Milwaukee Talks: The Mustangs' Damian Harrell
Damian Harrell spent two years catching passes for the Arena Football League's Milwaukee franchise from 2009-11, "retiring" after last season and becoming an assistant under head coach Bob Landsee this season.
In celebration of the Arena Football League's 25th anniversary, the league has rolled out several all-time lists, and the 36-year-old receiver was named the league's second greatest pass catcher and 10th best player, ever.
A five-time All-Arena selection and two-time Offensive Player of the Year, Harrell is second in AFL history in total touchdowns (361) and points scored (2,172), and first in receptions (1,164), receiving yards (15,128) and receiving touchdowns (357).
He is the subject of this week's Milwaukee Talks, where the legendary pass catcher shares his thoughts on the recent accolades, his mom's reaction to them, what surprised him most about Milwaukee and a potential comeback.
OnMilwaukee.com: You just left the game a year ago, and here you are being named as one of the greatest players of all-time in the Arena Football League. Is that a strange feeling?
Damian Harrell: It is kind of strange. The transition from playing last year to going right into coaching, it still really hasn't dawned on me. I used to tell people that will the accomplishments that I achieved, I really wouldn't sit down and really think about it until after I finished playing. With me going right into coaching I'm still at that point where I hate to say it – it's really not fazing me right now. I appreciate it. I'm grateful for it, but I guess once I finish playing and finish coaching and everything, I can really have the time to sit down and really enjoy it and really embrace it.
OMC: What were your first thoughts when you heard you were named one of the league's all-time greats?
DH: Just, wow. To be recognized like that ... I had a lot of guys that when I came into the league in 1999 I had some guys that were actually on that list and some that weren't, so for me to be on there with guys I looked up to like Eddie Brown and Barry Wagner, guys like that, to be in the same category with those guys, I'll take it. It's a great accomplishment.
OMC: When did you fully embrace the AFL?
DH: This is the same conversation I have with young guys coming in. You're main goal is to play at the top level of competition, the NFL. That's your main goal. So with me coming in I was fresh off a knee surgery leaving college (at Florida State) and my whole thing was I wanted to get in somewhere to play football, I could get some more film and possibly get back, and what happened was I got into the (arena) game and basically just fell in love with it. It was a perfect fit for me. I'll honestly say it was around 29, maybe 30, was when I hit that point where with the league, the window of opportunity has definitely closed up, so I was ready embrace this blessing I had here in front of me and I just took it and ran with it.
OMC: What about the AFL can be so infectious for a player?
DH: The one thing for me was it's a test of ... I don't know if I'm saying it right ... it pushes you to the point to where you really know if this is something you want to do, if you want to pursue the football dream. I don't know what it is. It was a challenge for me, something different, but at the same time it was something I grew up doing all my life. It just comes to that point. I've seen it. I've even seen it this year. Guys come in, they love football, but arena football isn't for everyone. So in a few weeks, you see guys either embrace it or it's just like, you know what, I can't do it, this isn't for me and they'll go home. With me it was more or less a challenge, something different, something new to me. I wanted to play and I wanted to my stamp down somewhere, whether it was the NFL, CFL or the AFL.
OMC: Did the league grow on your family as well, especially since the league isn't as well known or as visible like the NFL?
DH: I'll tell you what man. I can only speak for me and my family, but my parents are real proud parents. My wife (Melani), my kids, it just comes to the point that as long as I'm doing something that I love and that I enjoy doing then they love it to. I truly believe, especially my mother (Faye) and my dad (Leroy), they are huge arena football fans. Huge arena football fans. And my son (Deron) has been around since he was 5 or 6, so, of course he's a huge arena football fan. It actually grew on my wife because she wasn't a huge football fan even when we were in college, so to see her now and have her call me with how everything is going in practice, it lets me know it's grown on her too. My family loves it.
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