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Arena

Lucas makes tough decision pay

After passing on Europe, the Storm lineman clears a path back to the NFL.

By FRANK PASTOR

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2003


Al Lucas had a decision to make. A difficult one he knew could alter the course of his professional career.

In February the Frankfurt Galaxy selected the Storm lineman with the fourth overall pick in the NFL Europe free-agent draft.

Lucas, who longs to return to the NFL after spending two seasons with the Carolina Panthers, had a chance to prove himself in the NFL's developmental league.

But he decided the Arena League and its NBC television contract gave him the best chance to showcase his skills.

"I felt like I'd get the same opportunity and, being on TV basically every other week or a couple of weeks in a row, the NFL teams would get a chance to see me," said Lucas, 24.

Pleased with what they saw on television, three teams visited Tampa March 16 to watch Lucas in person.

Scouts from Green Bay, Miami and Atlanta saw Lucas push around Orlando's offensive line and turn quarterback Connell Maynor into a tackling dummy in the Storm's 52-32 win.

Lucas had six quarterback pressures, four tackles, a sack and a safety and was recognized as the league's defensive player of the week.

Green Bay visited Lucas in the locker room. Miami sent its congratulations through Lucas' agent. Their message: Keep up the good work, and we'll be in touch when training camp opens.

"Going back to the NFL is very promising right now," Lucas said.

Lucas, the 1999 Division I-AA defensive player of the year at Troy State, was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted free agent but was released at the end of the preseason.

He signed with Carolina and proved he belonged with 38 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 13 games as a rookie. He had 11 1/2 tackles and a sack in seven games in 2001 but was released after the Panthers' 1-15 season.

The Storm signed Lucas on a recommendation from the Falcons. Lucas was up front about his desire to return to the NFL.

"Basically what I'm doing is showing these guys, 'Hey, I might need to be one of the guys considered to come back,"' he said.

Through seven games Lucas leads Storm linemen with 9 1/2 tackles. He has 2 1/2 for losses and 11/2 sacks.

"He's powerful, he has great quickness and probably the thing that makes him stand out above the rest is the fact he's tenacious," said Mitch Matuska, the Storm's director of player personnel. "His motor is wide open when he steps on the field."

Lucas was among five Arena players with NFL potential named in a Sports Illustrated article. He was pleased with the recognition but thought the magazine shortchanged his two seasons with Carolina.

"They said I played while I was on Carolina's bench for two years," Lucas said. "I wasn't on the bench. I was a backup."

If there is a knock on Lucas, it's his height. At 6-1, 300 pounds, he doesn't fit the prototype of a defensive tackle, Matuska said.

Nevertheless Lucas said he believes he will get a second shot at the NFL.

"With me getting a good pass rush week in and week out, that's what a lot of teams want to see," he said. "They want to see you out here playing, no matter what level it is."

Matuska agrees.

"He's going to a training camp somewhere," Matuska said. "There's no doubt."

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