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With 13 years in league, Arena Football was always QB's goal



COURTESY OF PORTLAND THUNDER - Kyle Rowley returns at quarterback for the Arena Football League Portland Thunder, who open their second season at Moda Center on Friday night against the Los Angeles KISS.There are plenty of things Kyle Rowley could be doing with his Ivy League education.

But rather than working in an office and wearing a suit to work every day, the Brown University graduate prefers to put on pads.

Working for a Fortune 500 company would give him nowhere near the joy he gets from being an Arena Football League quarterback for the Portland Thunder.

“I’m a firm believer in doing what you love,” Rowley says. “I played at Brown and got an Ivy League degree, but football was always my priority, even in college.

“Some guys put football second once they get to college. That wasn’t me. I wanted to be a professional football player, I wanted to make a name for myself, and I wanted to win championships.”

The first game of the 2015 season is 7 p.m. Friday, March 27, against the Los Angeles KISS, and the 36-year-old Rowley appears to be the man first-year Thunder coach Mike Hohensee will entrust to take the snaps for Portland.

“He’s got tremendous leadership skills,” Hohensee says. “He’s a professional in his preparation, mentally and physically.

“He’s one of the older players and one of the hardest-working guys on the team. He holds his teammates accountable.

“The big reason he’s out here is not only the love of the game, but he wants to be a champion. I love his attitude and his approach to the game. He’s right on point. He’s got the guys around him thinking the same way.”

Rowley started one season at Brown in Providence, R.I., setting the school’s single-game passing record with 474 yards in 2000.

After college, he began sending tapes to professional teams. The Arena Football League was the first to make an offer.

“When I finished college, I didn’t know much about the Arena Football League,” Rowley says. “I had heard about it, and I had heard good things about it.”

Rowley was mesmerized by the league from the first indoor game he watched.

“The first time I saw an Arena Football game I was watching from the stands and I fell in love with it immediately,” Rowley says. “I was a quarterback in college who, when we ran a draw play for three yards on third-and-4 and you have to punt ... that drove me nuts. When I saw there was a lot more pressure put on the quarterback’s shoulders in this league, I knew it was for me.

“After my first year, I never wanted to do anything else but play in the Arena Football League.”

Rowley soon made his mark in the AFL, winning an Arena Cup National Championship and being named the Arena Cup Offensive Player of the game with the Spokane Shock in 2006.

Many AFL players see the league as a stepping-stone toward their dream of playing in the NFL, but Rowley says he does not look at it that way. He sees the league as the ultimate test for a quarterback.

“I want to test myself as a passer, and there’s no better place to do it than in this league,” he says. “There are NFL quarterbacks all the time who are getting cut, and they have no shot at making it in the AFL. They don’t have the mechanics, they don’t have the quick release, they can’t make the reads that fast. It’s very demanding on quarterbacks, and I always wanted to be tested as a passer.

“I never wanted to be in the NFL and take advantage of a strong running game or hold a clipboard. I wanted to see where I stood as far as passers across the country.”

After being traded from the Shock to the Thunder midway through last season, Rowley started eight games, completing 168 of 285 passes (58.9 percent) for 2,060 yards and 39 touchdowns, with nine interceptions.

Now in his 13th year in the league, the 6-0, 195-pounder has managed to stay relatively healthy throughout his career.

“I’m blessed to be my age and still able to play a game for a living ... it’s a little bit out of my hands,” Rowley says. “What is in my hands is staying in shape, repping every day, finding a way to come in before practice.

“I find the guys who are 24, 25, who have that energy and force me to keep up. I’ll find guys to attach myself to who I feel are the hardest workers on the team. I used to be one of those guys who had energy to go for days. Now I force myself to find those guys and feed off their energy.”

It’s not just work all the time, though. Thunder center John Collins lives with Rowley in an apartment in Happy Valley. Collins describes Rowley as a good roommate who is usually quiet, but also knows how to relax and have fun.

“He’s a great guy to live with,” Collins says. “He keeps to himself, but he’ll try to get me out, loosen me up a little and stay loose during the season.”

Rowley’s AFL career has taken him around the country, but he has found Portland to be one of the best cities on his journey.

“I’ve lived in a lot of different places, so I have a lot to compare it to,” Rowley says. “It’s a great city. There’s a lot to do. It’s nice to be in a big city. There’s a lot of pride in the city and the state.

“That’s cool, because as a football player you want to go out and work hard for your teammates, but you also want to go out there and win for the city you play in. This city, in a way, took a chance on me and all my teammates. We want to give back to the city that provided us with the opportunity.”

During the offseason, Rowley works with his brothers on a company they founded called goingout.com, a nightlife and dining directory in Rhode Island and Boston.

“Right now, we’re expanding,” Rowley says. “I do a lot of graphic design for my brothers who are working on it fulltime back in Rhode Island.”

Rowley also makes some extra money as a quarterback coach for youth, high school and college football players.

“I’m kind of building a clientele as far as that goes,” he says.

As passionate as Rowley is about coaching, he someday might make an ideal team coach. The idea interests Rowley, but he is not completely sold on it.

“I really like the Xs and Os of the game,” he says. “I like teaching the game. The recruiting part isn’t as attractive to me. We’ll see.”

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