• December 21, 2014

Semi-pro footballers keep suiting up despite no pay, risk of expensive injury

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Posted: Monday, May 6, 2013 4:30 am | Updated: 11:59 am, Wed Sep 3, 2014.

The last weekend of April saw 254 young men drafted into the NFL. Years of hard work, persistence, and dedication culminated in a 72-hour event that changed the lives of each player selected, and their families, forever. Their dreams to become a professional football player were finally accomplished.

On Saturday, in a tiny stadium off Rancier Avenue in downtown Killeen, men of all ages and walks of life suited up.

Their dreams to become professional football players had not been fulfilled, but that didn’t stop them. They were volunteering their time and bodies, not for the money or recognition, but for the love of the game.

“Everyone’s out here because they love it,” Killeen Revolution wide receiver TJ Jennings said. “Semi-pro football is for everyone who didn’t get to live up to their football potential. ... When you love football and can still play, and still want to get out here, than you’re going to give it all you got. I’m happy semi-pro gives us the opportunity to come out and play.”

At 25, Jennings is one of the youngest players on the Revolution’s roster. However, his three years of semi-pro experience make him one of the veterans of the ball club.

“I’m one of the younger guys out here, yeah, but I’m still a vet. We got guys from 20 all the way up to their 30’s playing. We love having a chance to get out here and keep doing this.”

Players and coaches do not get paid for their time with the Revolution, which is a member of the Xclusive Football League — an offshoot of the Crossroads Amateur Football League. The CRAFL, also features the Killeen Knights, who play at Manor Field. The twice-a-week practices, games on Saturdays and the ability to still be involved in the game they love is payment enough.

“There’s just something about putting the pads on again, playing the game of football,” reserve defensive end Paul Anderson said. “It’s crazy; you run a high risk of injury to your body, especially if you don’t have insurance.”

 The 33-year-old cook sat out Saturday’s 34-0 loss to the Austin Vipers with a knee injury. “I keep telling myself this is my last season, but when spring workouts start up, I just say one more year.”

All players on the Revolution’s roster know the risk of serious injury is present at all times on the football field.

“My leg locked up on me,” said wide receiver Kendrick Ussin. “I couldn’t run. I’m in a lot of pain right now. I’m lucky I have insurance. I’m going to be heading to the doctor right after this to see what is wrong.”

Semi-pro football players often suit up uninsured and run the risk of expensive medical bills. But for players like Ussin, that doesn’t stop him.

 “This is what I love to do. ... My heart beats for football; there is nothing better than playing this sport right here.”

Ussin is actually a rare find in independent football leagues. While most players’ football careers ended after their final snap in high school, Ussin signed a letter of intent with Division I Louisiana-Monroe. Ussin never suited up for the Warhawks. The New Orleans native had his football dreams washed away by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina.

“After Katrina hit, I came down here to Texas to see what was going on with my family,” said Ussin.

The 26-year-old father of three found his way onto the Revolution’s roster last year, and has been a wide receiver for the team since.

“I love getting together with the guys, being a team. Getting together is real fun.”

Ussin remained sidelined for the remainder of Saturday evening’s loss, but the speedy receiver didn’t let his injury, or his team’s performance, bring him down.

“This is real fun, man. ... Win or lose, we’ll always keep fighting and keep our heads up.”

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