Most Arena Football League players are guys who are looking for a second chance, having washed out in the NFL or maybe never even having made it through a training camp there. Troy Bergeron, the Georgia Force rookie wide receiver who is among the league leaders in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, is no exception. The league's youngest player at 21, he's making the most of his AFL opportunity, though, having never played a down of college ball, he can hardly be said to have had a first chance.
A star wideout at Shaw High in Columbus, Ga., Bergeron signed with Auburn in 2002. But before he enrolled, the Tigers called to tell him they had too many receivers and wanted him to switch to defensive back. Bergeron made what he now admits was a mistake: He asked to be released from his scholarship. "I wish I would have stayed," Bergeron says now. "I think eventually I would have had a chance to play receiver. At the time you make quick decisions. You have to learn to live with them."
Bergeron transferred to Middle Tennessee State, but while he was sitting out as a redshirt, his fiancée, Sharee, gave birth to their son, Cameron, and Bergeron moved back to Columbus to be with the family. He considered transferring again, to Troy in Alabama, which is closer to home, but Middle Tennessee wouldn't release him from his scholarship. That's when he decided to try out for his hometown Columbus Wardogs, a now defunct team in af2, the AFL's minor league. "Basically it was a last option," Bergeron says. "I was stuck. I was out of football, just trying to get back in."
Bergeron made the 2004 squad, becoming the youngest player in af2 history, and suddenly everything began to click. Despite not playing in the first four games of the season, he caught 26 touchdown passes for the Wardogs. That earned him a shot with the Force this season, where he quickly caught a break. He had been slated as a reserve, but when Scottie Montgomery, the team's starting offensive star, was injured in the second quarter of the season opener, Bergeron stepped in and caught three touchdown passes. He hasn't slowed down since. Through nine games Bergeron has 66 receptions for 908 yards and 22 touchdowns for the Force, who lead the South Division with a league-best 7-2 record.
Bergeron's most obvious asset is his speed. As a senior in high school he was on the Georgia Class 4A state champion 4√ó400 relay team and placed second in the 400 meters. He also has decent size, though his listed height of 6'2" must have been measured while he was standing on a Tom Wolfe novel. Force coach Doug Plank is most impressed with Bergeron's drive. Plank knows about effort--an undersized 12th-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears in 1975, he developed into the centerpiece of Buddy Ryan's 46 defense at safety--and he likes how Bergeron maintains the same quiet, purposeful demeanor through success and setbacks, including his mishandling of a kickoff that swung the momentum in a loss to the Los Angeles Avengers in the second game of the season.
"Whatever happens, he doesn't let it affect him," Plank says. "He just keeps coming back. For a coach, he's a dream, because you can tell when you talk to him that he's trying to digest every word." Of Bergeron's future prospects, Plank says, "He's on a learning curve and still hasn't reached his potential."
Like many of his fellow Arenaballers, Bergeron hopes to land in the NFL someday. "If I had stayed in college, I could have been a first- or second-round draft pick," he says. "I think about that a lot. Now I'll probably go the free-agent route, and it's definitely tougher making a team." Having learned the hard way, all he's looking for is a chance. ‚ñ†
Five Arenaballers on the NFL radar
Derek Lee, WR/DB, Georgia Force
Troy Bergeron's 6'2" running mate has 21 touchdowns.
Clint Stoerner, QB, Dallas Desperados
27-year-old former Cowboys quarterback has 43 TD passes, just six interceptions.
Bobby Sippio, WR/DB, Dallas Desperados
Has forced three fumbles on defense and has six multitouchdown games on offense.
Sean Scott, WR/DB, Philadelphia Soul
6'2", 200-pound double threat leads team in TDs (21) and solo tackles (23).
Luis Almanzar, DE, Los Angeles Avengers
6'4", 285-pound pass rusher has been through three NFL camps already.
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MORE TO COME
Force coach Plank says Bergeron "still hasn't reached his potential."