Tracy Sprinkle sees a springboard back to the NFL.
Chase Farris wants the chance to prove he’s healthy after a torn Achilles tendon and show the type of player he still is.
The new Alliance of American Football will kick off today, and the pair of Elyria High School and Ohio State alumni will suit up for the Atlanta Legends. They’re trying to stay in the moment and focus on the 10-game season at hand, but acknowledge the ultimate goal.
“I definitely see it as a way for myself and other players to develop their skills and continue to make that push for the NFL,” Farris, an offensive lineman, said Thursday by phone from Georgia.
Sprinkle was cut by the Carolina Panthers at the end of August and didn’t get a shot with another team. He said the break was the longest he’s been out of football.
“This new league is a blessing, it’s giving guys an opportunity to perform, and giving guys an opportunity to get back into the National Football League,” said Sprinkle, a defensive tackle. “There’s a lot of NFL minds put into it, a lot of scouts are going to be watching us play, so I think it’s a great opportunity.”
Plenty of football leagues have tried and failed, but the AAF, with teams in Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis, Orlando, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Antonio and San Diego, has a chance to gain a foothold in the NFL offseason.
Big names in important positions — Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Polian is a co-founder of the league, former Browns general manager Phil Savage is GM of Arizona and former college and NFL coach Steve Spurrier coaches Orlando — provide legitimacy.
Familiar names across the rosters include former Browns running back Trent Richardson, former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and former Michigan quarterback/running back Denard Robinson, which could draw attention.
“This is the real deal,” Sprinkle said. “A lot of players that are going to be back in the NFL are going to come from this league, I can promise you that.”
Each player reportedly signed a three-year, non-guaranteed contract worth $250,000 and can earn incentives based on individual and team performance. The players are allowed to leave for the NFL, and Sprinkle and Farris said the benefits package is strong and includes dental, vision and money for post-secondary education.
The AAF is also experimenting with a few rules changes that could eventually filter into the NFL. There are no kickoffs or extra points, with teams starting at the 25-yard line and being forced to go for 2-point conversions after touchdowns. Overtime is limited to one session, with each team getting the ball at the opponent’s 10-yard line.
A variety of networks will broadcast the games, which are designed to finish within 2ﾽ hours. Atlanta’s opener at Orlando is on CBS at 8 o’clock tonight.
“Primetime,” Sprinkle said. “It’s pretty legit.
“Hopefully everybody in Lorain County will be tuned in to the Atlanta Legends.”
Farris was in the Class of 2011 at Elyria and Sprinkle two years behind. They always kept in touch and are glad to be reunited.
“Anything each of us needs, it’s hometown people, we’re good to go,” Farris said.
“It’s kinda ironic,” Sprinkle said. “We played at the same high school, played at the same college and now we’re on the same professional team. It’s pretty cool.
“Me and him can talk ball, we can try to get each other better going against each other every day. It’s great work.”
The former Pioneers and Buckeyes kept the faith, and their NFL dreams alive, despite setbacks.
Farris was on the Patriots practice squad when they won the Super Bowl after the 2016 season but his Achilles ruptured that offseason. He said he’s healthy again and ready to prove it after the Canadian Football League wasn’t a fit.
“Just trying to get out there, get some tape, show people that I can still play,” said Farris, who’s playing right guard. “Just being in the situation I was in, coming off a Super Bowl with the Patriots and being in a position to actually fight for a spot on the roster and to just get everything completely like swept from underneath my feet, it was devastating.
“But I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason. I just had to put my nose down and grind it out.”
Sprinkle signed with the Panthers as an undrafted rookie last year. He thought he held his own during training camp and the preseason, and after getting cut set out to improve his consistency in the run game.
“Every day I’m trying to win the day, trying to get better, get stronger mentally, physically and most importantly spiritually,” he said. “I’m confident I will be in the National Football League, that’s obviously a long-term goal. But right now I’m just taking it one day at a time.”
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