Had knee injuries not derailed Andre Wadsworth’s once-promising NFL career, he would have been one of the best pass rushers in Arizona Cardinals franchise history.
Although Wadsworth had a decent rookie season in 1998, his knee issues slowed him down considerably in his next two pro football seasons.
He became a shadow of the dominating player he once was with the Florida State Seminoles just a few years earlier.
Wadsworth, a former ACC Player of the Year, Consensus All-American, and First-Team All-ACC selection, was never the same again after undergoing several knee surgeries during his time in Arizona.
Consequently, some pundits felt that the Cardinals would have been better off drafting Charles Woodson or Randy Moss in 1998.
On the other hand, some people in Wadsworth’s corner thought he was a potential Pro Bowler who never overcame his injury issues during his short-lived career in the National Football League.
Andre Wadsworth was born in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands on October 19, 1974.
According to Cover32.com’s Cody Combest, Wadsworth moved to South Florida after his parents divorced in 1979.
Andre Wadsworth attended Florida Christian School in Miami, FL. He played tight end for the FCS Patriots during his high school days.
Wadsworth took advanced placement English classes in his senior year. The course required him to write a letter to himself. It included the goals he wanted to achieve in the next five years, per Sports Illustrated.
Wadsworth, whose lone recruiting letter came from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, wrote a three-page letter that barely talked about football. In fact, he wrote just one sentence about his gridiron aspirations.
“This is the last time I ever suit up for sports,” Wadsworth wrote in his three-page letter (via Sports Illustrated’s April 1998 issue).
Andre Wadsworth’s prediction was off the mark – by the time he played his final down in the college football ranks, he had become one of the most celebrated players in Florida State Seminoles football history.
Wadsworth, who thought he had no future in sports, predicted he would have earned an MBA in finance five years after his high school graduation.
Instead of thriving in the business world, Andre Wadsworth entered the NFL with sky-high expectations as the third overall selection of the 1998 NFL Draft.
College Days With The Florida State Seminoles
Andre Wadsworth attended Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL from 1993 to 1997.
Wadsworth, a business major, suited up for legendary Florida State Seminoles head football coach Bobby Bowden.
Although Wadsworth was not a highly-touted recruit, FSU assistant football coach Chuck Amato thought he had some potential, per Sports Illustrated.
Amato invited the unheralded Wadsworth to walk on prior to Florida State’s memorable title-winning 1993 NCAA season.
According to Maisel, Wadsworth wrote another set of goals for himself during his redshirt freshman campaign at FSU.
This time around, Wadsworth wrote several fitness-related goals for Seminoles strength coach Dave Van Halanger.
Wadsworth wanted to bench press 385 pounds and squat 450 pounds when his senior season kicked off in 1997.
By the time Wadsworth entered the 1998 NFL Draft as a highly-touted defensive end prospect, he could bench press 500 pounds and squat 700 pounds.
Wadsworth was part of a redshirt scout team in the 1993 NCAA season. Instead of going through the motions, he went full throttle in scrimmages and annihilated Seminoles starting tackle Marvin Ferrell.
“In practice the scout team isn’t supposed to go too hard, but Andre came in and tried to kill everybody,” Wadsworth’s teammate and future four-time Pro Bowl Baltimore Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware told Sports Illustrated in 1998.
For his part, Wadsworth claimed his walk-on status left him with no choice but to go all out.
It was around this time that Wadsworth’s father developed an infection that ultimately forced doctors to amputate his leg. When his father had to go on sick leave, young Andre had to fly back to the U.S. Virgin Islands to manage his family’s car parts business in his father’s absence, per Combest.
Father and son prayed for the former’s successful surgery the night before it occurred. To their astonishment, they found no trace of the infection which had persisted for six months.
Success with Arizona Cardinals defensive end Andre Wadsworth who was an All-American at Florida State before injuries derailed his NFL career. #AndreWadsworth #Cardinals #Seminoles pic.twitter.com/ZaWSPBnyiI
— Chris @ SASE Sports Sigs.net (@sasesportssigs) February 6, 2021
The experience became a massive turning point in Andre Wadsworth’s faith life. He soon returned to the U.S. mainland with a surprise awaiting him.
