Salem's Harrington settles in with Arena League's Arizona Rattlers
By Mike Grenier
Sometimes Kyle Harrington will be walking around Phoenix and run into fans of the Arizona Rattlers, the Arena Football League team that he plays for.
Harrington, a former standout at Salem High and UMass Amherst, is surprised at just how passionate the fans are.
"You get a lot of diehard fans out here," said the 24-year-old Harrington. "You start talking to people and someone will say, 'Oh, I've been a season ticket holder for 10 years.'
"They love going to Rattlers games. They're enthusiastic about arena football and when you win, it's even better."
Harrington, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound defensive lineman, is still getting accustomed to life in the AFL, but he likes everything about it so far. The climate in the southwest is pleasant at this time of year, he's playing a sport he's loved since he was a kid, and getting expert coaching from the Rattlers assistant head coach, Kani Kauahi, who played in the NFL for 11 years.
He's also broken through as a starter in the last two games for the Rattlers, who are currently 3-0.
"I love playing out here," said Harrington. "I'm grateful for the opportunity.
"Being a player, of course I watched arena football when I was younger. It's not the NFL, but it's a chance to play. When the Rattlers contacted my agent, I was very interested. It's a job and a place to get experience."
The Rattlers appeal to potential ticket buyers with a slogan that says "Half the field but twice the fun." That's a reference to the dimensions of the AFL playing surface which is only 50 yards long, or half the length of a regular football field.
Defense is up against it
Everything about the AFL is designed with the offense in mind. Wide receivers look like they've been shot out of a cannon by the time they reach the line of scrimmage and touchdowns come fast and furious on a short field. So far this season, the Rattlers have won by scores of 55-52, 62-31 and 69-20. It's football's version of the fast break -- and arena football fans eat it up.
The style of play puts defensive players at a distinct disadvantage, but Harrington is learning and adapting.
"We're playing in a league where everything is just much faster," said Harrington, who was bypassed in the National Football League draft coming out of UMass but who took part in the Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins mini-camps last year.
"It's not like regular football at all. The quarterback doesn't sit back in the pocket with all kinds of time to throw the ball. The wide receivers are already in fast motion (when the ball is centered), and the football is out of the quarterback's hands much faster. There aren't a whole lot of running plays. Defensively, you have to crack down on every play because a team can score on you anytime."
Harrington is sort of a defensive hybrid, blending the skills of an end and a nose tackle. He plays linebacker on occasion, too. The Rattlers also utilize him as a blocker on offense.
"It depends on the situation, but it kind of brings back some Salem High memories," Harrington joked about being on the offensive side of the ball.
Kauahi, who played at Arizona State and the University of Hawai'i before embarking on an NFL career at center with the Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Phoenix Cardinals and the Kansas City Chiefs, loves Harrington's raw skills and eagerness to learn.
"From my point of view, he's coming along just fine," said Kauahi. "Kyle is everything we thought he would be and more.
"If you're talking about his (assets), you have to start with character. That part of it is unquestionable. He goes to work every day and gives you everything he has. He gets along well with his teammates and is respectful of his coaches. On the physical side, he's got the size and strength that you need and a motor that never stops. I'm thrilled to be coaching this kid."
Development stage of his career
Harrington takes the attitude that he has to play with an edge and never let up. Now that he's a pro, job security is always a factor. It's not that he feels threatened, but that's the nature of the business and it has to be in the back of your mind.
"Everyone is always competing," said Harrington. "At this level, there are trades and cuts. This is not like college where you have a scholarship and you're there for four years; one bad game up here and they can trade you. And I don't want to go home.
"I'm learning a lot with this team. It's a great situation for me because Coach (Kauahi) has been there as a player. He knows how to attack certain sets and is really knowledgeable about a lot of things. He's got a lot of character and is great to talk to."
Harrington isn't going to get rich ("I'm not in it to make money," he said) playing arena football, whose most famous graduate, quarterback Kurt Warner, was an exception in that he went on to the NFL and made millions (and will likely be a Pro Football Hall of Famer).
A lot of players think of the AFL as a stepping-stone to the big time, but Harrington isn't worried about that. He's still in the developmental stage of his career, still finding his way, and he can afford to be patient.
"The (objective) is to win games," said Harrington. "I'm not even considering anything else. It's all about winning as far as I'm concerned. I could care less about the other stuff."