Off-season is in for arena football players

At play

County starts an indoor youth program with a workout session at the Soccerdome

April 04, 2007|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,Special to The Sun

Jalen Cornish spent two hours catching footballs Sunday. There was nothing strange about it, except that the 13-year-old was sprinting across the Soccerdome with the ball, and football season does not start until August.

Jalen was one of 40 children at the Pasadena Chargers' first arena football workout.

The popularity of football in the area pushed officials for the youth football team to start an outdoor league, but when they could not pull that off, they sought to launch the county's first indoor program - and the response delighted them.

"I'm overwhelmed and just ecstatic about it," said Chargers president Jeff Cottman. "We were just trying to do something for the youth to keep them off the streets and [help] keep them busy year-round."

Cottman and coach Brian Baublitz said details are still forthcoming. Children, even if they do not compete with the Chargers in the outdoor season, can register for the league through Saturday, when they will get their equipment.

The Chargers expect to field three teams: two in the 14-and-under division, the other in 11-and-under. Cottman said each team needs to field 11 to 15 players because an eight-on-eight format is used.

Cottman said team officials are trying to work out an eight-game schedule against teams from Howard, Baltimore and Harford counties. Games will be played on the weekends, with home contests at the Soccerdome in Harmans.

Soccerdome officials will reline the biggest of their three fields. It will be about 75 to 80 yards long, with no goal posts. Arena football has goal posts at the professional level, but kicking is rare because the field is shorter, and teams go for touchdowns on every possession.

"This is a good step," Baublitz said. "I think it's something that should have happened years and years ago. In all of your other states that are into youth football, they do football year-round also. This is just a step in the right direction for [Maryland]."

Two professional arena football teams are beginning in Maryland this year. The Baltimore Blackbirds practice in Millersville and play in the American Indoor Football Association.

The Chesapeake Tide plays in the Continental Indoor Football League, with home games at Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro.

NBC televised the Arena Football League the past few seasons. ESPN took over this year and has been heavily publicizing it. EA Sports also released the video game Arena Football: Road to Glory in February. All of these factors drew kids like Jalen to the sport.

"I do basketball, but I do football the most, and I also play the video game," he said. "I play football all year round. I think it will be fun" to play indoors.

Jalen, who attends Old Mill Middle School, appeared to be enjoying himself Sunday. He showed why he was so good at running back, quarterback and wide receiver, using his speed to make tough catches.

Ashton Johnson, a 10-year-old Broadneck Elementary student, also fared nicely in the first workout.

"I like football, and I want to play with my friends in here," he said. "It's different, and I thought it was cool to be inside for the first time."

Indoor football also could help high schools down the road by teaching younger children the fundamentals of the game and better preparing them for high school football.

Some Old Mill coaches showed up Sunday to help with the workout and talk to parents and children.

Mark Engle, who will be a defensive line coach at Old Mill this fall, guided the offensive and defensive lines of the Pasadena 135-pound team last year. The squad outscored opponents, 370-7.

"It does give the kids a preparation for high school, but it also gives them an opportunity to play football in the off-season," Engle said. "It also gives some of the kids that didn't get opportunities to play too much outdoors a chance to play a little more indoors."

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