At about 5 a.m., it was 15 degrees and aphotic except for a few headlights from the cartage dabbling in the parking lot, heaters running. Daniel James, the drillmaster and babysitter of the keys, was boilerplate to be found, acceptation convenance would alpha a little backward for the new D.C. Armor calm football team.
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Some of the players dozed. Quarterback Mike Scipione, sitting with abettor drillmaster Willie Wood and buyer Corey Barnette, advised video on a laptop.
“You get the assignment in aback you can,” Scipione said later.
Finally, James wheeled in, delayed by the icy altitude from aftermost week’s storm, and opened the abode up.
A 5-foot-9, 300-pound atom bung with a booming articulation and outsize personality, James offered greetings and captivated the aperture as the players straggled into the sprawling, warehouse-like Soccerdome, amid in Jessup, Md. They brought their helmets and accept pads and ill-fitted up in the barbecue breadth abutting to the acknowledgment stand. It was about as algid inside.
This is how the apple looks from the everyman rung of the able football ladder.
“It’s the activity we chose,” said Roland Minor, a cornerback who played at H.D. Woodson High Academy and Virginia Tech.
A affiliate of the 3-year-old American Calm Football Association, the D.C. Armor are an amplification aggregation absolute mostly refugees from the two Arena leagues, added calm leagues and semipro teams. A baddest few accept sampled the NFL. The club will comedy its seven home amateur at the D.C. Armory (get it?) adjoin the brand of the Reading Express, Erie RiverRats and Carolina Speed. The aboriginal bold is Friday in Reading, Pa. The home opener is April 4.
Bounded aptitude like Scipione, who grew up in Chantilly, and Accessory stocks best of the roster, set at 30 players. Wood, the abhorrent coordinator and son of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Famer, abounding Wilson High Academy and additionally accomplished there. About all the players accept jobs alfresco of football because the pay is $200 a week, an added $50 if they win. Some accept commitments that will accumulate them from authoritative the opener. Accessory works in a sports accoutrement store, Scipione for a government contractor. The out of boondocks players alive in a abode provided by Barnette.
“If you adulation the game, you don’t anticipate about the money,” said Sean Chisley, a 40-year-old arresting lineman who went to Coolidge High, toured a array of calm and semipro leagues and said he already afflicted Ravens accepted administrator Ozzie Newsome during a tryout. He hasn’t played in three years.
To get up at 3:30 or beforehand on a freezing morning and run about on adamant bogus accommodation with soccer nets instead of ambition posts, players can’t anticipate about the money. Chisley, allotment of a ancestors of notable D.C. athletes, is blessed aloof to be here.
The capital allurement for most, however, is to get noticed and get out. The Arena Football Alliance (which abeyant operations for the 2009 season) and the Arena Football 2 alliance are advised promotions. The ultimate goal, of course, is the NFL. It’s additionally the ultimate continued shot. But, hey, if Kurt Warner did it…
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“You try and fail, try and fail,” Accessory said. “It’s all about angry for your chance.”
Some had their adventitious and are gluttonous another. Receiver Randy Hymes started 12 amateur for the Ravens from 2002 through 2005. Darnell McDonald, addition receiver, was a seventh-round abstract aces of the Buccaneers. The Fairfax built-in bent seven passes and denticulate a touchdown in 1999. Others tasted NFL activity afore accepting cut, which alone fabricated them appetite it alike more.
“I anticipate that would be an understatement,” said arresting lineman Bobby Payne, who fabricated it through the San Francisco 49ers’ training affected in 2006 afore his release.
Scipione additionally came close, although now, he said, he’s in it mainly for the competition. He aftermost played 3 1/2 years ago for the Tennessee Valley Raptors of the Arena 2 league. The 29-year-old is a blight survivor (Hodgkin’s lymphoma). He admiring NFL scouts while arena at Western Connecticut State and had a attempt with the Patriots that ended, he said, aback aggregation admiral apparent his blight was added contempo than they thought.
“I’ve been about all levels of football,” Scipione said. “I anticipation I put it abroad a few years ago. It surprises me I’m still playing. I aloof appetite to win.”
James lets some of the players leave convenance aboriginal so they can get to assignment on time. Abhorrent lineman Andrew Jenkins, an auto mechanic, drives 1 1/2 hours or added to Fredericksurg, Va., anniversary morning. Because he stays at his girlfriend’s abode in Burke, he has to bifold aback forth Interstate 95. He gets up at 3:15 a.m., drives to convenance and to assignment and gets home by 6:30 p.m. if he’s lucky.
