that really hold weight.” That includes charitable work, like with the “Let’s Read, Let’s Move” initiative and developing a reputation as one of the league’s go-to fashion experts, among other pursuits.
If Shiancoe plays NFL football in 2013, he says it will only be in “the right situation.” Over his decade-plus pro career, Shank has played alongside a list of legendary quarterbacks that includes Favre, Eli Manning, Donovan McNabb and Tom Brady during stints with the Giants, Vikings and Patriots, and earned the respect of each one along the way.
If that situation doesn’t present itself, Shank says he’s readying himself for a potential career in broadcasting, to go along with his current focus on charity work. Given the famous football personalities he’s crossed paths with over his career, Shiancoe has a unique perspective on things. (He, at times, has also had others take a unique “look” at him, too.) So last week, we caught up with Shank to ask about a wide range of topics, from Shockey to Favre to Tim Tebow. Check out the best from our conversation, below. And for more from Shank, follow him on Twitter @VShiancoe.
TDdaily: What was Jeremy Shockey like as a mentor when you first got drafted?
Visanthe Shiancoe: My senior year, I remember looking up to him and wanting to be like him. Then I got drafted by the Giants and I was like, “Oh snap!” and then I go up there and meet Shockey. I’m watching everything he’s doing, paying attention to everything he’s doing because that is where I want to be, to get to that level.
TD: What was he like in the locker room? He has a rough reputation with the media…
VS: Nah man, there’s two reputations. There’s the public reputation that’s displayed by whoever wants to just throw their opinion out there. Then, there’s the reputation within the league with players and in the locker room. And that’s totally different, because that’s the real person. Nobody knows these real people. A lot of fans have to realize what’s in an article isn’t necessarily true. Most of the time it’s people’s opinions. And that can stem from an observation or that could come from a personal encounter. You just never know. All that stuff is just not accurate in the public. You don’t what kind of person a guy is due to just articles. You have no idea.
TD: Is that frustrating to you, or to other guys around the league?
VS: Oh, yeah. At first, it was frustrating and then you learn to just accept it because that’s not going to change.
TD: You came in as a rookie, and you guys went 4-12. Then Tom Coughlin was hired and Eli Manning was drafted. What were your first impressions of Eli?
VS: Eli, I just wanted to see what he was all about. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, what kind of person he was and what type of impact he was going to have on the team. You know, with his brother and everything. Everything that came with Eli was his dad, his brother—that family dynasty, almost. I was impressed right away with the way he handled adversity and by his work ethic.
TD: A couple years later you went from New York to Minnesota. Was there a big difference in media attention?
VS: At first it was. When I went [to the Vikings], it was Adrian Peterson’s rookie year. When it came to media and stuff like that, there was a little bit more media in New York, of course. But after a while, Minnesota got even crazier—we had Favre and [Randy] Moss. I was right there during the peak of all that.
TD: How do you describe Adrian Peterson to someone that’s never played alongside him?
VS: He’s a good dude. He’s a good human being, not only a good player. That makes a complete athlete to me. A lot of people think it’s just about going there and playing football, but it’s not just about going out there on the field it’s about everything that comes with it. How you handle the element of physical and mental—everything in combination.
TD: You’ve played with a lot of really, really great quarterbacks. If you had to put one or two at the top of the list for the best quarterback you ever played with, who would it be?
VS: It would be of course Farve and Brady.
TD: If you could only take one?
VS: It’d have to be Favre. And the reason I am saying it would have to be Favre is because I played two years with him, and I’ve had that camaraderie with him.
TD: Last year with the Patriots, you got to see Rob Gronkowski up close. How do you see the tight end position in the NFL evolving going forward?
VS: It’s rare to find a tight end like Gronk that can block as well as he can block and still be that pass threat the way he is. I do see more Calvin Johnson-type tight ends around. I see that in the future.
TD: How do you think Tim Tebow will work out in New England?
VS: With Tebow, you never know with him. He could be playing a whole lot or could be not playing at all. It all depends on how it happens. Last year, I played with the Patriots, it was terrific, just learning how it’s run for about a month. Under Bill Belichick, it’s an experience…
TD: Could Tebow play tight end?
VS: Can he play tight end? Tight end up there in New England requires blocking, I’m not sure how much he blocks. If he could block well—to tell you the truth, with the way they work up there, however he can fit in, he’s going to fit in.
Abe Schwadron is the Online Editor of TDdaily.com. Follow him on Twitter @abe_squad.