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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Come April, the Gators will share The Swamp with the All American Football League.

The AAFL, a professional league advertising a college atmosphere, opens its inaugural season this spring with Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as one of six team sites based in college towns.

The other teams are affiliated with Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas and Michigan.

The league hopes to attract fans by offering minor-league rosters packed with former area-college standouts.

The only catch: they must have graduated.

For example, Gainesville's team signed former Gators receivers Willie Jackson, Chris Doering and Travis McGriff on Wednesday.

"The initial concept in this league is what's so intriguing for a player," said McGriff, a player spokesman for the AAFL. "It is an extension of college football. It will mirror that, not the NFL."

Former UF quarterback Shane Matthews was announced as Team Florida's coach at a press conference Wednesday.

The league does not have team names, but Team Florida's colors are orange and blue.

Florida plays three of five home games in Gainesville and practices there, too.

Team management is talking with Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa, cities that might host the other two home games.

Unlike defunct leagues like the USFL and XFL, Matthews believes the special nature of the AAFL, which emphasizes college rivalries and uses college rules, will keep it running.

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"We're carrying on the passion of college football," Matthews said. "The fans are going to be able to relate to the players on these teams. They're going to be players they have seen and rooted for over their college careers."

AAFL CEO Marcus Katz, who made millions in the student loan business, bankrolled the league.

Katz, a Georgia fan, remembers wondering whatever happened to this ex-Bulldog or that ex-Gator.

The questions eventually led to the birth of his brainchild in the summer of 2006.

He knows about the failures of past upstart leagues, and he also knows what it will take to keep this venture alive.

"It's really up to the fans," Katz said. "If the fans come to the games and if they care who wins, it will be successful. Nobody will know for sure until it happens."

The league mandates at least 10 players on the 42-man roster must be former Gators and another 10 must have played college football at other Florida schools.

On Wednesday, nine former Gators signed contracts that will pay them ,50,000 to play 10 games this season.

Those included Tony George, Fred Weary, Ran Carthon, Eli Williams, Judd Davis, Steve Rissler, Jackson, Doering and McGriff.

Team Florida will likely look to Florida State and Miami alumni to fill its roster.

Carthon, who spent the last two seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and the Detroit Lions, came back to Gainesville to earn his degree this semester.

The sociology major is six credits short of graduating.

"It was just real weird coming back," Carthon said. "Just getting on campus, I felt old. … I'm 26 years old, but it made me feel like I was 96."

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