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Oct. 13, 2011
By Rob Daniels, Special to theACC.com
Andre Wadsworth is a former Seminole who can sell cars to Gators. In Gainesville. He went from seventh string on his own college team to third overall in the NFL Draft.
So by comparison, building a church and a ministry from the ground up just might be child's play as well as the Lord's work.
"With a pro career and the car business, I was able to give seven figures to start," Wadsworth said. "My life was impacted by the church, and I want the same thing to happen to other people."
Wadsworth, who came to Florida State as an unrecruited walk-on, will enjoy the first weekend in December as his school's ACC Legend and a man best known for a wise sense of priorities. Only in pursuit of the opponent's scrambling quarterback did he deviate from a straight and narrow path.
An occasional wide receiver, tight end, quarterback and anything else his small high school needed, Wadsworth developed into one of the most feared and disruptive pass-rushers in ACC history as a defensive end. In 1997, he recorded 16 sacks, a figure no subsequent player has matched. His teams lost exactly one ACC game in four years.
And he wasn't even the most famous native of the U.S. Virgin Islands in ACC sports at the time. That distinction belonged to Tim Duncan, the youth swimmer who discovered basketball and Wake Forest in that order. The two shared more than a birthplace; their emergence from anonymity created compelling stories.
Wadsworth and his family moved to South Florida when he was 5. His parents immediately enrolled him in Florida Christian High School, known entirely for academic disciplines, not blocking or tackling. He was an accomplished prep player, but practically nobody thought a 215-pound kid without an obvious position could make it in big-time college ball. Even his coach was less than sold.
"Chuck Amato came to my high school once," Wadsworth said, referring to the former FSU assistant. "And my coach said, `You could look at him.' No one from my school had ever gone to a Division I college."
Wadsworth enrolled with no promises, four future NFL players at his position and no real appreciation of how long his odds were. Together, Greg Spires, Reinard Wilson, Peter Boulware and Julian Pittman played in 335 NFL games and won two Super Bowls. But he stuck on the scout team for a year and in 1994, coach Bobby Bowden summoned him to his office. This couldn't be good. Could it?
It was. Wadsworth had a scholarship.
"I was so taken aback and shocked," he recalled. "I was still seventh-string. You have to understand there were still blue-chippers in front of me."
Injuries popped up. Coaches were dismayed by others' lapses. On Sept. 3, 1994, Wadsworth entered the season-opener with Virginia, immediately sacked quarterback Symmion Willis and caused a fumble that the Seminoles recovered and took inside the Cavalier 10.
A few games later but still a redshirt freshman, he had a starting spot that he never gave up. In all, he had 42 starts to his name when he finished a career in which his Seminoles never finished lower than fourth in the national polls.
Through it all, he found himself grounded by, among others, Bowden and Clint Purvis, the team chaplain. He began to see football as a career option and a means to a higher end.
His NFL career was truncated by a series of injuries that limited him to 36 games over three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals (1998-2000), but Wadsworth left the game with a business acumen and resources.
"No one can prepare himself to sign a contract," he said. "I worked hard leading up to that, but the key is knowing, once you get it, you can't go crazy."
He owned six Florida car dealerships in Ocala, Destin and even Gainesville, home to the University of Florida. He sold them in early 2010 and decided to create Impact Church in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he has lived since the Cardinals drafted him.
Wadsworth's days are full. When not developing the church, he's with his wife, Subyn, and four daughters: Sophia, 8; Sarah, 6; Selah, 4; and Sahmone, 1. The girls won't be making the trip to Charlotte. They've got school. The priorities are still in line.
As for his newest venture, Wadsworth said there are similarities between it and the improbable football career that made it possible.
"Opportunity meets preparation," he said. "And God obviously has a big part in that."