STOCKTON -- The touchdown Troy McBroom scored Saturday night didn't alter the game's outcome, nor did it overly thrill hometown fans.
His catch, an acrobatic leap into the corner pads of the end zone, took place late in the fourth quarter of the Stockton Lightning's 65-47 loss to the Spokane Shock. For the Lightning (4-11), it was another loss in to another long season. For Spokane (13-1), it was another tuneup for the playoffs.
But for McBroom, a 2001 graduate of Manteca High, it was his first home game as a football player in three years. About 10 family and friends, painfully aware of McBroom's difficult football journey, joined the crowd at Stockton Arena. That catch, a moot point in the big picture, amounted to a personal victory for a young man reaching for goals.
"It (the touchdown) was an enjoyable moment," he said afterward. Though disappointed with the result, he seemed pleased overall. He caught eight passes for 66 yards, not bad for a receiver teeing it up in only his third professional game.
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"I had my best friends and family here to check me out," he continued. "It was a pleasure to play in front of the Stockton fans for the first time. I worked and trained for a long time and envisioned it all out. I saw myself do special things."
McBroom, 25, is a one-man embodiment of arenafootball2. Which is to say he's scrambling for any toehold, any traction at all, in the game he played for free until last month.
He and his mates make $200 per game and an additional $50 for wins. The team pays for their lodging and throws in a few meals a week. That's it. Unless they're moonlighting as surgeons, they're not getting rich.
"This is the most difficult job in professional sports. For $250, you're putting your body on the line like you're playing in the NFL," Lightning interim head coach Chad Carlson said. "You're straight-out playing for the love of the game."
Carlson, a self-described career "camp guy," has donned shoulder pads and helmets for virtually every professional league outside the NFL. This is his third head-coaching assignment in af2, and the Lightning are playing better for Carlson than his predecessor. He remains a successful head coach for Lincoln High in Portland while he trolls for better opportunities.
To talk to Carlson is to grasp the essence of the af2. He multi-tasks easily as he wades through phone calls and plays scrawled on 5-by-7 cards. That he saw something in McBroom comes as no surprise.
Yes, McBroom stands out in a crowd at 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds. He's caught touchdown passes for Manteca High, St. Mary's College, San Joaquin Delta and McPherson College (Kan.), an NAIA school. But until last month, he had not played in a sanctioned football game since 2005.
Carlson needed a healthy and hungry receiver. McBroom needed a chance.
"He came to me with a good attitude and was very polite, a big kid with big hands," Carlson said. "I told him, 'You're going to get a chance.' "
Before this year, football treated McBroom like second-hand clothes. His NAIA All-American status at McPherson didn't count for much in the eyes of the people he tried to impress. McBroom retreated to Southern California and worked out with a trainer, but all it netted were a few unsuccessful NFL tryouts.
Early this year, McBroom pursued a job with the Lightning. Even at this level, his chances weren't good. He had to survive three mini-cap tryouts to earn a spot on the roster. And when he beat the odds, he promptly went down with a hamstring injury and was a non-entity during most of the long season.
Carlson saw enough, however, to put him on the field at Tennessee Valley on June 27. McBroom was back, but not without a few butterflies. He dropped passes and muffed pass routes during the pregame walkthrough.
"I told him before the game, 'Relax, and just catch the ball,' " advised Lightning linebacker Jason Hunt, a 1998 graduate of Modesto High. "I said, 'Whatever you do, catch the ball, relax and play.' "
McBroom responded with four touchdown catches (one of them one-handed) for 110 yards during Stockton's 47-41 overtime win. He waited for three years to make a difference on a football field, any football field, and he delivered.
"Coach Carlson gave me the chance," he said, "and I thank him for that."
Getting here required a few detours. Before McBroom graduated from high school, he already was a father, a reality that may have cost him an opportunity at Washington State.
Today, Anthony is 7, and his presence trumps all.
McBroom called early parenthood "a wakeup call to me to adjust to start caring about more people than myself. It's easier said than done."
What's next for McBroom, past next week's season ender against Tri-Cities, will be left to the football gods. Though his window is closing in this game, it did finally open.
For him, a meaningful step.
"It (his career) is on a lower scale at the moment," he said, "but there are greater things in store for me."
Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2302.