Until NFL unlocks, Rush is a key refuge for rookies
BY JUSTIN ALBERS firstname.lastname@example.org July 8, 2011 9:28PM
Defensive lineman Martin Parker went undrafted out of Richmond and is staying in game shape with the Rush as he waits for the NFL lockout to end. | University of Richmond
Updated: October 22, 2011 12:16AM
Martin Parker planned to wait until the NFL lockout was over to start playing football again.
Undrafted in April, the former University of Richmond defensive lineman decided to stay home and train on his own. Surely the lockout wouldn’t last too long, he figured.
Shortly thereafter, he got a call from the Arena Football League’s Rush. He hadn’t ever considered playing arena ball, but after discussing it with his agent, he decided to give it a try.
It’s a good thing he did. With the lockout still in effect into July, there’s no guarantee anybody will play NFL football this season. And even if the season does go on as scheduled, Parker would have to compete with experienced veterans for free-agent spots.
‘‘I feel like it’s putting me in a better position because it gives me the added benefit of playing live football in real game situations,’’ the 6-2, 303-pound Parker said. ‘‘I’ve been working on my skills so that when the lockout is over I can step into a training camp.’’
Parker isn’t alone. Many Rush rookies are using the AFL to stay in game shape for when NFL players and owners come to an agreement.
It’s not the ideal situation, but players say it’s better than nothing.
‘‘The ultimate goal is always the NFL, but the AFL was always in the mix for me,’’ said Marcus Waugh, a former Cincinnati fullback and linebacker who has been with the Rush for six weeks. ‘‘I was always a huge fan of the Rattlers growing up in Arizona. I used to watch them play all the time, and I just loved the [arena] game.
‘‘But when you grow up, your dream is always to play in the NFL. I think that’s every football player’s dream.’’
While the arena game is much different than traditional football — the field dimensions are smaller and the game is faster — it does offer some benefits to NFL hopefuls.
‘‘One reason I did come to the AFL was to work on my pass-rushing ability,’’ Parker said. ‘‘In the AFL, the ball is thrown a lot quicker [than in the NFL]. As a defensive lineman, you really have to be that much quicker and efficient in your pass-rushing moves to get to the quarterback. In the NFL, the game is a little slower, and I’ll be a little quicker because of playing with the Rush.’’
Quarterback Dominic Randolph agreed. The former Holy Cross standout got a shot with the New York Giants in training camp last summer but didn’t make the roster.
‘‘For a quarterback, it’s really good that you have to be much quicker,’’ Randolph said. ‘‘You don’t have as much time because there’s not as many blockers and it’s a much smaller field. I think it helps me [work on my skills] because the game is so much faster.’’
With NFL training camps scheduled to begin in just a couple of weeks, pending a labor agreement, several rookies might not be with the Rush for much longer. But if the lockout persists throughout the season — or they don’t make an NFL roster or practice squad — many said they’d return to the Rush in 2012.
‘‘Other options are always out there,’’ Waugh said of a job outside of sports. ‘‘You’re only healthy enough to play football for so long. There’s a shelf life for every player.’’
For now, the rookies are just living in the moment, not worried about their relatively tiny, $400-a-week salaries and not thinking about their backup plans. They only have a short time to chase their dreams, so they’re going to chase them for as long as they possibly can.
‘‘I have no idea what’s going to happen in the future,’’ Randolph said, laughing. ‘‘I haven’t thought that far ahead. Right now, I’m a member of the Rush. As far as what happens next, I guess we’ll see.’’