Chronic hip pain has officially ended former St. Thomas standout linebacker Tony Danna’s dreams of playing football in Europe.
Former St. Thomas linebacker Tony Danna makes a tackle against St. Scholastica in last year's NCAA playoffs. (Rita Kovtun/TommieMedia)
Danna, D3football.com’s 2011 West Region Defensive Player of the Year, had been negotiating a deal with the Franken Knights, an American football team from Rothenberg, Germany, but after getting hip X-rays done by an orthopedic doctor, Danna received devastating news.
“My doctor told me I was in the early stages of arthritis,” Danna said. “He said if I continued to play football, I would have trouble walking by age 30.”
Coach Glenn Caruso knows the decision was a heartbreaking one for Danna, but it was ultimately a “thoughtful and smart move.”
“I know he puts a lot of stock in his long-term health,” Caruso said. “He wants to be able to run around and play catch with his kids when he’s 30 years old.”
The days following the announcement were tough on Danna, who had been looking forward to experiencing a new culture and “putting real life on hold for six months.”
“Football is a new sport to the people (in Germany), so it would have been cool to play there and say you were over there,” Danna said.
If Danna would have played for the Knights, he would have met up with another one of the Tommies’ premiere players, senior wide receiver Fritz Waldvogel. Waldvogel’s Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns play 40 minutes away from the Franken Knights, and Waldvogel said he wishes Danna could have joined him in Germany.
“For all the times we have talked smack about beating each other, it would have been fun to settle it in another country,” Waldvogel said.
Danna’s hip pain has been an issue throughout his football career. He said that the “wear and tear” of the long seasons caused pain in both hips and groins, but he found that ice and Advil before and after practice provided temporary relief for his body.
Danna believed the pain was not serious because he was able to manage it during the football seasons.
“My hips were so weak that it became a groin problem because the groins were overcompensating for that,” Danna said.
Junior safety Josh Carey said he never heard his teammate talk about the pain or complain about any injury.
“He’s the type of player that wouldn’t come off the field unless it was an extreme injury,” Carey said.
Although his football career is over, Danna has already begun a new career by following in his family’s footsteps. After graduating in December, he started working at the Danna Agency, an insurance and financial services company, that operates under his father and uncle.
Danna already has high hopes for his new business career.
“It’s cool to see my family in its element and see what goals can be achieved,” Danna said. “I hope to take over everything they have built up and continue the success here.”
In addition to working at the Danna Agency, Danna will also be spending time this fall and winter at Hill-Murray, his alma mater. He recently accepted the JV girls hockey coach position.
While Danna is excited to be back at his former high school, he knows coaching girls will be slightly different than boys.
”I think I will have to try and keep my competitive side in check,” Danna said.
Danna played a key role in the Tommies’ success during his college career. He became the third player in program history to surpass 300 career tackles, finishing second overall on the career tackles list. In 47 career games, he had 325 tackles, three interceptions, three forced fumbles, three recovered fumbles, 14 sacks and 43.5 tackles for loss.
“Tony will be greatly missed,” Carey said. “Not only for his athletic ability, but he was a great guy to have around and a great leader.”
Caruso said Danna’s emotional presence extended beyond the field.
“More importantly, he was the heartbeat of our program the last four years,” Caruso said.
Looking back, Danna has nothing but good memories of Tommie football.
“Other than winning the national championship, it’s been a dream come true,” Danna said.
Hayley Schnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.