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The view is worth the climb

Monday, February 14, 2005

By Ben Carstens

Sports Editor

The future will be pretty bright for those college players lucky enough to get picked in the first round of the National Football League draft this coming April.

Big time signing bonuses, seven to eight figure contracts, endorsement deals and instant celebrity usually comes with the territory. For most of them cracking the lineup for their respective teams will be a piece of cake.

But for the majority of players the road to the NFL is an arduous journey that starts the day they leave college. Many try for years to make a team to no avail while others give it a shot and quit after not making it the first time out.

For Josh Stamer making it to the NFL was a far off dream when he graduated from South O'Brien High School in Paullina in 1996.

"In high school I wasn't the best athlete," commented Stamer during a recent interview in Remsen, where his grandparents Wally and Vera Nilles live. "But there was something about competition that lit a fire in me that nothing else did. That feeling of winning was like no other."

Josh continued to fuel his competitive fire by walking on to the University of South Dakota basketball team his freshman year of college. Stamer and the USD football coaches soon found he was more effective on the football field and that's where he remained for the next four years first as a safety and then at linebacker for the Coyotes.

Stamer played the role of walk-on his first couple years on the turf but through hard work, dedication and determination he earned a full scholarship his final two seasons - a rarity for that level of college football.

That hard work ethic, dedication and determination would continue to serve Stamer after he graduated from USD with a masters degree in accounting as he headed east to New York to try out for the Giants.

After being picked up as a free agent by them following the 2001 NFL draft, Stamer got his first taste of minicamp in the "Big Apple."

"It was strange coming from small towns in Iowa and South Dakota straight to New York," recalled Stamer, the son of Mary McLaren of Evansdale and Terry Stamer of Sanborn. "Things went really well in that first camp but I was released because they didn't have a spot for me. They did keep in contact with me throughout the season though."

During the 2001 season Stamer spent his time in Cary, N.C. with his brother and sister-in-law doing nothing but working out and thinking about football.

"I was just mad I wasn't out there playing. I couldn't stand to even watch football."

Stamer got his chance to go out and play some football following the season when the Giants sent him to NFL Europe to gain experience with the Amsterdam Admirals. For three months he got the opportunity to play with other NFL caliber players in a 10 game season.

When Stamer came back from Europe though, he found that the Giants had released him.

"They had gone and drafted some linebackers so they didn't have room for me anymore," said the 6-2, 238 pounder. "A month later I was in Seattle at training camp with the Seahawks."

Stamer said he put in some good time at Seattle during training camp but never really had a chance to crack the lineup. The Seahawks already had a full group of linebackers and they released him the final cut day.

So it was back to North Carolina and the weight room for Stamer as he again spent the season on the outside looking in.

"I was mad those two seasons I didn't get to play. I was steaming because I knew I could play. I had proved that much to myself. I couldn't sleep and the anger drove me to other lengths. It made me want it that much more and to work harder."

It wasn't long before Stamer's phone was ringing again, this time from the Bills in Buffalo and by training camp in 2003 he was out giving it his all.

With another good training camp under his belt, Stamer was forced to wait around and see if this would be the time the hard work paid off and he finally made it.

"In the preseason, if they don't call you it's a good thing," Stamer explained. "They only give you a call to tell you you're released. I got the call on the final cut day the last two seasons. The four o'clock deadline came around and I hadn't heard from the Bills that day. It was a great feeling but the longest day of my life."

Stamer didn't go through it alone that day as his roommate, Bills tight end Ryan Neufeld, was right beside him feeling the same distress as they watched the phone. Neufeld and Stamer became acquainted when they both tried out for Seattle and when neither got a call that day they became fast friends.

"It was nice to be able to share that feeling with someone. It was really exciting. I had gone through so much to get there. I always heard guys say it was hard to get in the NFL, but even harder to get out. Well, it was hard to get in and I hope it is hard to get out because I'm here now and hope to be around a while."

Stamer started his rookie season on the Bills kick off return team and impressed coaches so much that by week four he was on three more special team units.

"It was crazy," Stamer said about his first NFL game. "For two years I didn't play at all then suddenly it's go time and I have to be ready."

Stamer also got his first taste at linebacker in week two when a starter went down with leg cramps against Jacksonville. He came in and played a good half of football against the tough Jaguar squad.

His second season saw Josh playing on all the special team units and about five plays a game at linebacker when the Bills went into a 4-4 defensive set. Starters London Fletcher, Jeff Posey and Pro-Bowler Takeo Spikes give Stamer a good education at the position.

"They are so good at what they do and are so patient. They are disciplined and take their time to read a play and watch it develop.

"Its been a great learning experience and I try to gather all I can from them. They are one of the best linebacker trios in the league. Down the road I can use that if we ever part ways. For now I like where I'm at."

Stamer had a great year as the Bills special teams was ranked #1 in the NFL and he picked up a team leading 47 special teams tackles. The season ended with him being crowned a tri-MVP on special teams with punter Bryan Moorman and kickoff return specialist Terrence McGee. McGee was named as a Pro-Bowl selection this season.

Another banner accomplishment for Stamer this season was finding his name on the Pro-Bowl ballot. Something that says he is quickly gaining the respect of his teammates and opponents.

"I feel like I got my name out there this year," Stamer noted. "It was my best year by far."

Stamer credits special teams coach Bobby April with being a great motivator as he named him special teams Player of the Week four times. He also has developed a great affection for the city of Buffalo and the people he plays with.

"I like the guys I'm playing with and I have great coaches and a great organization. The fans are outstanding. It's a blue collar town and they live for us."

Stamer notes playing against the heroes he had when he was young as the biggest eye opener so far. "When you see players like Emmit Smith and Jerry Rice on the same field with you it really lets you know where you're at."

He also found revenge to be the biggest highlight. "Beating the Giants and Seahawks felt really good. It's nice to beat those teams that released me and play against guys I played with there."

Stamer found his way back to the midwest recently for the South O'Brien Athletic Boosters banquet held Saturday where he and the NFL gave a donation of $5000 for the new Wolverine weight room.

South O'Brien also retired Stamer's jersey Saturday and No. 4 will never be worn again by a Wolverine football player.

"There's not a day that I play when I don't think about where I came from," Stamer proudly admitted. "South O'Brien gave me a great foundation. Coach (Dana) Vige, (Chuck) Hughes, and (Dave) Larson gave me the ability to succeed in anything I chose to do."

For the next few months Stamer will be relaxing and recuperating in Cary where he just purchased a new home before he has to get back to training.

"It's been a very humbling experience," Stamer pointed out about the journey to the NFL and all the attention he now receives. "I don't like being the center of attention. I just like playing football. I know I am very blessed to be able to do what I am doing."

Even though Stamer is now playing in the NFL, he doesn't forget the days when he was at home watching and hoping for another shot. In fact, he credits that with giving him the desire to make it.

"The two years I got released made a big impact on my character," commented Stamer. "It gave me the will to go on and make it this far. I don't know what would have happened to me if I hadn't. I appreciate it now and want to play as long as I am able."

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