When Wadsworth reported for his redshirt freshman campaign in 1994, Bowden offered him a football scholarship.
Despite Wadsworth’s accomplishment, it was blatantly obvious that he had to shore up his knowledge of football fundamentals.
FSU assistant coach Chuck Amato told Maisel that Wadsworth had no idea how to implement a basic three-point stance – instead of placing his fingertips on the ground, he used his knuckles.
Wadsworth corrected himself and got off to a good start in Florida State Seminoles garnet and gold. Wadsworth, who wore No. 85, sacked Virginia Cavaliers quarterback Symmion Willis, made Willis fumble, and set up an FSU touchdown several plays later.
Wadsworth’s strong showing convinced Bowden to start him beginning in the Seminoles’ sixth game in 1994 against the Clemson Tigers.
Florida State, the defending national title holders, finished that year with a 10-1-1 mark. The seventh-ranked Seminoles beat their fierce in-state rivals, the fifth-ranked Florida Gators, in the 1994 Sugar Bowl, 23-17.
Wadsworth earned the first of his three consecutive Second-Team All-ACC selections following the 1994 NCAA campaign.
Andre Wadsworth served notice he was one of the most disruptive pass rushers in the ACC in the mid-1990s.
As a redshirt sophomore in 1995, Wadsworth was the Seminoles’ second-leading tackler. Eighth-ranked FSU won ten of twelve games and beat the sixth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the 1995 Orange Bowl, 31-26.
Wadsworth, who stood 6’2″ and weighed 217 pounds as a high school senior, was a muscular 6’4″, 282-lb. junior defensive lineman for the Seminoles in the 1996 NCAA campaign.
Wadsworth’s metamorphosis from a high school kid who thought he had no future in sports to a potential Top 5 draft pick in the National Football League was on the verge of completion.
When Wadsworth’s junior season at FSU kicked off, Bowden made him his starting noseguard who wreaked havoc on opposing teams together with All-American defensive ends Peter Boulware and Reinard Wilson.
A slimmer Andre Wadsworth shed 15 pounds before his breakout senior season in 1997. Bowden switched him over to the starting left defensive end spot that year.
That move didn’t get off to a good start. After Wadsworth messed up in his first fall scrimmage, Bowden scribbled a note saying that the switch was a possible mistake.
FSU defensive ends coach Jim Gladden saw it and promptly relayed Bowden’s sentiments to Wadsworth.
Wadsworth responded with 5.0 sacks in the Seminoles’ next fall scrimmage outing.
Top-ranked Florida State had a gaudy 11-1 win-loss record in the 1996 NCAA season. Unfortunately, the third-ranked Florida Gators manhandled them in the 1996 Sugar Bowl, 52-20.
Florida State DE Andre Wadsworth pic.twitter.com/1JJ67ZgM2v
— Touch the Banner 〽️ (@TouchTheBanner) December 29, 2020
According to Cover32.com, Andre Wadsworth started a team Bible study with his teammates Peter Boulware and Ron Miller. It didn’t take long for their group to expand to more than 100 athletes.
As a senior edge rusher, Wadsworth had 16.0 sacks in eleven games for the Seminoles in the 1997 NCAA season. He had 3.0 sacks against Florida State’s ACC conference rivals – the Clemson Tigers, Virginia Cavaliers, and North Carolina Tar Heels – that year.
He fell just 3.0 sacks short of the then-school record Boulware set just one year earlier.
Coincidentally, Wadsworth and Boulware formed a tight bond during their college days at FSU.
The two defensive stalwarts shared a house, lifted weights together, and gave talks at various churches, per Sports Illustrated.
Many NFL scouts had Andre Wadsworth on their radars following the 1996 NCAA campaign. His agent even predicted the Chicago Bears would make him the 10th overall selection of the 1996 NFL Draft, per Combest.
