By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Jun 27, 2012 at 11:00 AM

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. 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.

OMC: What was your mom's reaction when you were named to these all-time teams?

DH: Do you want the truth or do you want the watered down version? The truth is that she was actually disappointed that I wasn't the number one all-time receiver or that I was only ten all-time.

OMC: When it came to coaching, did Mustangs head coach Bob Landsee have to do a whole lot of convincing for you to do it?

DH: I had an injury at the end of last season and I missed the last five or six games, and I was just sitting this offseason and I was like I still want to be a part of the game but I didn't know if I wanted to ahead and let it loose like that, and let it go that soon. Actually coach Landsee he made it happen. He called me and said if you want to coach, I'll find a way to get you up here to where you can get that experience in coaching. I take my hat off to him. He already had his coaching staff put together and coach Landsee and coach (Mark) Stoute opened their arms up and they gave me this opportunity. I was grateful for that.

The hard thing is what we're going through now. We have a real good team and we're struggling trying to get these wins and the longer the season goes on the more that ... I don't want to say regret kicks in but it's at that point where I know for a fact I could've still played this year at a high level. It's made me think what if I gave it up a little too soon? But everyone I've talked to said they go through that the minute they go into coaching, the doubt comes in a little bit like maybe I should've played another year. But, I don't know man. I see guys like James Roe running around at 39, 40. Kenny McEntyre came out of retirement at 41, 42. So I don't know, man. It's just crazy man.

Other than my wife, you're the first person that I've talked to about even entertaining the thought of even trying to come back next year. I really think I'm comfortable with coaching right now, but my family, my son, is pushing me to come back to it. I think I'm comfortable right now with coaching.

OMC: So do we need to get back to you in a few months to see where you're at then?

DH: Just from jogging routes, messing around with the DBs, just getting that feel for it. It's a catch-22. I know deep down inside I can still do it.

OMC: I can understand that – players talk about being able to go out the way they want to, and to leave after an injury can make that difficult.

DH: Definitely. I just sat back and looked at it and the last six games of the season I truly felt like – we were trying to make a playoff run at that point – and we had a lot of young guys that were actually starting to get into a groove and I didn't want to break up this chemistry. There was a lot of going on and it was out of respect for coach Stoute and coach Landsee and understanding what they were going through trying to get these wins. We needed healthy bodies out there. But not finishing those last six have just been weighing on me. I mean, just weighing on me.

The crazy thing about it is I have guys who I played with last year for the first half of the season and they're like 'D, man, you gotta come back and give me one more year' and I tell them that doesn't help me, man. It doesn't help me at all. These guys have grown on me, so whether I'm playing next year or coaching, I really think I'll be satisfied either way.

OMC: What have you found that you love most about coaching that you didn't expect to?

DH: The one thing that I've gained from it that I like is putting in input, like getting a young receiver and showing him the ropes, giving him insight, and then watching the progression and watch him get better as you work with him. That's what I love about it.

OMC: Now that you're off the field, and you can't control what happens on it, how tough is that in a season like this with the team struggling?

DH: It is absolutely frustrating. That's the only work you could really use. You see these guys and you go over your game plane and it just seems like at some point they can't get it right. Ti seems so natural for me because I've done it for so many years that it's just second nature. So to see guys come out here and constantly mess it up week after week, it's definitely frustrating and it pushes you to a point.

But at the end of the day you've got to think back – and luckily I played the game – so I think back to when I first started playing that it took me two years. We talk about tendencies. I had a bad tendency when I came out of my break I'd come off the gas – it wouldn't be full speed and I'd just cruise out of it. It took me two years to get out of that mode.

The more that I'm sitting here coaching and we're struggling, it just adds to that man, I can get out here and just show these guys how to do without having the coaches do it, I'm just going to go out and lead by example.

OMC: You played for a handful of teams – New England, Toronto, Colorado and Chicago – before coming to Milwaukee in 2010. Did anything about the city surprise you when you first got here?

DH: I stay in Colorado in the offseason so the weather – most guys complain about the weather – so that doesn't bother me. What caught me off guard is just coming in, I thought it was more diverse I guess. If that's the word I could use. That by itself caught me off guard, to ride around I truly didn't think I'd see that many different ethnicities. It does seem like its segregated, you have the blacks over here and your white, but it was good to see that it had diversity up here in Milwaukee.

OMC: In your three years here, have you found some places that you have to get to?

DH: I have one little restaurant in Brookfield that we go to, called Mi Cocina and if I want seafood or something I'll got a little hole in the wall called Redd's Snapper. I'm a real big seafood guy. Those are two of the post your liable to see me twice a week. And of course if I need some Asian food, not to sound bougie or anything but I'll got a P.F. Chang's or something like that.

OMC: The Mustangs have really tried to form new partnerships the past year with a variety of charities and other organizations. Has that led to any interesting experiences for you?

DH: We do a lot of cool things and it's not football all the time. We had one function that we went to where we actually played a game and got back late Friday night and it was a Walk Now for Autism in Chicago (on May 12) and the guys just loaded up into a van and I think it caught us off guard because everything is always football related, but when we got the phone call to go down, we went down and the conditions were terrible but to see the kids and the families and how they embraced us, we took pictures, sat down and talked to them, and for me it was a good learning experience.

That definitely caught me off guard because it's rare that you have organizations that really take the time to set up visits like that. The ownership here – even from when I was here in 2010 – it's been a big turnaround man, a big turnaround.

OMC: It seems like this new ownership group has been a big effort to put the whole package together to make the Mustangs work here in Milwaukee.

DH: Definitely. I talk to people about it all the time. When I was in Colorado from 2003 to '07 John Elway actually owned that franchise, and I felt we had one of the best organizations in arena football. The ownership here is comparable, and to give them their due – they run their organization the way the old Arena 1 was started. It's taking care of your players, trying to market your players, getting their faces out there. Just everything, making sure the living conditions are where they need to be.

You talk to some guys on other teams and they're not living the way we're living, they're not eating the way we're eating. With our ownership, I think they understand that it's the little things. You have to take care of your players all the way around and the little things count. It's like a marriage and that's the way they approach it. It's truly family. It's rare that a player on your team can pick up the phone and call your owner or call your head coach. That's just rare, man, and those are the type of guys we're dealing with.

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.