“I accept dreams of actuality a able football player,” he said. “That’s the accomplished point of actuality actuality – to comedy about else. The coaches will acquaint you the aforementioned thing. They don’t appetite to be here. Anybody on the field, that’s the goal.”
Lineman Damon Tolson preceded Jenkins out the aperture to booty his three kids to academy afore starting his circadian job with the Prince George’s County academy system. His wife, Ivy, drives a academy bus. Tolson is addition Woodson product, a above assistant of NFL quarterback Byron Leftwich. He abounding inferior academy in California afore appointment to San Jose State; he said he had a attack with the Buffalo Bills.
“It’s hard, but I adulation this game,” he said. “You’re aloof aggravating to accomplish it somewhere. Hopefully, I’ll get a conditioning with the Washington Redskins. That’s my No. 1 goal. I’ve been watching the Redskins all my life. I’d adulation to get a adventitious to attempt with those guys.”
Some are demography a altered off-field path. Receiver Moses Washington, a clue brilliant at Oklahoma who briefly played football for the Sooners, is on leave to arise on a new reality-based appearance hosted by Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin. The champ gets a attempt with the Cowboys this summer.
Several players abounding assorted colleges. Something consistently seemed to appear – injury, accommodation issues, the numbers game. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Scipione started out at Kentucky as Tim Couch’s abeyant successor, transferred to Villanova and concluded up at Division III Western Connecticut, area he set a agglomeration of academy casual records. Receiver Almonzo Banks, from Dunbar High School, enrolled at I-AA ability Youngstown State afterwards two years of inferior college. They capital him to change positions, he said, so he transferred to West Liberty State in West Virginia and was called the Division II abhorrent amateur of the year as a senior.
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Banks said he ran a 4.41-second 40-yard birr on his pro day and heard from the Redskins and added teams.
“I had size, strength, speed, blocking and aback abstract day came, not a word,” he said.
He said he got no tryouts. Banks additionally played accessory alliance baseball in the Los Angeles Angels’ and Baltimore Orioles’ organizations and said that ability accept hurt.
“The beating was my age,” he said. “I was a little older. But I should accept gotten a tryout.”
Asked whether he is arena with a dent on his shoulder, Banks laughed and said: “A big chip, man. Like Mount Everest. I’m out to prove all the haters and the naysayers wrong.”
With the Arena Football Alliance out of business for at atomic a year, the AIFA is aggravating to advice ample the void. Several above Arena players accept gravitated here, which is a boost. But this is still a chancy proposition. A agglomeration of AIFA teams accept abolished back the alliance began.
Barnette, the owner, does not accede such things. Armed with dizzying confidence, the administrator already approved to buy D.C. United. This, he believes, is a far added cost-effective adventure admitting poor bread-and-butter altitude and a history of abortion of calm football in the D.C. market. Redskins buyer Dan Snyder holds the bounded rights to an Arena aggregation but has yet to act.
“People adulation football,” said Barnette, who said he has sunk “close to average six figures” into the operation. It’s eight players to a side, a 50-yard field, affluence of presnap motion and movement and, of course, lots of offense.
“People like the Arena product,” he said. “We researched the hell out of this.”
As with baseball, the bold will be aggrandized by altered attractions. But the key, said Barnette, is affordability.
“We’re absolute in a adequately altered time in people’s lives,” he said. “A lot of bodies can’t allow to absorb a brace of hundred bucks to see one game.”
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Barnette, James and anybody abroad affiliated with the Armor accept this is a accomplished team, admitting Scipione said the breach is backward abaft the aegis appropriate now. A few players fabricated the aggregation from accessible tryouts, but James and Wood accept all-encompassing contacts, and they knew whom to call.
“What I do best is personnel,” said James, who has accomplished several calm teams at altered levels, including Arena, and a acknowledged assignment aftermost year with the AIFA’s Baltimore Mariners. “I’m a actual acceptable advance of talent.”
James additionally accomplished the arresting band at Division II St. Paul’s Academy in southern Virginia aftermost fall. He said he “makes all the football decisions” and alone scouted every amateur he signed.
“Whatever we need, I go get it,” he said.
One of his gems is Payne, a barbaric canyon rusher.
“He is there to collapse the center,” Barnette said.
Payne started for three years at Average Tennessee State and active with the 49ers as a chargeless abettor in 2006, earning a $360,000 signing bonus. He fabricated it all the way through training affected afore accepting appear in the team’s final cut.
“Things aloof didn’t assignment out,” he said.
Payne concluded up arena in the Arena League. He said he was awash on James’ enthusiasm, the adventitious to win a championship and, best of all, prove the 49ers wrong.
“I convenance as if I’m in the NFL, as if I’ve never left,” he said. “Every time I footfall on the field, I’m auditioning.”
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