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Storm's preseason is a battle for jobs

Three former IFL stars could be playing a make-or-break game tonight against Orlando.

By JOHN C. COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 7, 2001


TAMPA -- In Peoria, they were Pirates. In Tampa, they are the Pride.

That is what linemen Kenneth Bouie and Marcus McKenzie and defensive specialist Gerald Neasman have been dubbed as they try to make their former Indoor Football League team and community proud. The IFL standouts are competing for jobs with the Storm, and their fates could be decided tonight when the team hosts Orlando in the final Arena Football League preseason game at 7:30.

Last season, Bouie was defensive player of the year in the IFL, helping Peoria to a 17-0 record and the Gold Cup, the league's equivalent of the Super Bowl. McKenzie and Neasman were all-league selections, and this off-season all were invited to the Storm's camp.

The IFL since has been bought by Arena Football2.

"To this day, I don't even know how it happened," said Bouie, a 6-foot, 275-pounder who played noseguard in the IFL. "One day I got a call from my agent who said I was going to get a contract from Tampa Bay.

"To go undefeated in any league, you have to have some talent. I guess that's why we're here now."

All three made contributions in the first preseason game against Buffalo. Bouie led all linemen with three tackles and a sack, Neasman had a team-high nine tackles and an interception and McKenzie, who played center, said: "I had a great game. I felt comfortable out there."

"I think for a debut," Bouie added, "we did pretty well."

There are big adjustments to be made. The Indoor Football League did not have nets or walls and players weren't required to play offense and defense. Neasman, as a defensive specialist, won't have to play offense, but the adjustment to pass blocking for Bouie and pass rushing for McKenzie has been a challenge.

Bouie thinks they have adapted well. He does admit that the leagues are different when it comes to talent.

"It's more sound," he said. "You have to be more aware of what you're doing. Not taking anything away from IFL and the talent there, but you could get away with making little mental mistakes here or there. Here, if you make a wrong step, it's going to cost you."

This is the biggest shot the three have had, and it's a chance to exceed their IFL pay of $200 a game. With winning bonuses factored in, they can make 10 times that in the AFL.

It's also a chance to prove they aren't just some overblown players from a second-rate league. That mentality has created a bond among the three.

"Yeah, we're part of a team but at the same time I feel like we have to prove a point because a lot of people look at IFL and ask, "What's that?' " Bouie said. "We tell them we won a championship, and no one really recognizes. We say we went 17-0, and it's, "Oh, that's cool.'

We definitely came in here together as a group and we feel like it's us against everybody else."

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