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Ex-Spartans make livings in AFL

February 28, 2005
Travis Reece, a former MSU football player and current member of the Grand Rapids Rampage of the Arena Football League, signs autographs during a post-game autograph session. —

The phrase, "Lights, camera, action" doesn't usually come to mind when thinking about a football game.

But this is different.

Flames, dancers, music and prizes are just part of the craziness that encompasses arena football.

And there also is a football game complete with football players. Two such players are former Spartans Travis Reece and Sedrick Irvin, who play for the Grand Rapids Rampage.

Both players began their careers in the NFL, and although their NFL careers didn't pan out, they look at their time in arena football as a unique opportunity to continue playing.

"I just look at it as six months out of the year, you get asked to travel and play a game that you love to play," Reece said. "You usually end up meeting guys you'll be best friends with for the rest of your life."

Irvin has similar feelings.

"My four years in the NFL was a blessing, a dream come true," he said. "But now to play in this league is a blessing, and to have an opportunity just to compete and continue to play the game I've played since I was 5 years old is great."

In a league where the average salary is $40,000, most players - including Reece and Irvin - have different jobs during the summer to supplement the pay. About 30 percent of the players in the league have multi-year contracts.

In the offseason, Reece runs a carpet cleaning business in Detroit, and Irvin goes home to Florida to teach and coach football at a high school.

Arena football is a lot quicker than traditional football, where speed and scoring are the name of the game. Although some might think of the league as second-rate, it remains competitive. Many players use the Arena Football League as a chance to keep playing football beyond college and the NFL, as well as a springboard to the NFL.

"A lot of our guys are guys who have been players in the NFL and, for whatever, reason they have dropped through the crack," Rampage head coach Sparky McEwen said. "These are guys who still have a love for the game and are playing at a high level.

"On the same note, we have a lot of players who are on the cusp of going to the NFL."

Both players have followed similar paths to the Rampage, with Reece spending a few more years in the AFL than Irvin.

Irvin played for MSU from 1996-98, compiling the fourth-most rushing yards in school history. He was signed by the Detroit Lions in 1999, where he played three seasons. After moving from team to team, he joined the Rampage at the beginning of this season, where he has yet to play because of injury.

Reece, who played for the Spartans from 1994-97, was signed by the Lions as an undrafted free agent in April 1998. After two years with the Lions, Reece moved on to the AFL, where he didn't waste any time making an impact.

He won the AFL rushing title his rookie season with Nashville and was named to the AFL All-Rookie team.

This is Reece's first year with the Rampage, and Irvin's first year in arena football. The two said they are thankful to still be playing in Michigan.

"The state of Michigan is like a second home," said Irvin, who is originally is from Miami. "I played college here, I played NFL here and now I'm playing arena here.

Both players look back on their time at MSU with fond memories and realize the many lessons learned, both in football and in life.

"East Lansing showed me a lot of love coming from the projects in Miami," Irvin said. "Coach Saban instilled discipline. He challenged my character, which made me a better man to make better decisions."

Reece also gained invaluable experience at MSU.

"I learned how to work hard and how to work," he said. "With the training, it kind of just set me up and prepared me for the worst."

As for the future, Reece doesn't plan on going anywhere.

"I kind of figured I'd be playing for awhile after my first year in the league because it came so easy," Reece said. "I want to just continue to set records and goals."

And as for Irvin, he is only concerned with one thing.

"I just need to know if they're going to retire my jersey at Michigan State," he said.

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