It seems that Lawrence High graduate JoJo Polk finally has caught on with the most aptly named franchise in the Arena Football League - the Georgia Force.
For the first time since Polk joined the league in 2001, the AFL has become a force on the national football scene.
"It's grown by leaps and bounds just since I got into the league," said Polk, who graduated from LHS in 1996 and currently is with his fourth AFL team. "When I was in college, I had never even heard of the Arena League, but it's a big deal now. It's not just a stepping stone to the NFL anymore. Guys are making their careers by playing in the Arena League."
Polk is one of them.
In and out of the league for the last two seasons, he recently was picked up by the Force to add a veteran presence to the lineup. While living in North Carolina with his fiancee, Shirley, Polk received a phone call from the Force, asking if he'd be interested in joining the team. With his first daughter - Aubrey Rose - due in August, Polk weighed his options and decided to give it a go.
"I'd been trying to get back into the league, and when they called it was a pretty easy decision," Polk said. "I had to think about things, with a little girl on the way, but it seemed like Georgia was the perfect place for me to go, and I've fit in great here."
That much was obvious early. After just a week of practice, Polk worked his way into the starting lineup, where he finished the season as a first-team defensive back. The Force won their division, received a first-round bye in the playoffs and will kick off their postseason run at home tonight. That game will be broadcast to a national television audience at 7 p.m. on ESPN2 (Sunflower Broadband channels 34, 234).
"We used to be on TNN," Polk said. "And to go to ESPN is huge just in itself. But now we're having Monday night games, we're having primetime games, and we're getting into ESPN's top 10 plays."
Polk credits the league's well known owners - like John Elway, Jon Bon Jovi and Mike Ditka - for helping the league gain exposure. And he credits the AFL brass for taking advantage of those names.
"The biggest thing is the NFL has put its stamp on us," Polk said. "But the league has been adamant about going out and getting better sponsors, and that's helped, too."
Those sponsors include Russell Athletic, Champ Sports, Discover Card and Mitsubishi, names that have been tied to other professional sports leagues for years.
The playoffs are nothing new for Polk. He played for Grand Rapids when it won the Arena Bowl in 2001, and was on an Orlando team that lost in the first round last year. Even with all of that experience, Polk said the beginning of another postseason run has him excited and feeling like he could play forever.
What makes that especially surprising is that Polk broke his neck during a game July 15, 2000. Doctors at first feared Polk would be paralyzed from the neck down after he crashed head-first into a sideline barrier.
But spent just two weeks in a hospital and avoided major surgery, though doctors placed a halo on Polk to restrict movement. He wore the halo for a month and had fully recovered by October of that year.
"I definitely have at least five years left," he said. "It used to be NFL or bust. But with the AFL getting bigger, it does give you some more hope because that's what we all want to do, play professional football. This is a great league, and I think it's only going to keep growing."