Daily Sports Smile: Houston Gamblers defender shines in USFL debut in front of father
It may be the NFL offseason, but football has returned with an exciting boost of energy. After a three-decade hiatus from the original iteration, the United States Football League made a comeback this weekend with the eight teams facing off across four games.
Questions remain whether the league is here for a long time or just a good time — after all, the USFL isn't your traditional gridiron football. Previous start-up leagues have fought valiantly to make their marks in the American sports landscape, but the majority are ultimately short-lived.
USFL IS BACK:Takeaways from the first weekend
One of the biggest obstacles is the talent pool, which is largely made of players who faced challenges performing and maintaining jobs in the NFL. But many USFL players, like Houston Gamblers defender William Likely III, are happy to have another chance at a professional football career.
Likely's father, William Likely Jr., has seen firsthand what his son has had to overcome. He watched as Likely helped the Gamblers to a 17-12 win Sunday over the Michigan Panthers, including holding off a late-game comeback.
"It was really exciting for Will," Likely Jr. said about his son on the NBC broadcast. "It has been a long time coming."
During a productive career at the University of Maryland, Likely tore his ACL six games into his final college season. After rehabilitating his injury, the All-American defensive back signed with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent in June 2017 but was cut from the team three months later.
He spent two years bouncing around the Canadian Football League and played in the recent revival of the XFL before getting selected in the 9th round of the 2022 USFL Draft.
With Houston winning 17-0 in the second quarter of Sunday's game, Likely stepped up to show what he can do. The former Maryland record-holding punt returner intercepted former NFL first-round pick Paxton Lynch around midfield.
The Panthers, coached by former NFL coach Jeff Fisher, made a late comeback, scoring 12 unanswered points, but failed to find the final push against an active Gamblers defense.
Likely has struggled to find his professional footing, but his tribulations have not deterred him. And he has his father by his side.
"He was cut short with a knee injury, but he is 100% healthy, and it shows today," Likely's father said with a proud smile.