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BOGACZYK: Sparrow Keeps His Foot ‘Indoor’ with PIFL Success

July 23, 2015

By JACK BOGACZYK
HERDZONE.COM COLUMNIST

HUNTINGTON, W.Va.
– Brandon Sparrow thought outside the box, so he went inside to keep his dream alive.

“I want to keep playing football,” Sparrow said. “I still think I can get another shot somewhere.”

The former Marshall defensive tackle didn’t want his last game to be the Herd’s victory over Maryland in the 2014 Military Bowl. He went to NFL regional combines. He was invited to the Chicago Bears’ 2014 rookie camp.

Then, Sparrow had to go down other avenues. He worked as an upscale security officer in North Carolina and as a safety crew member at a trampoline arena in suburban Richmond, Va.

It was in the capital city of his home state – Sparrow is a native of Bedford, in central Virginia -- that Sparrow found a return to football … but it was different.

This was in the 11,000-seat Richmond Coliseum.

“I spent a lot of time on the phone, on the internet looking for opportunities,” Sparrow said. “My fiancee (fellow Marshall grad Briana Wayland) is from Richmond, and I figured that might be better than going somewhere far off like Colorado or Washington State.”

He made some inquiries, and one day got a call from the Richmond Raiders of the Professional Indoor Football League, in its fourth season. To say the 6-foot-3, 297-pound Sparrow made the most of the opportunity would be an understatement.

“The indoor game was new to me, but I was out to prove a point – that I can play,” Sparrow said. “I’m going to still keep uploading my highlight film to any team that wants it.”

The seven-team PIFL season ended a couple of weeks ago, and Sparrow helped the Raiders (9-5) to the championship game, where they lost to Columbus (Ga.) Lions, 64-38. Richmond, after a 2-4 start, won six straight games to end the regular season and finished in second place to reach the four-team PIFL playoffs.

 

 

Sparrow was voted by league coaches as an All-PIFL first team selection at defensive line, and was one of two players who were honorable mention picks in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting.

Sparrow, a two-year starter for the Herd, led the PIFL in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (15) in the 11 regular-season games he played. He had 29 tackles in the regular season, and added two TFLs and two sacks in his two playoff games. And he’s gotten some interest from some clubs in the Arena League, the top level of the indoor game.

Sparrow’s four sacks in a win over Erie in the regular-season finale ranked second in the PIFL for a single-game performance.

“The game isn’t built around defense,” Sparrow said of indoor football. “It’s designed to score points. The indoor game makes room for the fans. You don’t see people running the ball. It’s in the air and it’s fast.

“You see wide receivers go up for the ball and go over the wall into the stands for the catch … It’s crazy.”

Sparrow adapted, using “the techniques I learned at Marshall, but it’s different … It’s different, but it is football.”

Veteran Raiders Coach James Fuller, the 2015 PIFL Coach of the Year, said Sparrow opened eyes in places other than Richmond.

“It was a pleasure for us to coach Brandon,” Fuller said. “I didn't know what to think of him when I first met him, maybe because he was such a quiet big guy, or his dry sense of humor? But when we started practice, I figured out he was just a gentle giant, wanting his chance to prove to some people that he can play.

“He started out slow, trying to figure out the game and the angles, but once he picked it up his true talent came out. His versatility is something that helped us out a lot as a team. Him being able to play on the edge as well as nose guard, was key to a lot of our defensive success.” That’s music to the former Herd lineman’s ears. And Sparrow surely isn’t averse to trying something new. If he were, the former Marshall tackle wouldn’t have had his work experience of the last four months.

“I was looking for a part-time job, but I ended up full-time” said Sparrow, who recently joined Rick Hendrick Chevrolet Buick GMC in Richmond, as an automotive client advisor – alias salesman. “I’ve never sold cars before, but it’s talking to people, and I can do that … I haven’t sold one yet, but we’ve been close a couple of times.”

Sparrow said he didn’t play for the Raiders “for money. It’s not a lot, but it’s a nice extra benefit. I played because I wanted to prove I can play, maybe make another opportunity for myself. I’m looking to make a move up, but I loved the team. If I don’t get a call somewhere else, sure, I’d come back and play in Richmond again.”

Sparrow made 126 tackles – including 17.5 tackles for loss – in 47 games for the Herd as one of Coach Doc Holliday’s first recruits. He wants to exhaust all pro football possibilities before leaving the game behind.

He and Wayland – a former sports marketing intern for the Herd – have scheduled a wedding on Oct. 3, too.

“Honestly, I really didn’t know how I’d do when I started out,” Sparrow said of his play during the three-month PIFL season. “As the season went on, I definitely got the hang of it.”

Fuller said Sparrow did what he needed to do as an indoor football neophyte.

“Like I told Brandon, he should be proud of what he accomplished,” the Richmond coach said. “It’s not easy to record as many sacks as he did, especially for a rookie. Although he did not get rookie of the year -- which I think he should have -- Brandon had a very productive year, and I expect him to get another shot at the NFL or CFL.”

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