However, Wadsworth decided to return to Florida State for his senior season in 1997, so he could continue serving as a spiritual influence to his teammates.
Not only did Andre Wadsworth achieve that goal, but he also emerged as one of the best pass rushers in the country that year.
The Seminoles duplicated their outstanding 11-1 win-loss record in Wadsworth’s final year in Tallahassee, FL. They made their second consecutive Sugar Bowl appearance and cruised past the ninth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, 31-14.
Wadsworth finished the game with 2.0 sacks and his first career interception in the collegiate ranks. His teammates, Peter Boulware and Reinard Wilson, told Wadsworth to speed rush – something he hadn’t done against the Buckeyes.
Wadsworth took their advice to heart and promptly recorded 2.0 sacks in the final game of his college gridiron career.
Andre Wadsworth earned First-Team All-ACC, Consensus All-American, ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and ACC Player of the Year honors in 1997.
Wadsworth also won the Bill Willis Trophy as the country’s best college defensive lineman that year.
As Wadsworth’s time in Tallahassee wound down, Bowden and Van Halanger – both devout Christians – thought their prized defensive lineman was still a virgin.
“I don’t think Andre has been with a woman,” Bowden told Maisel in the spring of 1998.
Wadsworth, who never dated at Florida State, refuted Bowden’s belief – he told Sports Illustrated he played the field when he was in high school.
However, Wadsworth tried to clean up his act when he was in college. He and Boulware wore WWJD (“What Would Jesus Do?”) bracelets during their time at FSU so they wouldn’t give in to temptation.
Wadsworth admitted this wasn’t going to be easy by the time he entered the professional ranks.
Andre Wadsworth entered the National Football League with high expectations in 1998. Regrettably, this highly-touted defensive menace fizzled out after just three underwhelming seasons with the Arizona Cardinals.
Pro Football Career
The Arizona Cardinals made Andre Wadsworth the third overall selection of the 1998 NFL Draft.
Wadsworth was the third big-name rookie taken off the draft board behind quarterbacks Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts and Ryan Leaf of the San Diego Chargers.
By the time Wadsworth received the letter he wrote to himself as a high school senior several weeks before the draft, he was just three classes short of a master’s degree in sports administration, per Maisel.
During the lead-up to the 1998 NFL Draft, scouts and executives raved about Wadsworth’s versatility.
Baltimore Ravens director of college scouting Phil Savage told Sports Illustrated in April 1998 that Wadsworth’s quickness and strength allow him to thrive in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense.
4/18/98 – Manning/Leaf went 1/2, then the AZ Cardinals selected (Mel Kiper's #1) FSU DE Andre Wadsworth with the 3rd pick in the #NFL Draft and Corey Chavous w/the 3rd pick in the 2nd Rd. Chris Berman: "Watch out for Arizona. They are on the move." They made the playoffs. #RedSea pic.twitter.com/7CKKAInAXW
— Arizona Sports History (@AZSportsHistory) April 18, 2021
On the other hand, Pittsburgh Steelers college personnel director Tom Modrak marveled at Wadsworth’s explosiveness.
“He’s like a missile when he comes off the ball,” Modrak told Maisel a week before the 1998 NFL Draft. “He can keep his pads low and still run full speed.”
For their part, Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian and St. Louis Rams personnel director Charley Armey thought Wadsworth was the best rookie defensive end since the Buffalo Bills selected Bruce Smith a decade earlier, per The Athletic’s Bob McGinn.
Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf compared Wadsworth to Smith and another legendary pass rusher, Reggie White.
According to McGinn, the 6’3″, 278-lb. Wadsworth recorded a 35.5-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot, 11-inch broad jump at the 1998 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, IN.
Wadsworth also answered 22 items correctly in the 50-item Wonderlic test.
He pulled his left quad muscle in the 40-yard dash at Florida State’s pro day on March 17, 1998. Wadsworth left the premises on crutches.
