The Force is With Us...Again
The revived Arena League team kicks off next month in Gwinnett.
Teresa McDaniel came to the park on a sunny Saturday to watch her son. But he wasn't one of the ones flying a kite, playing lacrosse or riding a razor scooter.
He was one of about 40-50 people trying out for the Georgia Force, the Arena Football League (read that, indoor) team that starts play next month in Gwinnett County.
The only qualifications that Ryan McDaniel, a former North Gwinnett and Samford University player, and the others needed were the $80 fee and a desire to play what amounts to a combination of football and human pinball.
They also came from as far away as Virginia. Austin Faulkner, a former Randolph-Macon quarterback, and his father drove nine hours for the tryout at Sugar Hill's Gary Pirkle Park.
And they came from near, too. DeShawn Owens, a personal trainer from Duluth, was suited up to play, and had his 4-year-old son with him.
They wore no pads for the audition. Faster players were timed in the 40-yard dash, and bigger players did the shuttle, an agility drill. Also, there were competitive drills between receivers and defenders, and between pass rushers and offensive linemen.
What they are hoping for is a chance to suit up for the Force, which like the rest of the Arena Football League was dormant for at least a year while it financially reorganized. Once owned by the Falcons' Arthur Blank, the team now is owned by a group of Alabama businessmen. The league once had corporate offices in New York and Chicago. Now, it's one, in Tulsa, Okla. The Force begins play March 13.
It's not for the money. If a player stayed with the team all 18 games, he'd make $18,000. But rosters change far more often than they do in the NFL.
Entertaining football certainly is an appeal. Arena league fields are 50 yards long and roughly the width of an NHL hockey rink. There's no room between the field and the stands. If a ball goes into the stands, fans can keep it. And after the games, players and fans mingle on the field for autographs.
And it's common for players to go into the stands from their momentum, too. "But we ask that fans give the players back," joked Force publicist Justin Hanschey.
Scores can resemble basketball games: witness this YouTube clip of an old Georgia Force game.
There are other variations. Starting lineups are eight players. In the AFL, a wide receiver can go in motion directly toward the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped; thus, he -- not the quarterback -- dictates the snap count. So when the QB is under center, he is keeping one eye toward the receiver to time the snap before the receiver goes offside.
But they all know the NFL is watching. Players get hurt there, too. And the NFL Network will have an Arena Football League weekly game.
AFL rosters number just 21 players, meaning most play several positions, offensively and defensively. And it was clear Saturday that Force Head Coach Dean Cokinos and his assistants were eyeing players who could plug several holes.
"What do you weigh now?" Cokinos asked one fellow after the tryout, which lasted about 2 1/2 hours. "About 310," the player responded. "You play guard, center, long-snapped?" the coach asked. After a short conversation, Cokinos jotted down the player's phone number and said, "You're coming back with us."
Training camp opens this week, and training sessions will be at the Atlanta Silverbacks' facility onBrogdon Exchange in Suwanee. Players that did not get a personal touch from Cokinos were told to stay by their phones.
"We're looking for (players for) the long term, for 18 weeks, who can fill in as we go," Cokinos told the assembled players before the tryout Saturday. "Don't worry about your times ... we're looking for certain types of players."
After the tryout, Cokinos said it was "pretty standard." He noted that this late in the off-season, many teams have their rosters fairly set.
He's looking for strong, physical players who can not only put points on the board, but help disrupt the other teams' offense. "You're not going to control a game ... you can be up 21-0 and lose the lead. You've got to keep the other team out of their rhythm."
Also attending the tryout -- as an observer and team official -- was Randy Kennedy, the team chaplain. He served in that capacity before the team went belly up, and also is involved in other sports ministries.
"I was sad when they left," he said. "The athletes are incredible. They are always positive." He leads a prayer session before each game involving players from both squads for "spiritual guidance."
Also, Cokinos and GM Chris Hendley have roots in the Arena league. Hendley, formerly with Charlotte, said he's been a mascot, strength coach and ticket sales person.
"Once it's in your blood, it's hard to get it out," he said. "It's hard to relate to someone making $21 million a year."