By Jake Brown
The NFL has always lacked a true developmental league. They never had a D-League like the NBA has or minor league baseball like MLB has or the AHL like the NHL has.
Now, it appears those days are over.
The FXFL has arrived, and it could be here to say. The new Fall Experimental Football League began last week, and Wednesday night football arrived in Brooklyn for the first time since 1949. The Brooklyn Bolts defeated the Boston Brawlers 27-20 at MCU Park, which is also home to the Brooklyn Cyclones (Mets single-A affiliate). According to Commissioner Brian Woods, Brooklyn’s model is what they want. There are only four teams now, but it seems others could be on the way in the coming years in various minor league stadiums.
The league will focus on young players only and avoid players whose shelf lives have expired in the NFL. The rosters will feature recent graduates who were released by NFL teams. The players will make $1,000 per game, but the goal is to give them a platform where scouts, coaches, and NFL teams can see them and bring them in.
Bolts running back and Hofstra alum Kareem Huggins has been waiting for this opportunity.
“It’s an amazing feeling. It’s great. You have no idea,” Huggins said. “It almost brings me to tears how excited I am. The Brooklyn Bolts gave me an opportunity. I’m grateful for it. I’m taking advantage of it. I’m going to continue to grind to get to the next level.”
It’s truly been a grind for the former NFL running back. Huggins is one of the older players in the FXFL at 28. He spent a brief time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New England Patriots, and New York Jets. The last time he saw a field in the regular season in the NFL was 2010; after suffering a severe knee injury, Huggins was never the same. He was signed to the Jets practice squad on September 25, 2013, but was released just a week later.
“When the Jets released me, it happened for a reason. When I got cut I went to the gym and worked harder,” Huggins said. “I’m going to be honest… I was in tears. I love what I do. The desire was in my heart. I was a little hurt, but I knew there was something better.”
Huggins played well in the Bolts debut after just joining the team the day before. He was staying ready, but was sitting around his house in New Jersey. The 28-year-old said it felt good to be back in New York and he knew how the wind is off the water.
Another player hoping to return to the NFL is wide receiver Kevin Elliott, who shined in his Bolts debut, catching two touchdowns. Elliott spent time with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills, compiling 10 catches for 108 yards. A torn ACL in the 2013 preseason ended his season, and Buffalo released him this past August. The Bills have plenty of talent at the position with Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams, and Robert Woods.
“The NFL is a business at the end of the day. Sometimes it’s not your skill set,” the 25-year-old receiver said. “It’s because the numbers aren’t right and it’s about finding the right system.”
Elliott considered other options, but there’s no question the 6’3″ wideout is confident he will be back in the league.
“I thought about the CFL, but if you go up there, it’s a two-year contract,” he said. “No offense, but I don’t plan on being here that long. I’m going to put some film out. This is just a great opportunity for us to stay in shape and continue to pursue my dream.”
Getting the chance to play in Brooklyn isn’t too shabby, either.
“I love it in Brooklyn. I wish we stayed a little bit closer. I took the ferry over,” Elliott said. “I need to hit up a Nets game, and the pizza is great here.”
The Bolts will take on the Omaha Mammoths next Friday, October 24th at MCU Park in the beautiful Coney Island.