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Tennessean Logo.

Thursday, 01/11/07

Contact football lures young, old to league

Officer Melvin "Pnut" Brown is in hot pursuit.

The subject is fleeing at a moderately high rate of speed. Actually, he's running pretty darn fast considering he's a 35-year-old accountant.

This is not a scene from Brown's beat as a Metro policeman.

It's how he spends his weekends away from the force as a force at middle linebacker for the Metro LawDawgs in the Middle Tennessee Football League.

It's something Brown, and most of the others in the eight-team league, thought they never would do again — play full-contact football in full gear.

"Most people, after high school, never get to play football like this again,'' said Brown, a 1992 graduate of Whites Creek. "Only a few go on to play in college. It keeps you young. It makes you stay in decent shape because you want to be ready when you get out there on the field."

The speed and skill level is about the same as high school. There are players as young as 18 and as old as 50, but most are in their late 20s or early 30s.

Instead of 11 players, each team has only nine on the field at a time. There are no offensive tackles and only three or four linemen on defense.

Some never have played organized football before; some played in high school; and a few played in college, including Russ Nicoll, Matt Clay and Brian Kovolisky, who played at Vanderbilt.

"The average Joe can play,'' said Brown, who is the LawDawgs' team president. "I tell my guys, 'You could line up against somebody that's never played organized football, but you could line up against somebody that played in the SEC. You could have some trouble or you could have some real fun.' "

The season kicks off Feb. 24 at Hunters Lane High School, and the league's teams are scattered across the Midstate.

The Lebanon Hitmen beat the Sumner County Xpress in last year's championship. Along with the LawDawgs, the other teams are: Antioch Redskins, Davidson County Dragons, Nashville Knights, Franklin Generals and Murfreesboro Red Devils.

Each player pays $100-$200 to play.

While the skill level is similar to high school, the intensity and competition is greater, said Trigg Minnick, the league's commissioner who also plays cornerback for Sumner County. The players in this league take nothing for granted.

"When guys are in high school they're thinking, 'OK, it's cool, I'm playing high school football,' '' said Minnick, 32, who played at White House High School. "It's not until you've been out of it for a few years until you realize, 'Hey, this could be my last chance.' You appreciate it a lot more. These guys know it's now or never for them."

Minnick is a sales director for a manufacturing company. One night a week he straps on his pads to practice with the Xpress. The games are played on Saturdays.

Most teams started practicing in the early fall, and some practice year around.

The league has medical trainers and insurance available. Each game has referees, scoreboard operators, time keepers and public address announcers.

The league's Web site is Links to each team's individual Web site can be found at the league's site. Information about joining an existing team or forming a new team is on the Web site.