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Jeff Badger is not ready yet to leave his love, just can't say goodbye. They've had too many good times together. After all Badger, 22, has been smitten since he was 8. That's 14 years together. That's a serious relationship.

So there was Badger on the football field at Chabot College last Sunday. He was trying out for the National Spring Football League. For three hours, Badger went through the drills. He ran a 4.57 40-yard dash. He changed direction around the orange road cones. At linebacker, Badger covered running backs one-on-one. He participated in seven-on-seven drills. They did everything to him except extract a molar.

When it was over, the review was two-hands-clapping.

"Jeff is one of our highest-rated linebackers," said Michael Green, the NSFL official who ran the event. "He fills a hole like a Mack truck. He packs a wallop. He may be only 5-foot-11, but he plays like he's 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4. Yes, absolutely Jeff will play in our league."

Five weeks ago, Badger, a 2009 Cardinal Newman graduate, didn't know there was such a thing as the National Spring Football League. Badger was not entering on a football field this fall for the first time since he was 7. He played four years at Sacramento State, three of them as a starter at middle linebacker. As a senior, he was named Honorable Mention All-Big Sky Conference. At Newman, Badger was first-team Division 3 All-State. He was the NorCal Player of the Year in 2009, as well as co-MVP of the NBL.

Badger had done some things. He wanted to do more. He wanted to play in the NFL.

"I'd even play for the Jacksonville Jaguars," he said.

You know Badger must love football so much he'd make that sacrifice.

A Pro Day at Sacramento State in March produced no results. Badger had earned his degree in sociology from the university. Once his football career ended, Badger would become a firefighter. Maybe his football career was ending ... and then his agent called.

Allan Cunnanan told Badger that Green would be holding an invitation-only tryout at Chabot. A former linebacker from the University of Pacific, Green is the president of football operations and director of player personnel for the league. Twenty players would attend.

What is a National Spring Football League? Was this going to be still another football league bankrolled by incredibly wealthy and myopic people, only to flop because of unrealistic management? Badger did some checking.

The National Spring Football League is designed to become the minor league for NFL players. Players compete for a maximum of three years; no deadwood allowed. Players must be between 20-29. Players would get paid $400 a week, $500 if they won. A head coach would be paid $42,000, his general manager the same. Position coaches would get $500 a week, coordinators $750 a week. OK, the NSFL would be fiscally responsible.

The NSFL would not play in an NFL city. It would never pursue existing college seniors targeted by the NFL. It would always play in the spring, starting in 2014. The NFL would have full access anytime to any NSFL game film. Though, not affiliated with the NFL, the NSFL made its intentions clear and immediate: It exists to supply players to the NFL.

"Baseball's minor leagues have been around for 175 years with no work stoppages," Green said. "We believe we can have that kind of stability."

Of course, the NCAA has long been viewed as the NFL's minor league and with good reason. But Green, along with the other people who founded the NSFL, believe that not every kid gets a solid NFL sniff, or that every kid is physically or mentally ready to play on Sunday.

"We believe we are going to surprise a lot of people," said Green, 51, a corrections officer in San Mateo County. "We are going to charge between $5-$15 a ticket."

Green said Badger will be assigned to the San Jose Rush. There will be teams in Texas, Ohio, Georgia, Kentucky, Florida and Massachusetts. Training camp opens Feb. 3 with the regular season beginning March 1.

Will the NSFL work or will it go the way of the Edsel and New Coke? It has a plausible business plan and realistic expectations. It also is counting on Americans' insatiable desire for forearms to the helmet, touchdown passes and the well-timed and legal tackles that blow up a wide receiver.

Badger, 5-foot-11, 240 pounds, is not concentrating on the business plan or vicarious thrills. He wants to get out and run around and create mayhem. He's a football player entering his prime. He is not ready to be a spectator.

"I drive my family crazy if I'm watching an NFL game with them," said Badger, who lives in Sacramento but spent the last weekend in Windsor with his folks. "I'm all over the place. I'm bouncing around. I can't sit down. I want to be out there."

Badger will get his chance and he has more than a little pop in those forearms of his: He said he bench-presses 440 pounds and squats 600. He'll never leave anything in the locker room — his dad Lance schooled him well on that. He's a football player right to his core, and his affection for the sport hasn't changed since he strapped it on in Pop Warner.

"I still feel like a little kid out there," said the man.

For Jeff Badger, that's what his love of football is all about. He can't let go. Why should he? And why would any of us let go of that thing, whatever it is, that keeps us young?

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.