Power excel at 'full-time job' as playoff opener looms

Jerry DiPaola
| Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, 10:55 p.m.

Arena Football League players are seasonal laborers, working for modest pay with little hope of advancement.

Yet the Power (15-3) have found success with an experienced blend of men far enough removed from college to understand how to seriously approach the game but still in the midst of their athletic prime.

“This is definitely full time for us,” said linebacker James Bryant, a 28-year-old veteran who will help lead the Power into Orlando, Fla., on Sunday for the first playoff game in franchise history. “We have a job to do.”

Such an attitude partially stems from the average age of team's top 20 players (28.4). It isn't a group of unsure youngsters coach Ron James has assembled. Most are too old for the NFL, but they found a comfortable niche in the AFL.

“Our team is made up of a bunch of guys who have their own families at home,” Bryant said. “Once you bring that kind of person into this element, we are not here to play games with anybody. We're here to bond.

“We are going to create our own family while we are here. A band of brothers.”

James demands players dress uniformly at practice — yellow jerseys for offense, black for defense and red for quarterbacks. It's not a new concept, but it gives the team a professional look.

“You never know when NFL scouts will walk through the facility,” James said.

Still, the team does not lack for unique personalities:

• Bryant likes to wear a Hannibal Lecter mask in the hopes of intimidating the other team, entertaining fans and motivating teammates. “They feed off it,” he said.

• Defensive back Brandon Freeman has refused to wash his game pants during the team's 12-game winning streak. If that means keeping the equipment truck stocked with disinfectant spray, quality control manager Kevin Quinn said he doesn't mind.

• Quarterback Tommy Grady has brought players together at his home for barbecues where he flips the hamburgers.

But what James said he especially likes about his team is its work ethic.

“We are filled with football players with the desire to excel,” he said. “When they get on the field, they are well coached, they are well disciplined and they attack the situation.”

He pointed to a roughing-the-kicker penalty against defensive lineman Justin Lawrence late in last week's 64-34 victory over the Philadelphia Soul. The game meant nothing in the standings and was long decided in the Power's favor when Lawrence was flagged. He also was fined by the league.

“But he wasn't giving up on the play,” James said. “We are fighting every second of every game, all the way through, and we are going to continue to do that until our last breath.”

Note: The Power activated 6-foot-4 receiver Tyrone Goard, who missed the past five games with a knee injury. Goard has 18 touchdowns on 29 receptions in eight games.

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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