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Stacy Andrews found love for the game


They are the only former University of Mississippi teammates of Eli Manning who have worn a Giants uniform during the quarterback's eight-year tenure with the team.

Clancy was a defensive tackle who started all but one of the Giants' 17 games (one in the postseason) in 2005. Reyes, an offensive lineman, was in training camp and on the active roster for the season opener in 2009 (he was inactive and released two days later). Manning's college connection to those players was somewhat tenuous, since they were seniors at Ole Miss in 1999, the year Manning redshirted.

Andrews and Manning were on the field for the Rebels at the same time, but only briefly.

"I think the only game that he might've got in when I was in there was the Auburn game my senior year (2003)," Manning said.

Andrews, who signed with the Giants on Aug. 3, has an unusual background for an NFL player. He never played a down of high school football. Andrews went to Ole Miss to compete in track & field. He joined the football team in 2002, but was redshirted that season. Hs entire collegiate career consisted of the five games he played the following year.

"He didn't play much football," Manning said. "He came in his last two years. We tried him at D-tackle. My senior year he played a little bit at right tackle, but I don't know how many plays he got. He got maybe 30 plays in a season."

Despite his modest football background, Andrews has carved out a nice NFL career. Now in his eighth season, he has played in 85 regular season games with 46 starts and has played both guard and tackle. Andrews made the Giants' 53-man roster as the top backup at both tackle spots.

"He's an athlete and obviously has had a good career," Manning said. "I'm glad to have him here."

But how, exactly, did he get here without playing the dozens of games and participating in the hundreds of practices most players have under their belt when they arrive in the NFL?

Andrews earned three letters in both basketball and track at Fairview High School in Camden, Ark. But he rebuffed the efforts of those who tried to get him into a football uniform. The coaches lobbied him every year to come out for the team. His younger brother, Shawn, who played for the Giants last season, was an All-America football player at the school.

"Basketball was my number one love, so I stuck with that," Andrews said. "I was pretty good at it. I didn't too much care about football at the time. That was Shawn's thing. He played since he was really young. I started out playing basketball real young.

"The coaches tried to get me out every year and I just kept putting it off and off.  Basketball was my thing and I also did track in high school."

Andrews could also throw a discus much further than most scholastic athletes in Arkansas.

"I broke a lot of records," he said.

He set so many of them that he received several Division 1 scholarship offers for track, which trumped those from smaller schools for basketball. And Mississippi "offered the best scholarship out of everybody."

Andrews was everything the Rebels coaches hoped he could be. He earned All-America honors in both indoor and outdoor competition in the 2002-03 school year. Andrews set school records for indoor weight throw (68' 3.5''), outdoor hammer throw (201' 7'') and discus (188' 5''). In 2002, he placed fifth in the indoor weight throw competition at the NCAA Championships. The following year, he finished fifth in the discus at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

Despite his high achievement, he felt unfulfilled. The reason, strangely enough, was football.

"I regretted not giving it a shot in high school," Andrews said. "I didn't want to leave college regretting it. I didn't want to leave college without giving it at least one shot. I talked to my brother Shawn about it and decided to give it a go."

He had been thinking about it for a while. At 6-6 and about 330 pounds (he is lighter now), Andrews might have been the biggest man on campus not on the football team.

"My freshman year, the track guys lifted where the football players lifted," Andrews said. "The coaches would come in there every day. The offensive line coach (John Latina) would nudge me and joke with me and say, 'Come over to football, man.' I was like, 'Okay, I might give it a shot, coach.' A year went by and he did the same thing. Another year went by and I said, 'I'm going to give it a try.' After talking to Shawn and thinking back to high school I didn't want to regret not giving it a try."

He did not love it immediately. The coaches first put Andrews on the defensive line. But because Shawn was an offensive lineman, Stacy approached Coach David Cutcliffe and asked if he could play there as well. Lining up and playing was hard enough, but that was not his greatest challenge.

