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USFL features several players with Maryland ties ahead of inaugural season: ‘Great platform to showcase our skills’

Former Monmouth and Ravens quarterback Kenji Bahar had an inkling he might be selected in last week’s USFL draft, but he wasn’t certain until his agent texted him late Tuesday night a Twitter link showing that the Houston Gamblers did indeed choose him in the 12th round.

And when Gamblers coach Kevin Sumlin called Bahar’s phone at 2 a.m., the Baltimore resident and Calvert Hall graduate admitted that he did not pick up.

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“I was asleep,” Bahar said with a laugh.

Bahar was one of several players from the Baltimore area and Maryland to find themselves taken in the eight-team, 35-round USFL draft on Feb. 22 and 23. Bahar will join Maryland cornerback William Likely III, who was selected in the ninth round by Houston.

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A pair of Terps in defensive end Cavon Walker and cornerback Tino Ellis, a Reisterstown resident, were picked in the third and eighth rounds, respectively, by the Michigan Panthers, and Maryland cornerback Marcus Lewis was selected in the ninth round by the Philadelphia Stars.

Maine cornerback Manny Patterson, a Baltimore resident and Mount Saint Joseph graduate, and Towson linebacker Diondre Wallace, a Baltimore resident and Arundel graduate, were chosen in the 10th and 29th rounds, respectively, by the New Orleans Breakers. Shepherd cornerback DeJuan Neal, a Shady Side resident and Southern graduate, was taken in the 11th round by the New Jersey Generals.

Efforts to reach Walker, Lewis and Neal were unsuccessful, and Ellis turned down an interview request. The others said they are eager to join their respective teams later this month for preseason practices before the season opens April 16. The inaugural 2022 season will be played in its entirety in Birmingham, Alabama, before the championship game in Canton, Ohio, on July 3.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Wallace said. “There’s been a lot of patience, steadfastness, resilience. I’m just really excited for the opportunity.”

The league’s draft proceeded from round to round by position, beginning with quarterbacks in Round 1, followed by edge rushers and defensive ends in Rounds 2 through 4, offensive tackles in Rounds 5 through 7, cornerbacks in Rounds 8 through 11 and back to quarterbacks in Round 12.

Here is a look at some of the players picked, according to draft order.

William Likely III

Houston Gamblers, ninth round, 71st overall pick

Likely, 27, speculated that if he was about six inches taller than his current height of 5 feet, 7 inches, he could have tried to carve out a career in basketball.

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“Maybe I’d have a different story,” he said. “But I’m going with football.”

The former Maryland cornerback has been playing lots of basketball to stay in shape since stints with the NFL’s New England Patriots in 2017, the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts in 2018 and Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2019, the XFL’s DC Defenders in 2020 and the Spring League’s Jousters in 2021. He compared playing defense on the court to playing defense on the turf.

“Especially playing defensive back, you have to be able to move laterally,” he said. “You kind of use the same tools and techniques that you use in football. They kind of transfer over.”

As much as the USFL players will be devoted to trying to help their teams navigate the 10-game schedule and capture the league’s inaugural championship, Likely said they also understand there is another audience of NFL scouts monitoring their performances.

“When you play football, you want to play at the highest level,” he said. “I think the USFL will give us a great platform to showcase our skills, and that’s what they brought us in for. So it would only be right to try to get the eyes and attention of the people watching.”

Manny Patterson

New Orleans Breakers, 10th round, 81st overall pick

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Patterson, 23, had joined the practice squads for the franchise now known as the Washington Commanders and the Houston Texans in 2020 and spent much of the 2021 preseason with the Kansas City Chiefs. But he said a torn ACL in his left knee suffered during his senior year at Maine in 2019 impaired his ability to show the coaches what he is capable of.

“I definitely see it as a second chance because it’s a real opportunity for me,” he said. “Now I’m actually going to be getting game film. … Not being able to fully show my talent, especially in a game setting for all four quarters to show you that I’ve still got that dog in me, I’m looking forward to taking advantage of this opportunity.”

Patterson, a two-time All-Colonial Athletic Association first-team cornerback, said he wants to add to a Breakers cornerbacks room that includes Virginia Tech’s Adonis Alexander and Northern Illinois’ Ja’len Embry.

“I can fly around, make plays on the ball. I can do whatever they need me to do and play whatever position they need me to play. If they want me at nickel, outside corner, blitzing, in the box, I don’t care. I will throw my body out there. They can utilize me in different areas.”

Since October, Patterson has been working for a flooring company and called the experience educational. But he is happy to return to what he called “my passion.”

“It’s something I’ve been working for since I can barely remember,” he said. “They’re going to get every last bit of me.”

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Kenji Bahar

Houston Gamblers, 12th round, 97th overall pick

Bahar, 24, might be a familiar name among Ravens fans. He was signed and waived four times in 2020 by the Ravens and once again in 2021, getting elevated to the 53-man active roster for a Week 16 game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

For his part, Bahar isn’t bitter about the yo-yoing.

“It’s definitely been a journey for me,” he said. “I think it will help with the competition, and I think it will definitely help me because I’ve already gotten my feet wet a little bit, and I know what it takes to get there. I know what it takes to maintain.”

Based on draft order, Bahar might be considered the backup to Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson, who was chosen by the Gamblers in the first round with the fifth overall pick. Bahar, however, isn’t conceding anything.

“Everyone obviously wants to go play, but it’s not given to you,” he said. “You’ve got to earn it.”

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Bahar left Monmouth after the 2019 season as the Big South Offensive Player of the Year and the school’s record holder in passing yards (9,642) and touchdown passes (70). But he said he understands that he has a chance before him.

“I want to play at a high level,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who have been waiting for this opportunity. That’s kind of the same thing for me.”

Diondre Wallace

New Orleans Breakers, 29th round, 236th overall pick

Wallace, 25, was drafted as an outside linebacker despite wrapping up his career ranked seventh in Towson history in career tackles (290) as a middle linebacker. Whether he lines up inside or outside, he is determined to validate the Breakers’ decision to select him.

“A mentality of aggression, physicality, flying around after the ball and making every tackle, a game-changing attitude,” he said of what he brings to the defense. “That’s what you want from your middle guy, the center of the defense. I think I bring those tangibles of leadership and resilience to the table.”

After his final season in 2018, Wallace served as a behavioral specialist at Arundel Middle School and the defensive coordinator for the Arundel High School junior varsity team. He was invited to train in Denver in preparation for an open workout session with the Broncos in March 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic struck and canceled everything.

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Wallace has worked in restaurants and for security companies and played for the Indoor Football League’s Green Bay Blizzard. But he described getting taken by New Orleans as “a relief.”

“It means the world because I had these moments when I was up and down and I would kind of be upset and feel embarrassed about not getting an opportunity somewhere,” he said. “There were countless nights when I just wanted to say, ‘I’m done. There’s no way I’m going to be able to get to the NFL.’ But I always knew in the back of my head, and it was definitely God telling me, ‘Don’t give up.’ I just stayed in shape and I prepared for what I knew and not what I saw. It seemed like it wasn’t going to happen, and it felt like it wasn’t going to happen, but I just kept with it. I wanted to give up, but I would not let myself do it.”


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