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For Rattlers, IFL is another stepping stone for a career in the NFL

Arizona Rattlers players see the Indoor Football League as a pathway to a career in the NFL. (Photo by Margaret Naczek/Cronkite News)

MESA, Ariz. — Ryan Langford understands the disappointment of rejection. After graduating from the University of New Mexico in 2016, he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Houston Texans.

“I had gotten cut a week before the regular season started,” he said.

Then he had a tryout with San Diego Chargers.

“That didn’t pan out.”

In March of 2017, he had another NFL tryout.

“Nothing happened.”

The last two weeks of the 2017 preseason, Langford was signed by the Arizona Cardinals. He was with the team for three weeks.

“Ever since then, I hadn’t gotten that much talk from coaches. Instead of waiting around like I did after I got cut from Houston, I figured taking the initiative to come play for an organization that’s as well put together as this,” Langford said.

The 24-year-old linebacker is in his first season with the Arizona Rattlers, the Indoor Football League team in Phoenix.

Though Langford’s journey to the IFL wasn’t his original goal, he’s using his time with the Rattlers, who play their regular-season finale in Nebraska on June 16, to continue on the path to the NFL.

“A lot of these guys have come out of college and have gotten an opportunity in training camp. Now they want to keep their career going and trying to have a second change of trying to get back into the league,” Rattlers head coach Kevin Guy said of many players in the IFL.

Former Arizona State return specialist Jamal Miles also experienced a taste of professional football before coming to the Rattlers. The wide receiver/running back tried out with the Jacksonville Jaguars and then played a year in the Canadian Football League with the Edmonton Eskimos.

“After I left the CFL, I came back here, back home,” said Miles, who is from Peoria. “I was just working. Coach Guy gave me a call to come back out here and get a workout in. He gave me an opportunity to come back and play.”

Guy calls the IFL “an opportunity league.” Many players who have tried out with NFL teams are now faced with the difficulty of being at the bottom of the football food chain, many times playing strictly on special teams.

“It’s an opportunity for them to get out here and get some quality film against some quality opponents and make plays out here,” Guy said. “As you make some plays, you’re going to get noticed. If you’ve got a winning team, they usually get recruited first.”

In his 10 seasons with the Rattlers, Guy has coached 46 players into NFL contracts.

Miles and Langford said the biggest difficulty in transitioning from the NFL to the IFL is the size of the field. NFL fields are 100 yards by 53.3 yards. IFL fields are half the size: 50 yards by 28 yards.

“Decisions and alignments, plays that I’ve got to read from the offense, it all happens faster because it’s a condensed area,” Langford said.

Langford said he wishes he could use his open field speed more, but the field size limits his bursts.

“You don’t have a lot of room to make and do things. You’ve got to get up the field as fast as you can,” Miles said.

But despite the transition, similarities between the two leagues attract players to the IFL. Guy, who coached for over 15 years in the Arena Football League, said the AFL is 95 percent a passing game compared to the multidimensional environment of the IFL.

“I think it’s more like the outdoor game,” Guy said. “In this game, not only do you get the passing game. You have the run game. You add blocking. There’s a lot of things that they get to showcase in this game.”

Langford and Miles are using their time with the Rattlers to improve their game to hopefully get them to their end goal: a career in the NFL.

“Just be more physical because at the highest levels, it’s one of the most physical games that you can play,” Langford said about what he needs to focus on. “You’ve got to go 110 percent all the time because everyone on the field is.”

Having some experience working alongside NFL players in his various tryouts and stints with NFL teams, Langford said he received the optimism that he could play alongside the professionals. Now, it’s about getting back to that prime-time stage.

“We’ve definitely had a lot of players get opportunities,” Guy said. “Once they get that opportunity it’s what they make of it. …If they buy in, we’ll make phone calls for them and try to get them that opportunity. Once they get there, it’s on them.”

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