Jermaine Alfred spends many of his afternoons daydreaming about an NFL career while he peddles Air Jordans and DMXs at the Just For Feet store off Daniel Parkway.
He spends his Saturday nights trying to live up to those dreams with the undefeated Augusta Stallions of arenafootball2.
"I came here to get experience," the former Baylor quarterback said. "I plan on moving up to a higher level."
In the ever-proliferating world of developmental football, the af2 embodies the lowest rung. (Well, that's if you judge the XFL solely on its football merits and not its tasteless presentation.) After all, af2 is the minor-league division of an entertainment industry that didn't even exist until 15 years ago.
Since Arena Football was born with a modest four-team association in 1987, the caged version of America's most violent pastime has grown exponentially. There are 47 arena teams nationally, including 28 af2 clubs that help feed the main show. Every player in the league hopes to become the next Kurt Warner and get discovered. Last season, 70 af2 players advanced to some higher level of football consciousness.
"There are so many athletes out there and so few opportunities," said Mike Hold, the Stallions' first-year head coach. "This provides them another opportunity. You never know."
Hold - the former South Carolina star quarterback who led the Gamecocks to their finest season in 1984 - has been involved in the indoor game for so long he isn't sure he could handle "the big field" anymore. Fifteen years ago, Hold participated in the pioneer league and has never left.
Newly retired as a player, Hold is in charge of selling this brand of football in the Augusta market. He believes the game sells itself with its primal blend of football, hockey and rock 'n' roll.
"Nothing about it is boring," Hold said. "I've never heard anybody who went to an arena game and left saying, `Oh, that (was awful).' They may say they love regular football more than they do arena, but they didn't have a bad time."
"For fans this is the best game to come to," Alfred said. "They're right there on the field and get to interact with the players a lot."
The fledgling af2 was such a rousing success in its midsize markets last year that the league added 13 franchises for the 2001 season. Average league-wide attendance in 2000 was 7,239 per game, the league claims.
The Stallions haven't experienced that same level of fan support, despite their perfect 4-0 record and exhilarating offensive style, averaging 3,500 in two home starts that happened to coincide with the Masters and an all-day concert at Lake Olmstead Stadium.
"All we can do is keep winning ballgames and hope the people catch on," Hold said. "No one wants to go see a loser. I know I don't, so I wouldn't expect anyone else to. Winning is everything. It would be amazing if we could put 6,200 in there."
Alfred - who earns the league standard $200 a week plus $50 bonuses for winning - hopes to be the one to pack them in. Taking over for the departed Aaron Sparrow, who earned af2 player-of-the-year honors for the Stallions last year, Alfred ranks among the top seven quarterbacks in the league in passer rating, total yards and touchdowns.
"I'm doing what I love to do, and getting paid for it makes it that much better," he said.
As for his dreams?
"If you're good, they'll find you," Alfred said.
The Stallions hope the same can be said for the fans.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219.
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