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Indoor Wildcat WR Gets Invite

By James Yodice
Journal Staff Writer
      By next month, Darren Haliburton will have left behind the modest trappings of the American Indoor Football Association for his first tangible shot at something bigger: the NFL.
    The 6-foot-2, 200-pound receiver/quarterback has been invited to the Minnesota Vikings' training camp next month, he said.
    It is his first chance to earn a spot on an NFL squad, and Haliburton is the only member of the New Mexico Wildcats who has received an invitation to an NFL camp.
    “It's a blessing,” Haliburton said. “I don't really talk about it too much, think about it too much. They just want me to keep playing, stay in shape so when I arrive I'll be ready to go.”
    With the Wildcats' first AIFA season down to four games, Haliburton has probably been the Wildcats' most consistent, and dynamic, wide receiver. He leads the receiving corps in catches (35), yards (506) and touchdowns (10).
    Those numbers didn't budge last week as New Mexico moved Haliburton — a former high school quarterback and college QB at South Florida — under center.
    “I'm very athletic, and I've been blessed to be able to play both positions as if it was my dominant position,” said Haliburton who was born and raised in Riviera Beach, Fla.
    The experiment didn't pan out as hoped. Previously winless Utah beat New Mexico 40-38 last Saturday.
    “We had a receiver playing quarterback,” Wildcats coach Floyd Johnson said. “That was the problem.”
    The Wildcats (2-9) are home Saturday night against the Arizona Adrenaline (8-2) at the Santa Ana Star Center.
    Haliburton is to return to receiver, as New Mexico this week signed quarterback B.J. Hall, who was playing in the Central Indoor Football League.
    The recent flux at QB was created when New Mexico traded starter Ronnie Simpson, a New Mexico Highlands product, to Arizona.
    As his replacement, Haliburton struggled mightily. The Wildcats were down as much as 31-0 late in the third quarter before rallying to nearly force overtime in the final minute of the game.
    Now he can go back to what he does best — catch passes. He's hoping that skill might lead to a job with the Vikings, which is definitely several long steps up from the AIFA. The indoor league pays players, on average, no more than $250 a game.
    Haliburton admitted ego must be set aside in a league like the AIFA — an obscure league that attracts little or no attention.
    “You do have to swallow your pride, because you have to remind yourself every day to use this game as a steppingstone to help you get to the next level,” said Haliburton in a recent interview.
    “If all you think of is the money, the money, the money, then you're gonna lose focus on what it takes to get to the big money. People in this situation should take full advantage of it. The money is not that great, but it's better than nothing. But you can make it great, if you take care of your responsibilities on and off the field,” he said.
    He'd desperately like to join one of his former high school teammates, Chicago Bears return specialist Devin Hester, in the NFL. The two played at Suncoast (Fla.) High, where Hester was a running back.
    “He's always been a jackrabbit, from Day One,” said Haliburton who became a full-time receiver at South Florida as a sophomore. “We still talk on the phone at least once a week, and he's an incredible guy.”