Canadian Football League

Sunday, February 27, 2005

MOUNT DORA Dominick Clayton thought his football playing days were over.
But three years after suffering what he believed was a career-ending injury, Clayton has a chance to do something he never imagined: Become a professional football player.
The former Mount Dora High School standout is in camp this weekend with the National Indoor Football League’s Kissimmee Kreatures. Clayton will participate in two-a-days today and Sunday in hopes of making the first round of cuts for the expansion franchise.
“I think it will be fun,” Clayton said. “I haven’t done it in a while. A lot of guys are trying to use this to advance to the AFL (Arena Football League) or NFL. If it happens for me, it happens.”
Clayton was an all-county utility player at Mount Dora as a senior in 1997. He went on to study and to play football at John Carroll University, a Division III school in Ohio.
After graduating, Clayton worked out with the AFL’s Orlando Predators and then signed with the Jacksonville Tomcats of arena football league 2. But Clayton separated his shoulder in training camp in 2002 and lost his opportunity.
Three years later, Clayton, who teaches special education math and coaches three sports at Mount Dora, is ready to give professional football another try.
Clayton said he thought he was “done” after he separated his shoulder. The injury helped turn his focus to teaching and coaching. Not only is Clayton, 26, pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership at Barry University in Miami Shores, but he also is head track and field coach and an assistant boys basketball and football coach.
To stay active, Clayton started playing in flag football league in Orlando in 2003 and is a member of a tournament traveling team.
“I was just trying to stay in shape and have some fun,” Clayton said.
Little did Clayton know he had caught someone’s eye. Darnell Harrison, the Kreatures’ defensive coordinator, spotted Clayton at a flag football game and recommended to coach Marquette Smith that the Kreatures bring him in for a tryout.
“We’re always looking for local talent and to find as many diamonds in the rough. With (Dominick) it was a double whammy,” Smith said. “Our whole coaching staff is very involved in the flag football circuit, and Darnell said (Dominick was) a guy who was real good, who had played college ball and arena 2 ball and was a local guy. We got real lucky with Dominick.”
Still, Clayton said no to Harrison the first time he asked him to play for the Kreatures in October 2004. Clayton said Harrison’s persistence ultimately changed his mind.
Now the cornerback / wide receiver has a chance to get paid to play football.
The Kreatures put prospective players through speed testing Tuesday and strength testing Wednesday. This weekend will serve as the first cut to get the team down to 40 players.
The team will trim its roster to 30 in time for its season opener against the Montgomery (Ala.) Maulers on March 19 at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee.
“This is a great starting point for a lot of guys,” Smith said. “I think it is considered a step above afl2 based on what I have heard. We’re basically the equivalent to the (Class) AA for the NFL.”
Smith, who also serves as the Kreatures’ general manager, was a member of Florida State’s 1993 national championship team. He transferred to Central Florida and became the first running back at UCF to gain 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons (1994, ’95).
The Carolina Panthers drafted Smith in the fifth round of the 1996 draft, but he tore ligaments in his left knee in the last preseason game. He also tore ligaments in his left knee in 1997 and was released by the Panthers at the end of training camp in 1998.
Smith went on to play with the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe in ’98 and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL. He also has played in the Arena Football League, the defunct XFL and the NIFL.
He said the NIFL is a great opportunity for players and coaches to hone their skills and possibly to parlay it into a chance to move to the AFL, CFL or NFL.
“A lot of guys from arena football league 2 are moving over here,” Smith said. “A lot of guys move up to AFL, but more guys go to the CFL or to the NFL. I think you will see 10 guys get to NFL camp, with a bunch going to the AFL and a bunch going to the CFL.”
Smith said the team’s operational budget is anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000. He said players would sign a contract and could make up to $30,000 a season, depending on their experience.
Smith said he has liked what he has seen from Clayton and feels there will plenty of competition amongst his team’s receivers.
“Dominick has afl2 experience and he runs great routes and he has soft hands and a great work ethic,” Smith said. “He is a coachable kid who wants to do it and who wants to learn. When he is on the field he gives 100 percent.
“The best trait he has is when he runs his routes he doesn’t give up on the ball. If the quarterback doesn’t throw the ball, he still will work to get open.”
The NIFL started with 18 teams in 2001. It has expanded to 21 teams this season, and it has three other teams (Daytona Beach, Lakeland and Miami) in the state of Florida. The league’s commissioner, Carolyn Shiver, is a native of Wildwood.
Smith said Kissimmee’s 30-player roster would include spots for five players to be placed on injured reserve. He said the Kreatures would have a 21-player travel squad and a four-player taxi squad, or inactive roster, that would rotate week to week.
Smith said one difference between the NIFL, which is endorsed by the NFL, and the AFL is that the NIFL runs a Canadian motion, with three players in motion. The AFL has one player go in motion.
He said each of the eight players on offense and defense specialize in their positions and likely won’t go both ways. Clayton doesn’t know if his chance with Kissimmee will lead to opportunities in other professional football leagues, but he is excited about his chances.
“My outlook is just to have some fun,” Clayton said. “I never thought I would play the game again, so that is a blessing in itself.”


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