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INDOOR FOOTBALL: Axemen's Truesdell getting a second chance at life, football

Bemidji Axemen wide receiver Nick Truesdell catches a pass during the team’s recent game against the Nebraska Danger. Truesdell has rebounded from some off-the-field issues in college and turned into one of Bemidji’s most reliable receivers so far this season. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — The Indoor Football League is widely considered as a second chance league.

For some players, it is a second chance to prove to scouts that he is talented enough to make it at the next level (the National Football League).

For others it is simply another opportunity to keep playing a game that they love.

For Bemidji Axemen wide receiver Nick Truesdell, his talent has never been in question.

Instead, his off-the-field problems have hindered him from making it to the next level or even standing out in college.

“For us to be able to give Nick an opportunity to polish his game and prove he has put his past behind him is something we are proud of,” Bemidji head coach Robert Fuller said.

The 6-foot, 7-inch receiver was recruited by Wake Forest, North Carolina State, Kent State and West Virginia before signing a letter of intent to play at Cincinnati in 2008.

He never saw the field for the Bearcats, however, as he was kicked off the team by head coach Brian Kelly — now the head coach at Notre Dame — for stealing from the campus bookstore.

That was just the beginning of his troubles. In the following two years, he was arrested for breaking and entering and drug trafficking — all before his 21st birthday.

“I put that behind me awhile ago,” Truesdell said of his mistakes. “When I was 18 and 19 I made a lot of dumb decisions and I felt I was on top of the world for awhile and it caught up with me. I had to learn the hard way, but I am very grateful for the second opportunity.”

“He was basically a teenager at that time; now he is a young man,” Fuller added. “I did a ton of background checks and talked to everyone that I know who knew him and I got nothing but positive responses.”

Fuller and the Axemen were not the first IFL organization to take a flier on the gifted receiver. Truesdell began the season with the Colorado Ice, but was released after suffering a finger injury in just his second game.

“I started over there and I tore a ligament in middle finger in the second game,” Truesdell said. “The coach did not think I would be able to play with a pin in my finger, so they released me.

“I had surgery a couple of weeks ago and got in contact with the coaching staff here in Bemidji,” Truesdell added. “I got it cleared with the doctors and got a couple days of practice before our first game.”

Although an injury never is a good thing, Fuller is happy with the way things have worked out and for the opportunity Truesdell will have with the team.

“Colorado has some great receivers and with him being a rookie and the injury made things difficult,” Fuller said. “It worked out great, though. He has fit in very well here and has picked up things so quickly. We are happy to have him.”

Joining a talented receiving core that includes speedsters Ryan Balentine, Philander Browder and Maurice Patterson, Truesdell should give quarterback Hunter Wanket a big target, especially in the end zone.

“The coaches have talked a lot about using me as a deep threat,” Truesdell said. “A lot of our other receivers are slot receivers, so I am kind of like a hybrid tight end/wide receiver.”

Truesdell shined in his first game as he hauled in six passes for 105 yards and a touchdown despite only a couple of practices with the team.

“I thought I did a pretty good job; I just wanted to help the team in any way possible,” Truesdell said. “My teammates helped me a lot because I did not know all of the formations yet.”

Truesdell, 24, is still young enough to prove he belongs in the NFL. He spent time trying out with the Cincinnati Bengals last off-season, but he acknowledges his lack of college experience has set him back and he has plenty of work to do.

“I know I have a lot to improve on if I want to make it to the next level,” Truesdell said. “I did not have as much experience in college because I was always in trouble, so I am still kind of raw.”

“From what we have seen so far, Nick is one of the most physically-gifted athletes that I have ever worked with,” Fuller added. “We are very excited about what he can do for our team, as well as his future possibilities.”

While everyone within the Axemen organization is pulling for Truesdell to make it to the NFL and completely overcome his troubled past, the receiver’s main focus right now is helping the team win football games.

“I think that once we gel together we can be one of the best teams in this league,” Truesdell said.