Chris Schubert’s professional football career is at a crossroads.
The former Oberlin High School and Oberlin College standout receiver was among the first cuts of the Pittsburgh Power of the Arena Football League earlier this week. But as he gave a phone interview Wednesday night from his Oberlin home, Schubert was expecting a call from one of his former teams, the Richmond Raiders of the Professional Indoor Football League.
Such is life for an indoor/arena football journeyman who has played for five franchises in five leagues since his pro career began when the Cleveland Browns brought him to a rookie minicamp in 2008.
“I had signed with the Pittsburgh Power during the offseason and was released in the first cuts, which was a shock to me since I had been performing well,” Schubert said. “I had a good scrimmage against the Cleveland Gladiators just prior to cut day and caught a couple of touchdowns. But it’s a business, and a lot of people don’t understand that.
“Sometimes it’s not about performance, but about a lot of other things. It can get frustrating from that mindset, but you have to not take anything personal. It softens the blow when you get those calls that you don’t necessarily want to get.”
Schubert, 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, has gotten those calls more than once. However, he’s been able to carve out a nice career on the arena circuit, starting with the Mahoning Valley Thunder out of Youngstown in Arenafootball2 in 2009.
Schubert, 26, said his eyes were opened to the business side of things quickly during that first season with the Thunder.
“We had a coaching change midway through the season, and in one of his first games the new coach started me for the first time that season and I had a fantastic game,” Schubert said. “It was probably, up to that point, the breakout performance I had been looking for. However, the following day, the coach called me into his office to say they were releasing me.
“I told him I didn’t understand because I had just had this great game. And he told me that it wasn’t about performance, it was that I wasn’t one of his guys and he wanted to bring his own guys in. That’s when politics play into it. It sucks when it works against you, but it’s pretty awesome when it works for you.”
That mentality is why Schubert has been able to roll with the punches, and why the team in Richmond, Va., was close to bringing him back.
“I go out and I work hard and I put my best foot forward and the cards will fall where they fall,” he said. “If they feel like I don’t fit their system, that’s their decision to make and I have to go with it since they are in charge.
“Whether you agree or disagree with it, you have to take that professional approach. If not, there’s a bridge that can be burned. I’ve just always tried to take a professional approach, and it’s why I’ve been able to keep my career going.”
Schubert wound up in Richmond following his release from the Thunder and played there one season while they were in the American Indoor Football Association. He then went to North Carolina to play for the Fayetteville Force of the Southern Indoor Football League, and split last season between the Spokane (Wash.) Shock of the AFL and the Reading (Pa.) Express of the Indoor Football League.
The traveling started following a glittering career with Oberlin College, where he was a four-year starter, four-time All-North Coast Athletic Conference selection, three-time all-region selection and preseason All-American in 2006.
He became the school’s all-time leader in receiving yards (2,536), touchdown receptions (23), kick return yards (2,867) and punt return yards (343), earning a tryout with the Browns.
“It was always a dream to attempt to become a professional football player, but I didn’t expect to be going into my fifth season in professional football,” Schubert said. “I had a great career in high school and college, and when the Browns called, it was like ‘Wow.’ It showed that I had the ability, and that was my coming of age where, despite my school’s size and my size, somebody at the top level of professional football thought I had what it took to at least bring me into camp.
“I knew that if it didn’t work out, I wouldn’t give up on it, and I’ve been lucky to have a professional career in football. My body has held up really well. But going back to my Oberlin days with both the Yeomen and the Indians, there’s no way I could have ever predicted this.”
Schubert said the arena/indoor game is perfect for someone with his size and skill set.
“Being primarily a slot receiver in college, I was used to operating in tight windows,” he said. “I just think my skill set fits the arena game perfectly. It’s a smaller field, so since I’m shorter and faster and quicker, the fact that you have to make quicker decisions in smaller areas fits me.
“The other thing, as a receiver, the indoor game is based toward high scoring and a ton of passing, so for me, that’s the best thing in the world.”
But don’t be mistaken. He isn’t giving up his dream of landing in the Canadian Football League, or even the NFL.
“If you continue to play in these leagues, everyone has to have that thought process on getting back out there with the NFL or CFL,” Schubert said. “It may be a long shot or a pipedream, but if you don’t have some type of urge to get back out there, I don’t know why you keep doing it. I think I can be a good slot guy in the CFL or NFL. Smaller guys are succeeding in the game now as more teams experiment with the spread and wide-open offenses.
“I’ll be 27 in three weeks, so that window’s getting smaller and smaller by the day.”
Schubert said he’ll continue playing as long as his body lets him and a team is willing to let him continue to live out his dream. But it’s not always a fairy tale.
“A lot of guys have jobs outside of football, which people don’t realize,” he said. “You say you play pro football, and it’s almost like a smokescreen. We make, depending on the league, as low as $50 a game or the AFL tops out at $1,000 a game.
“If you can afford to do it, or for some guys, this is only thing they got, they hold onto it as long as they can. Me, I’ll do it as long as my body holds up. I played it more years than I could ever imagine.
“Anytime you can play a sport you love for some money, it’s never a bad gig.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.