Al Netter’s football career has given him rewards he never dreamt of.
And it isn’t over yet.
After riding his Cardinal Newman football success to a record-setting four years at Northwestern University and then to NFL stints with the 49ers and the Tennessee Titans, Netter thought last year he might be finished with the sport.
He’d been cut by the Niners after the preseason games, and at age 26, hadn’t received any offers from other teams.
But then, thanks to good connections and timing, Netter got a call.
Two former coaches wanted him to come help coach football at the University of Michigan.
Those two were offensive coordinator Tim Drevno and head coach Jim Harbaugh, both of whom Netter played under in San Francisco.
Netter, who was raised in Rohnert Park and whose parents, Joe and Barbara, still live there, jumped on an airplane bound for the Ann Arbor football haven. Home of the Big House, the largest stadium in the country with more than 115,000 seats. Home of a storied football tradition, seat of 11 national championships.
Now a graduate assistant under Drevno, he is helping prepare the Wolverines’ offensive line for the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on New Year’s Day against No. 19 Florida.
“Oh my gosh, I think about it all the time, the amount of things I’ve gotten to do because of football,” Netter said. “I’ve been in every major city in the U.S. through football. I’ve gotten to do a lot of fun things. It’s opened a lot of doors for me.”
Netter, an All-North Coast Section tackle at Newman in 2006, led the Cardinals to the Division 3 state title game that year, where they fell 27-20 in overtime to Oaks Christian of Westlake Village.
He looked at several schools, but ultimately went to Northwestern University, where he would graduate in four years with academic as well as Big Ten athletic honors.
After redshirting a year, Netter started at left tackle in every game for the next four seasons, a school-record 52 straight.
Netter’s eventual road to Michigan, as it turns out, started when he was in high school.
Harbaugh had already made contact with Netter when he was at Newman, when the coach had yet to win acclaim at Stanford.
“I remember him recruiting me back when I was a junior in high school when he was at the University of San Diego,” Netter said. “I had multiple conversations with him. So our relationship goes back 10 years.
“Then at Stanford he recruited me, then at the Niners. We always had a good relationship. He knows I have a passion for the game and I love what I do. I think he knows I’m a hard worker.”
But even more important than that relationship was the one he has built with Drevno, who was the 49ers offensive line coach during three of Netter’s five stints with the team.
After playing on Tennessee’s practice squad, Netter re-signed with the 49ers and played last year during the preseason (with Drevno then at USC) before being cut again.
“I felt like I was in really good shape and ready to go,” he said. “But as the months went by, I thought maybe this was it for me, maybe it was time to start moving on.”