Former FIU Players Finding Life In Other Leagues

Michael Montero blocking during his time at FIU. Photo by FIU Athletics.

Day three of the NFL draft, hundreds of former college players like Anthony Johnson wait in suspense hoping to hear their name called by an NFL team.

Unfortunately for most of these players, their name is never called and their lifelong dreams of playing professional football are over.

While the NFL is still the most popular football league, alternate leagues such as the recently revived XFL give players the chance to extend their football career. With 1,696 spots available in the NFL and roughly 10,000 division one football players, the odds of making it to the big stage are slim.

This is an issue for schools in smaller conferences, like FIU. Most players won’t make it to the NFL but could have opportunities in other leagues. Leagues like the XFL, AFL, and CFL provide players with another outlet to showcase their talents for NFL teams and hopefully make a roster.

Some of the greatest NFL players ever played in leagues such as the CFL. Players like  Ricky Williams, Cameron Wake, and legends Warren Moon and Joe Theismann all spent time in the CFL.

The XFL had a short stint back in 2001, when they played only one season. The league was started by WWE Chairman Vince McMahon who promised he would deliver the most entertaining brand of football around. This promise was somewhat true, the football was entertaining, but McMahon’s rowdy nature created complications with their TV partner NBC which led to the league folding after their inaugural season.

In January of 2018, McMahon announced that the XFL would be revived and kickoff was expected to come in 2020. While many who remember the failed experiment of the XFL scoffed at the idea, many players look for a chance saw an opportunity.

Former FIU defensive lineman Anthony “The Gut” Johnson is just one of many players looking for a shot in the revived league. Johnson has been on the cusp of making an NFL roster having attended the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie minicamp this past May but didn’t make the team.

Former FIU DL Anthony “The Gut”Johnson is benefiting from outside leagues. Photo by Indya Vassel

For players like Johnson, any opportunity to play professional football would be welcomed.

“Just more opportunities. gives us the opportunity to put some professional film out to the NFL” said Johnson on the benefit of these leagues.

For players like Johnson, the dream to make it to the NFL is one that never stops. Leagues like the XFL keep players dreams of making it to the big stage alive.

Former FIU offensive lineman Michael Montero has also benefited from these outside leagues. Montero currently plays for the Arizona Sugar Skulls in the Indoor Football League and has formerly played for La Counvure Flash in France.

For players like Montero, the ability to make a career out of the game he loves, even though it isn’t the NFL, is what makes these leagues special.

“Football is unique in the fact that you can’t just go have a pickup game like other sports,” said Montero. “So when your done playing you can never get that feeling of putting pads on if it wasn’t for these leagues”.

The benefits of these leagues aren’t exclusive to the players, however, but to the NFL as well. Professional football is one of the only sports that doesn’t incorporate farm teams as part of the league. Farm teams give players a chance to develop and hopefully make a difference on the NFL squad.

For many players, leagues such as the XFL and AFL are looked at as the farm teams.

“These leagues give you another opportunity to prove that you can still play and provide film with pads on,” said Montero

The fact still remains that there are a limited number of spots on an NFL roster. To many players, the development and growth of these leagues is the only shot they have to play football professionally.

One of the challenges these leagues face is public opinion and viewership. Many, including Bob Costas of NBC Sports, consider these leagues as “second rate” football, which is the big obstacle these leagues face. While these players aren’t at the top talent of their sport, there are still talented players these leagues can choose from.

While the AAF was short-lived, it generated enough buzz to get fans interested. While they will never trump the success of the NFL, they can fill a void for football fans in the offseason.

“I think these leagues have a lot of potentials. There is a lot of ex-high school and college players that want to play,” said Montero. “I think there will always be a market for leagues to grow”

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