By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
For Aaron McConnell, it was like a fountain of youth.
The former Pittsburg State Gorillas and Arena Football League standout suited up for the Oklahoma Defenders of the Professional Indoor Football League on Saturday at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo.
McConnell, who is now owner and operator of Mac Fitness in Pittsburg after retiring from the Arena League two years ago, earned a sack on the second play and was named the player of the game in the Defenders’ 54-47 loss to the Kansas City Renegades.
“When I put the pads on at first, I felt like a 32-year-old man putting these pads on,” McConnell said. “In the locker room, the players were jumping around and bouncing all over and I was just sitting by my locker watching them and thinking, ‘I remember being that kid wasting half my energy in here.’ But I’m telling you that when we walked down that tunnel and stepped on the field, I was a 20-year-old kid again. I was bouncing around again, and there wasn’t a thought in the world of life or business. I was a fresh out of college 20-year-old kid again as soon as I walked out on that turf.”
McConnell hadn’t planned on returning to football, but a coach was persistent in asking the defensive tackle for a favor.
“I was helping a coach out,” McConnell said. “I’ve had about four or five teams call and ask me to play all year long. I got a business. I’ve got my three boys. Baseball is starting. And this guy had been calling and calling, and finally on Wednesday I said, ‘OK. I’ll come play. I’m not practicing. I’m not leaving the gym for a day. I’m not going to miss work. Pregame meal is at 4 p.m. I’ll be there at 4. Bring three or four helmets and three or four shoulder pads, and we’ll see what fits.’”
He met his teammates in the locker room and the coach about 10 minutes before the game so he could learn some of the defensive playbook.
“I was just playing for the absolute love of the game,” he said. “I coached my son this year in his first year of tackle. I train these kids about how to be better athletes. I’m constantly on them about working hard. I went up there knowing all those kids could come watch me play, and it could justify what I do for those kids. My 32-year-old butt out there playing justified to those kids that this is what hard work is about.”
McConnell was a four-time All-American for Pittsburg State. After college, he signed a free agent deal with the Tennessee Titans and played through the 2004 preseason. He went on to become one of the top defensive linemen in Arena Football, earning all-rookie and all-league honors during his time with the Nashville Kats, the Colorado Crush and the Alabama Vipers.
He said he’s not ruling out the idea of playing again, but his first concern is being there for his wife Tessa and their three boys — 9-year-old Cade, 6-year-old Braven and 1-year-old Rook.
“It’s not my life anymore,” McConnell said. “My son plays competitive baseball. We travel every weekend.
“On my off weekends, if it lines up with the schedule of Tulsa, I’ll go play. But to get on a plane, that’s not my life anymore.”