"The throwers didn't run much in track," Andrews said. "I still remember the day. We had 18 110s (yard runs). We got to about six and I was like, 'Man, do I really want to do this?' My redshirt year, when I was running with the D line every morning in training camp, I was hurting. I had never felt pain like that. I was questioning myself like, 'Do I really want to do this?' But, I always remember back to what my mom said – 'If you start something, you have to finish it. Don't start and quit anything.'"

So he persevered. And it wasn't long before Andrews loved the game he had once shunned.

"I was like, 'Man, I wish I started earlier,'" he said. "But everything worked out. I had a ball learning with Coach Latina and spending extra time with him and the guys that helped me along the way.  It was a great experience."

Andrews played in five games that season. In 2003, Ole Miss was 10-3 overall and 7-1 in the SEC, Manning was the conference's Offensive Player of the Year and the Rebels set school records for points scored (442) and total offense (5,631) on the way to a final ranking of 13th in the Associated Press poll. Ole Miss led the Southeastern Conference that season in passing offense (286.0), scoring (34.0) and total offense (433.2).

For Andrews, the highlight was the Auburn game Manning mentioned earlier. The Rebels traveled to Jordan-Hare Stadium and earned a 24-20 victory.

"I came in and they had Reggie Torbor (whom the Giants drafted in 2004) over there," Andrews said. "It was a big game and I was excited to go in. I went in there and shut them down."

Manning was the first overall selection of the 2004 NFL Draft. The next Rebel selected was Andrews. Despite a career that consisted of limited action in five games, he was chosen in the fourth round (No. 123 overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals. But Andrews had actually drawn interest from the league even before he stepped on a football field.

"When I was playing that season, I never thought about going to the NFL," Andrews said. "I was just getting out there, playing, and giving it a shot to see how it worked without having a thought of making it to the league. I got invited to the combine. It all went great from there. Actually, the year before, they had a pro day (at Ole Miss). It was on the track. I was out there throwing. Some of the football guys came over and the track guys knew I was pretty fast. They said, 'Man, go over there and run that 40 real quick.' I went over there and ran. I weighed 345 at the time and I ran a 4.96. They were blown away."

His first pro training camp was as challenging as his first few weeks of football at Mississippi.

"It was an experience," Andrews said. "I didn't really know what was going on. Willie Anderson (a four-time Pro Bowler drafted 10th overall from Auburn in 1996) was there at the time. He took me under his wing and showed me the way."

Andrews had a slow but steady ascent up the NFL ladder. As a rookie he played in only one game. The following season it was 14 games, plus one postseason contest. In 2006, he played in all 16 games with three starts at right guard. The next year, he again played every game and started 14, three at left guard and 11 at right tackle. In 2008, Andrews was designated as the Bengals' franchise player. He started the first 15 games at right tackle before suffering a knee injury at Cleveland on Dec. 21 that kept him out of the season finale. In 2009, he signed as a free agent with Philadelphia and played in 10 games with two starts. Last year, he was traded to Seattle, where the Seahawks needed a tackle. But right guard Max Unger was hurt in the season opener and Andrews started 12 games there.

Not bad for a player who was a virtual stranger to the game when he entered the league.

"When I was getting in and learning everything, even when I played the five games my senior year, I wished I'd have started playing football earlier," Andrews said. "But everything worked out. If I'd have started earlier, who knows what would've happened then. I feel very blessed to be in the position I'm in."

When the lockout ended, the Giants needed linemen and Andrews' contract was terminated by the Seahawks. Andrews drew interest from other teams, but his brother, who played 13 games for the Giants last season, helped convince him this was the best fit.

"I was in Seattle when Shawn first got here and he spoke highly of this organization," Andrews said. "Constantly, throughout the whole time he was here, and even when I got the call, he was very excited about it. And I'm loving it here."

Now he's back with Manning, who was with him when Andrews first played football.

"He was a cool guy," Andrews said. "I really never got the chance to spend time with him because I was with track for four years and then I came to football that following year. I really didn't get to spend a lot of time with him.

"But you could see at Ole Miss that he was a great player. He was a leader there. He's a leader here."

Eight years ago, who would have guessed that they'd be teammates in the NFL?

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