NEW ORLEANS — Everybody wants to be the next Josh Victorian.
After completing the 2012 Arena Football League season with the VooDoo, Victorian signed an NFL contract with the New Orleans Saints and later with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where the cornerback spent most of last fall on their practice squad.
By December, Victorian was promoted to Pittsburgh’s active roster, where he played in the Steelers’ final four games of the regular season, starting one.
Victorian, who also played at Destrehan High School and Louisiana Tech, enters Pittsburgh’s training camp this summer hoping to earn a more permanent spot with the Steelers.
He was one of 34 AFL players to reach NFL camps last summer. Seven of these players earned spots on NFL practice squads and another seven on active rosters, according to the AFL. Statistics were not available for previous seasons.
VooDoo owner Dan Newman expects those numbers to increase.
“The NFL is getting a chance to see in the AFL a higher quality coach, better trained, more talented players than ever before because a lot of the guys are really good athletes,” said Newman, who previously owned an AFL2 franchise in Bossier City/Shreveport.
“There are many more skilled football players that are available in the marketplace than there ever have been before, and there’s no way the NFL can grab them all. It’s just physically impossible. So they’re looking to us more than ever before to find and see and develop some talent.”
VooDoo defensive lineman Marlon Favorite, who played at Archbishop Shaw and West Jefferson before playing college football at LSU, has spent time with 10 NFL teams and two teams in the United Football League.
In 2012, Favorite left the VooDoo after the season to compete for a roster spot in the Washington Redskins training camp. He’s back with the VooDoo this spring, hoping that another solid season will lead to a permanent roster spot in the NFL.
“The AFL will be able to bring in more quality players when guys realize that hey, they can get to the NFL from here,” said Favorite.
Playing in Arena Football, he added, allows him to stay in shape during the spring and summer, increasing his likelihood of impressing NFL scouts entering their training camps.
It’s bitter-sweet, losing a good VooDoo player to the NFL, Newman admitted. But he said he would never stop a player from achieving their NFL dream, a dream which transforms their weekly salary of about $850 a week to a weekly minimum of around $6,000 on an NFL practice squad and more than $25,000 on active rosters.
“We’re glad for the kids; we’re sorry for the fans because we’re going to miss them,” Newman said. “But it’s kinda cool to turn on the TV on Sundays and see our guys playing.”
That’s because no longer is the AFL aiming for players that simply want to be around the game during the final years of their football career.
“We want to sign players that want to get across the street,” VooDoo coach Pat O’Hara said, pointing to the Superdome. The VooDoo offices sit across the street on Poydras Street.
Last season, VooDoo quarterback Kurt Rocco flew to Miami to meet with the Dolphins the day after the VooDoo lost in the first round of the AFL playoffs.
Like Victorian, defensive end Xavier Brown was in the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp. Both are back this season with the VooDoo.
Receiver Greg Ellingson, who played for the VooDoo in 2012, was in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp later that summer. He’s now back in the AFL, playing for the Tampa Bay Storm.
Because of rules variations, the AFL may never serve as an official NFL developmental league, as NFL Europe did in the past.
The field the VooDoo will play on Sunday in their regular-season opener against Orlando is about half the size of an NFL football field, making the speed of the game much faster and forcing offenses to focus on passing.
Quarterbacks have about half as much time to get rid of passes, and routes run by receivers must develop much faster. And don’t forget about the high-motion receiver, perhaps the biggest visual difference between the two leagues.
Newman said the AFL has figured out it can enjoy a relationship with the NFL in an unofficial status.
“They’re getting the cream of the cream of the cream,” Newman said. “It’s not necessarily how good these players are, but if they can fill the spot that team needs at that particular time.”
In the meantime, many will be waiting, staying in shape in the AFL.