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New-look Power boost secondary with All-AFL first-team defensive back Gray

Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, 10:18 p.m.
Pittsburgh Power defensive backs Virgil Gray (left) and Sergio Gilliam pose for a portrait Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, at Southpointe Field House.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Power defensive backs Virgil Gray (left) and Sergio Gilliam pose for a portrait Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, at Southpointe Field House.

Power defensive back Sergio Gilliam smiled easily Tuesday morning, looking nothing like someone who would allow jealousy to dictate his actions.

Yet, he's not ashamed to admit the truth about his feelings for new teammate and old friend Virgil Gray:

“He may not know it,” Gilliam said, “but I've kind of been jealous of him a little bit. Ever since we broke up (after winning the 2009 af2 Championship together in Spokane), he's been getting the rings, and I haven't.

“I figured if you can't beat him, you better join him.”Gray is the centerpiece of the Power's rebuilding efforts on defense, coming from the Arizona Rattlers, who won the past two Arena Football League championships. Gray has 35 interceptions in four seasons, 15 last year when he was selected to the All-Arena first team.

Gray also was named defensive player of the game of Arena Bowl XXVI, with 9 12 tackles and an end-zone interception, helping the Rattlers win the league title with a 48-39 victory against the Philadelphia Soul.

Gilliam, one of only seven players who returned to the Power this year, spent much of the offseason coaxing Gray to leave the Rattlers.

“They (Rattlers officials) talked to me a lot about re-signing,” said Gray, who spent three seasons with the team and reached the title game each time. “I disappointed a lot of people, (especially) the fans.

“My (Arizona) teammates understand. They told me it's a business and you have to make the best decision for my family and me.”Gray said his parents, who are retired in Atlanta, will be able to attend more games now that he's back on the East Coast.

Indoor football is a nomadic existence in any case.

Gray, who turns 30 next week, signed to play in the proposed All-American League in 2007 when he left the University of Rhode Island, but it suspended operations a week before training camp.

Gray bounced through Lubbock, Texas, and Spokane in af2 (the AFL's developmental league) and played in Milwaukee in 2010 before joining Arizona.

Gilliam, who played at Clemson, is with his fifth indoor team — Spokane, Arizona, Oklahoma City, Kansas City and the Power — but he keeps his NFL dreams alive by sporting the tattooed words “Never Give Up” on his neck.

He also coaches an eighth-grade team in Kansas City, Mo.

“Football won't be here forever,” said Gilliam, 29, who had eight of the Power's 16 interceptions last season. “I feel like coaching is something I'm trying to build for my resume.”

Meanwhile, there is ambitious title talk around the Power (4-14 last season), and coach Derek Stingley said a veteran secondary will help. Also returning is Brandon Freeman, who had two interceptions for the Power a year ago.

“That's the key to this game,” Stingley said. “Offenses are evolving. Schemes are getting more complicated.

“It's good to know I have a secondary that can not only think but perform and do it both together and do it well.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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