Joey Sankey is a rare breed of athlete. An all-star player in Major League Lacrosse, Sankey's height on the Charlotte Hounds website lists him at 5-foot-5. He is not the first athlete to achieve an elite level of success with a small stature, but he might be the one athlete who doesn't try to hide it.
This is his story of how he dealt with being second guessed throught his athletic life and used that to fuel a career at North Carolina, where he left as the program's all-time leading scorer, and now an established MLL All-Star. Not only is Sankey completely honest about his height, but he dares other athletes to stop embellishing their publically listed height and weight.
I remember filling out my height for my bio at UNC.
This is the first thing that you’re really doing lacrosse-related. You know it’s going to be up on the website and all that. When they asked for my height, I was thinking, “Should I put 5-7 and just seem a little more impressive or should I put my real height on there and kind of embrace the whole short person thing?”
I thought about it for a few seconds and just decided to put my real height, because one, it’s no secret how tall I am.
Two, I think it’s pretty cool that I was able to play at a top Division I school like UNC and be 5-foot-5. I embraced playing that type of style. I wouldn’t want to be like everyone else and get mixed into the shuffle with those guys.
When I was being recruited out of high school, I could tell that some schools were hesitant. I know for a fact that Johns Hopkins saw me play more than any other school in the country. I never heard from them. Even when I played my best games in some tournaments, I never heard from most schools.
"I was worried that I was never going to get on the field" - Joey Sankey
There were schools I wanted to visit. I wanted to visit Hopkins. I wanted to visit Virginia. But, I didn’t hear from any of them.
I had doubts about whether I could play at Division I at that level. UNC had so many stud players there between Marcus Holman, Nicky Galasso, Jimmy Bitter, I was worried that I was never going to get on the field.
Had it not been for injuries, I don’t know if I ever would have in my freshman or sophomore year. Not that I ever want someone to get injured, but guys did get injured and I tried to make the most out of my opportunity when it was given to me.
I debated going to a lower level DI school where I felt more confident I’d be able to play all four years, but that’s what I worked towards my whole life – playing lacrosse in college – and I figured I might as well try to make the most out of it.
One story I do remember was after the Inside Lacrosse recruiting magazine. After I committed to UNC, I had bad luck with a collarbone and a wrist injury. I remember Quint Kessenich said how I’ve been injured and questioned if I would be durable in a DI setting because I was so small. That always kind of stuck with me.
I don’t think that because I’m short that makes me or any other people less durable. If anything, when I fall I’m lower to the ground so it’s an easier fall.
One of my proudest achievements at UNC was I didn’t miss a single game, even with a broken hand. I just played through it. The best ability is availability.
Growing up I played every single sport there is, except soccer, basically.
I think that’s a huge reason for why I became a great lacrosse player, because playing other sports makes you a better overall athlete. It makes you have better lacrosse IQ because you understand athletic IQ. I played football and lacrosse in high school, but growing up I played basketball, wrestling, hockey...I did basically everything.
It’s good to take a mental and physical break from playing lacrosse. Just refresh your mind and body from that specific sport. I think that was important for me.
I come from a small school, Penn Charter, which is the same high school as Matt Ryan. If you’re a starter in football, you play both ways. I was a slot receiver, which probably is no surprise. And then I played a rover, outside linebacker where I was just free to roam around and do whatever I wanted.
People always come up to me and say, “my son is short just like you.”
One thing that I think is important: There’s a big difference between being small and getting pushed around. If you’re a smaller guy, you still have to be strong. If you look at any of these professional athletes who are shorter than everyone, they’re probably pound-for-pound stronger than most guys.
I tell people all the time, "You can’t try to play big, you have to play small." If you’re running around out there standing straight up, you’re going to get put on the ground. But, if you embrace it and learn how to run low to the ground and get that low center of gravity, then it makes it even tougher on the defense. That’s where it becomes an advantage.
When I’m training, I focus almost all on my legs, stability, core strength, all of that. That’s honestly where all of my weight is. I’m about 155-160 pounds and you wouldn’t think it, but all of my weight is in my legs.
That’s what I try to emphasize to people who are smaller. You have to get in the weight room. You have to focus on the right things. There’s no point in you going in the weight room every day and trying to bench 250 pounds because that really won’t do much for you in the long run.
Growing up, and even now, I just always root for the smaller guys. It’s just natural to do that. I was always a big fan of Danny Briere for the Flyers. Even though I hate the Cowboys I’m a big fan of Cole Beasley, Julian Edelman, all those guys.
What frustrates me is that they don’t embrace their size and just list their normal height. That frustrates me about all professional sports. It’s annoying that everyone has to say, “He’s listed at 6’3 so he’s probably 6’1.” It doesn’t make any sense.
I think that professional athletes who are a little bit shorter should recognize that there are young kids out there who are of similar stature that look up to those guys. They should know that they should just put their real height out there to give inspiration to younger kids.
Now that I did have success at UNC and playing in MLL, I’m hoping that some of the shorter guys are looking up to me.
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