Rudy Griffin’s college football career ended two years ago when he graduated from Alabama, but the desire to play still hasn’t left him.
So he drove 300 miles from Albany, Ga., to Orlando this week for a chance to get back in the game.
Griffin was among about 300 former college football players invited to the first tryouts for the All-American Football League, an upstart that hopes to begin playing in April 2008. The players ran 40-yard dashes and through agility drills, were weighed and measured and tested at their positions.
Some are recent college standouts who lasted a few years in the NFL, arena football or elsewhere. Others haven’t played in years.
“This league right here is a chance for me to experience that whole college atmosphere again,” said Griffin, who coaches a high school team. “Put the uniform on and actually run out there. I’m still around the game of football. I love the game of football; that’s my passion.”
The AAFL hopes to tap into a “pent-up demand” during the NFL offseason by tying it into college sports. Teams will be located in high-profile markets like Alabama, Florida and Tennessee, and feature former players for those schools and others. In many cases, the games would be held at college stadiums, and even the uniforms would have similar color schemes as the college.
“(Fans) might actually care more who wins than if it was just a team called Orlando playing a team called Knoxville,” league CEO Marcus Katz said. “If that’s true if we touch on people’s heartstrings this has a better chance. If you don’t care who wins, why watch?”
All players must have a college degree and have used up their eligibility. Any former player is welcome to try out not just those who played where the teams will be.
The league feeds on college rivalries, and Katz said players mostly wouldn’t cross them. No former Florida State player would play for the Gainesville team, for example.
The league still isn’t sure how many teams it’ll have or where, but it could have one for both the Gators and Seminoles, Katz said.
Organizers include some big names. The chairman of the board of directors is former NCAA president Cedric Dempsey, and other board members include former UCLA chancellor and Florida president Charles Young and Gene Corrigan, retired Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner.
League officials say they’ll play in spring, and won’t even try to compete with the NFL.
Katz, a former student loan entrepreneur, said about 2,000 players applied for the Orlando tryouts, but there was only room for a few hundred. Further invitation-only tryouts will be held at other locations, and open calls are also planned around the country.
“We want to make sure everybody gets a shot,” Katz said.
The league was also planning a small scrimmage Tuesday for fans.
Quarterbacking will be Shane Matthews, a former Florida player who just retired after 13 seasons in the NFL. Matthews, by far the biggest name at the tryouts, said he was mostly excited for the other guys who never got a shot in the pros. He said he might play in the league, but also might try to coach in it.
“Even if you’ve been out of football, or whatever the sport may be, all of us are very competitive,” he said. “And any time you might have a chance to maybe play a young kid’s sport again for a living, people are going to jump at the chance.”
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