Many players from the original Arena Football League barely shrugged when the AFL returned this season with a new business model after a one-year hiatus.
Some who were pulling down six-figure salaries a couple years ago declined to play for $400 or $1,000 per game. Clay Harrell, who made five figures in AFL stints with Nashville and Los Angeles, joined the Spokane Shock with little hesitation.
“A lot of guys I talked to were upset about the way the AFL went under,” said Harrell, who was destined for Grand Rapids when the plug was pulled on the 2009 season. “You had guys making $100,000, defensive ends and quarterbacks, and for $400 some of them weren’t willing to take that.
“There’s a lot of people across the country struggling, taking different jobs than they’re used to. We’re in the same boat. We’re just trying to survive. For me, I love playing football, pay really wasn’t an issue. I was just excited the AFL was coming back.”
If that sounds like lip service, consider that Harrell played for a Texas team in the IFL, one of arena’s numerous minor leagues, in 2009 because AFL players weren’t permitted to play in arenafootball2.
“I’m 28,” said Harrell, who made roughly $40,000, including incentives, in each of his two AFL seasons. “I have the rest of my life to work. I’m going to do this while my body will let me.”
AFL fullbacks generally collide with the “Mac” linebacker on every down. It usually takes 2-3 days after games for the pain to evacuate Harrell’s body. He returned recently from four weeks on injured-reserve when his lower back flared up.
“It’s a tough position,” Harrell said, “but I’d much rather be at that spot where you can take the fight to them.”
The game before the game is getting his body back in working order.
“It’s five straight years of playing on artificial turf,” said Harrell, who relies on the sauna and pool to expedite the healing process. Early week practices are “to loosen up, sweat, stretch and get ready for the next weekend. And you just repeat it for 16 weeks, hopefully 19 or 20 if we win the championship.”
The running game is rarely used in arena football, but Harrell had two carries in last week’s win over Orlando. The first resulted in a 3-yard touchdown, his first visit to the end zone since 2008 with Los Angeles. The rust showed up in the celebration when he lost his grip on the ball as he went for the spike.
“I was really upset because the defensive back hit me late,” he said with a smile. “I was going to spike the ball at him. It’s a good thing it slipped so it wasn’t a penalty.”
In his first game at “Jack” linebacker, Antwan Marsh made a game-changing interception in the final minute against Orlando. Spokane drove for the game-winning touchdown.
“As the game went on you really got to see him progress as a player,” defensive coordinator Alex Sirianni said of Marsh, who became the starter when Kevin McCullough was traded two weeks ago. “Obviously not playing football for a few years, he had to catch up to the speed of the game and you could see he did that from the first to the fourth quarter.
“The play he made at the end was a very veteran play. They had a guy in motion that ran to the back side and he stayed put, stayed patient, didn’t get an illegal defense and he had the right timing on the ball.”
Kyle Rowley tossed six touchdown passes, but was also intercepted three times. “They kind of baited me into a couple of throws. I’ll learn from it,” he said. “They were playing zone, but they disguised it a little bit. Nothing I haven’t seen before, but I was trying to take big chunks.” … Vijil was honored with the Cutters Catch of the Week for his 6-yard TD grab with 14.5 seconds left. … Taylor Rowan wasn’t at practice, but he had a good excuse. He was able to kick in the Spokane Arena later Tuesday. The Shock practice facility has a low roof which limits kicking and deep passes.