Calera grads chasing dream of career in football

Many kids dream of getting paid to play football or any other sport.

Calera High School graduates Danny Keicher and Mark Alexander are trying to make that dream become reality.

Keicher, a 1997 graduate of CHS, and Alexander, a 1995 graduate, are now finding playing time for the Central Alabama Renegades of the North American Football League (NAFL) in Prattville.

&uot;I just wanted to play football,&uot; Alexander said. &uot;A bunch of guys that love the game started meeting at Oliver Park in Calera and playing as often as possible.&uot;

Keicher credits Alexander for finding a place for them to play and chase a dream of someday playing for a paycheck.

&uot;Mark found it on the Internet and went and tried out and made the team,&uot; Keicher said. &uot;I went and tried out as well that same year but could not play because of my job. The coach (Cliff Clarck) called me, wanting me to play this season.&uot;

But it wasn’t that easy, according to Keicher.

&uot;I had to find a new job which would allow me to have time to play,&uot; Keicher said. &uot;I found that job and now I am on the team.&uot;

Both Keicher, a 5-foot-8-inch defensive back and wide receiver, and Alexander, a 5-foot-11-inch defensive back, are both starters for the Renegades.

Keicher, at just 150 pounds, is a starter in the eight-man defensive back scheme for the Renegades, as is 215-pound Alexander.

&uot;I was at 198 last season and have been working out to get a little bigger,&uot; Alexander said.

Keicher was named Player of the Week for special teams last week with 260 return yards. He scored three touchdowns in a 54-0 win over the Mississippi Stingrays. Keicher returned a kickoff 90 yards for one score, a punt 80 yards for another and caught a 32-yard touchdown pass.

The Player of the Week honor will allow Keicher to be featured as a free agent with the possibility of getting signed to another league such as the Arena League.

Players in the NAFL do not get paid to play. The league simply allows players to get noticed by paying leagues such as Arena, European, Canadian and possibly, the NFL.

&uot;Mark and I, along with other players, just kind of split the expenses when we have to go on the road and get hotel rooms,&uot; Keicher said. &uot;It can get expensive at times, but we just want to possibly get seen by a scout or something to go on to the next level.

&uot;We have to sell season passes to help us pay for our expenses on the road, so it’s more work than just playing and practice.&uot;

Keicher and Alexander usually practice three days a week in preparation for Saturday games, often sharing

a ride to Prattville to attend the practices.

The team, which calls Jensen Field in Prattville its home turf, has an average attendance of around 300 or more fans. Sometimes those fans include scouts.

&uot;We haven’t had very many scouts come to our games, but they do attend some of the games we play on the road,&uot; Keicher said.

The Renegades, once known as the Raiders, play 11 games plus playoffs. Last season the team reached the finals and lost to Austin.

Keicher played his senior season at Calera under now-head coach Ken Adams.

&uot;Danny was pretty small to be a fullback, I know,&uot; Adams said. &uot;That year, we lost two fullbacks and Danny got his chance.&uot;

Adams said one of his fullbacks got hurt and the other quit, and he and the team turned to Keicher to fill that role. He said what Keicher lacked in size, he made up for in heart.

&uot;Danny was amazingly fast, and still is,&uot; Adams said. &uot;He was THE team player offensively, defensively and on special teams. He was one of the smallest players on the team, but as a fullback he never stopped. If we needed yards, we could give the ball to Danny and he would get it for us.&uot;

Adams still remembers the play that turned his season around during Keicher’s senior year.

&uot;We were 0-2 to start the season and had about 10 turnovers when Danny started playing fullback for us,&uot; Adams said. &uot;In the Marbury game, we fumbled the opening kickoff and Marbury scored on their first play from scrimmage. We were in a 6-0 hole right off the bat.

&uot;Our next possession, we were facing third-and-12, and we gave the ball to Danny and he got the 12 yards.&uot;

Keicher rushed for 252 yards that night and the Eagles finished the season 7-3 earning a spot in the playoffs. Keicher rushed for 969 yards on 91 carries (10.65 yards per carry) and scored 12 touchdowns his senior year.

&uot;That entire senior class was something special,&uot; Adams said.

Adams attends Renegades’ games as often as possible to see his former standout play.

&uot;I get down there as often as possible when they are at home to watch he and Mark play,&uot; Adams said.

Alexander, who has a physical education degree from West Alabama, did his student teaching under Adams at Calera.

Alexander played one season of college football at UWA.

&uot;I just wasn’t cut out to be a defensive back, which is what they wanted me to play,&uot; Alexander said. &uot;I just wasn’t comfortable with it. It’s funny, because that’s what I play now.&uot;

Alexander is the defensive captain for the Renegades for the second season.

&uot;I would just like to get paid to play football,&uot; Alexander said. &uot;I hope we can get this thing to grow and get people to come out and see us play.&uot;

The Renegades play host to the Florida Bulldogs Saturday in Prattville