Arizona Cardinals vice president of player personnel Bob Ferguson asked one of his scouts, Jerry Ferguson, to check Wadsworth’s health history while they were on the clock prior to making the third overall selection in the 1998 NFL Draft.
After Ferguson found nothing alarming about Wadsworth’s health, he became an Arizona Cardinal.
Ferguson told McGinn that Wadsworth’s selection was one of the most emotional in his career as a football executive. Ferguson spoke highly of Wadsworth’s abilities on the gridiron and his impeccable character.
I remember this being our worst GM in Cardinals history. I remember Andre Wadsworth holding out and signing a contract 1 day before the NFL season opener against Dallas. Thanks Bob Ferguson 🤬 pic.twitter.com/XUKVFRhzSg
— Mark (@AzCardsFan23) September 21, 2021
More than 2,000 Cardinals fans approved of Wadsworth at the team’s draft party. In fact, they even gave team owner Bill Bidwill a rousing standing ovation, per The Athletic.
Wadsworth, who witnessed the draft festivities from his birthplace in the U.S. Virgin Islands, told the Sun-Sentinel (via The Athletic) that the thought of playing in the NFL never crossed his mind until his junior season at Florida State.
A grateful Andre Wadsworth would eventually settle in the Grand Canyon State to the present day.
Wadsworth’s rookie contract dispute with the Cardinals resulted in a lengthy holdout. He wanted Arizona to pay him a salary that closely resembled Manning’s and Leaf’s.
It wasn’t until September 5, 1998 – the eve of the season opener against the Dallas Cowboys that Wadsworth and his agents, Eugene Parker and Roosevelt Barnes, agreed to a six-year, $42 million deal, per The Athletic.
Andre Wadsworth’s 40-day holdout finally came to an end, to the relief of the Cardinals and their fans.
Although Wadsworth had never practiced with the Cardinals, he still suited up in Arizona’s humiliating 38-10 loss to Dallas.
Cardinals head coach Vince Tobin made Wadsworth one of his starting defensive ends for the next 15 games.
Wadsworth was one of the defensive starters in the Cardinals’ 20-7 win over the Cowboys in the 1998 NFC Wild Card Game – their first postseason victory in 51 years.
Wadsworth finished his rookie season in the NFL with 5.0 sacks, 42 solo tackles, one forced fumble, and three fumble recoveries.
The beginning of Andre Wadsworth’s career in ministry coincided with his rookie year in the National Football League.
Wadsworth organized regular Bible study sessions with his Cardinals teammates in 1998. Before long, their weekly gatherings gained traction and eventually gave birth to Impact Church in Scottsdale, AZ that year, per Arizona Foothills Magazine’s Christina Tetreault.
The church had an average Sunday attendance of 200 when it first started. It grew to approximately 1,500 in 2000.
Former Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, former Arizona Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald, and NBA veteran Jared Dudley have attended Impact Church over the years.
Andre Wadsworth’s personal life picked up the same year he founded Impact Church.
Wadsworth met his future wife, Subyn Phillips, at a church service following his rookie season with the Arizona Cardinals in January 1999. They got married some fourteen months later, per Seminoles.com.
Wadsworth’s troublesome knee issues began in the summer of 1999. He told the Turned On Podcast (via The Athletic) some 20 years later that he woke up for the Cardinals’ training camp in 1999 and discovered he had a swollen knee.
Although Wadsworth’s knee never fully healed, he still suited up in 11 games for Arizona in the 1999 NFL season.
The pain worsened to the point that Wadsworth lasted just five snaps in a game against the New England Patriots on October 31, 1999.
He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery two days later and missed Arizona’s next five games.
When Wadsworth took the field late in the 1999 NFL campaign, he mustered just two tackles and one pressure. He recorded no sacks.
Wadsworth underwent four grueling knee surgeries – three on his right knee alone – in one year.
It was around this time when orthopedic knee specialist Dr. Richard Steadman told Wadsworth he had avascular necrosis – a condition where the bones don’t get ample blood supply.
