Realities of Arena football: Get a job

With meager $400-a- game paychecks, Soul players welcomed the team's job fair.

Marketing firm owner Gene Kolber (left) talks to Soul players Millicent Olawale (second from left), Keith Stokes, (third from left) and Michael Ward (fourth from left) at the team-sponsored job fair.

Grasping manila folders brimming with resumés, the 35 invitees to the Soul's training camp Friday bounded around the team's practice facility in Voorhees.

Darrell Campbell, a 29-year-old offensive and defensive lineman, boasts a resumé that includes stints as a member of the Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Baltimore Ravens. Here he was, however, at a team-organized job fair shaking hands with representatives from construction companies, telecommunications firms, personal-fitness gyms, and security agencies.

Campbell, like all members of the Soul, needs a second job.

"Everybody's got bills to pay," the former three-year starting defensive end at Notre Dame said.

As millionaires argue with billionaires over the NFL's collective-bargaining agreement, this is life in the Arena Football League.

Campbell will make $400 a game as a member of the Soul this season, before taxes, and won't receive health insurance. Nor will any of his teammates. He will play 18 games, practice five days a week, and leave his wife and 5-month-old child at home during road trips.

"Even with all the rises and falls of my career, there is always that urge to chase the dream," Campbell said. "There is still something pure about this game that you can't find in the corporate world."

While Campbell has stood under the lights of an NFL stadium, second-string quarterback Ryan Vena has spent 10 years toiling in the AFL. He has traveled from Albany, N.Y., to Columbus, Ohio, back to Albany, to Wilkes-Barre, to Des Moines, Iowa, and, finally, to Philadelphia. Along the way, the Colgate graduate has held side jobs as a bartender, a salesman, and a substitute teacher.

All told, Vena estimates he has earned "maybe $80,000 to $100,000" in his AFL career.

NFL players "make that in a game," said Vena, who threw for 77 touchdowns and rushed for 22 with the Iowa Barnstormers last season. "It's kind of pathetic if you look at it in that sense. I think if you broke that down hourly, we're making nothing. You might be better off working at McDonald's, but for some reason we keep doing it. I wouldn't give this up for anything."

When the Soul return March 11 from a two-year hiatus (the league suspended operations in 2009 and the team also sat out the 2010 season), rookie quarterback Millicent Olawale hopes to be on the team's final 21-man roster. Having graduated from Columbia last year with a degree in behavioral neuroscience, Olawale, 22, is pushing back plans to attend medical school.

"There was never a doubt that I want to keep playing football," Olawale said. "I've got to follow this through. It's been my dream to play professional football. I've got to see it to the end, no matter what that end is."

Addressing the team before the job fair, former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, the Soul's co-majority owner, told his players to take advantage of the opportunity.

"The average pro football career lasts 31/2 years," he said. "Not every team [holds job fairs]. This is just a step from ownership to say we care."

Sitting at a locker after the fair, Campbell smiled when asked to juxtapose the NFL's labor negotiations to daily life in the AFL.

"Football," he concluded, "is a fickle monster."