Steadman compared Wadsworth’s health predicament to driving an extra 20 to 30 miles on a flat tire, per the Turned On Podcast (via The Athletic).
In what was Andre Wadsworth’s final NFL season, he missed the entirety of training camp and Arizona’s first seven games in 2000. Wadsworth had two of his right knee surgeries at season’s end.
3/1/01 – 3yrs after drafting him 3rd overall, the Arizona Cardinals voided the final 3yrs of Andre Wadsworth's contract after a disappointing, injury-filled career which included knee surgery at the end of 2000 forcing him to miss the '01 season. Andre was owed $30M from '01-'03. pic.twitter.com/e6hSQwpVax
— Arizona Sports History (@AZSportsHistory) March 1, 2022
The Cardinals withdrew their $512,000 tender to Wadsworth in the summer of 2001. Consequently, he became a free agent.
No team reached out to Wadsworth for the next six years. It seemed his pro football career was over at that point.
When Wadsworth met second-year New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini in January 2007, he received another shot at redemption.
The Jets signed Wadsworth to a non-guaranteed contract. He reported for training camp and played in all of Gang Green’s preseason games.
Unfortunately, the Jets released Wadsworth before the 2007 NFL season. The 32-year-old defensive lineman then officially retired from the National Football League.
Wadsworth finished his three-year NFL career with 8.0 sacks, 82 solo tackles, one interception, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and six tackles for loss.
The Arizona Cardinals averaged six wins per season during Wadsworth’s three-year tenure from 1998 to 2000. They never made it past the NFC Divisional Round during that time.
Dave McGinnis, the Arizona Cardinals’ defensive coordinator from 1996 to 2000, refuted the notion that Andre Wadsworth was a bust.
“I hear people say he was a bust,” McGinnis told The Athletic in the fall of 2020. “He was not anywhere near a bust. His knees just gave out on him.”
McGinnis also considered Wadsworth a “really good human being.”
Andre Wadsworth currently resides in the Phoenix, AZ area, per the Florida State Seminoles’ official athletics website.
According to Seminoles.com, Wadsworth became a successful entrepreneur who co-owned various high-end car dealerships and Whataburger restaurants in Florida in the mid-2000s.
Wadsworth’s team of Whataburger investors also included NFL players Mark Brunell, Leonard Davis, Robert Jones, and Mike Williams.
Andre Wadsworth became a member of the Florida State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2004.
Wadsworth became a minority owner of the Arena Football League team, the Austin Wranglers, for the next four years.
Wadsworth and his business partner Ryan Zeleznak founded Creamistry, a liquid nitrogen ice cream franchise, several years later. They opened a branch in Scottsdale, AZ in the summer of 2016.
Today, Creamistry has branches in Arizona, California, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.
Instead of preaching a sermon this weekend, I’ll be hosting a panel discussion with three very special friends of mine: Phx @Suns Head Coach Monty Williams, Arizona Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone and former NFL player and Impact Church executive pastor Andre Wadsworth. pic.twitter.com/p1IOaG7Tey
— TravisHearn (@TravisHearn) June 3, 2020
Wadsworth currently serves as the CFO and senior executive pastor of Impact Church in Scottsdale, AZ.
Despite falling short of his goals to become a standout NFL defensive lineman, Andre Wadsworth has no regrets.
“Of course I wish I would have played 15 years and went to 10 Pro Bowls,” Wadsworth told Combest in 2013. “But I wholeheartedly believe your craft never defines you. It’s how you use what God has given you to always revert everything back to Him.”
Wadsworth told the Sports Spectrum Podcast’s Jason Romano in December 2021 that he has had a total of 18 football-related surgeries. He had 16 surgeries on his knees and two on his Achilles tendon.
Wadsworth also told Romano that he has been watching Arizona Cardinals football games and organizing team alumni events during his retirement years. He’s also a staunch UFC fan.
Wadsworth also told the podcast that his divorce in 2019 was one of the toughest things he has ever had to deal with. He has four daughters with his ex-wife Subyn.