Former Tabor College teammates Derrick Lawrence, Jr. and Torrey Gill have signed contracts with the arena football team, the Wichita Force.
The pair participated in open tryouts with the Force on Nov. 17. Out of the 40 who attended the tryout, only four—including Lawrence and Gill—were selected.
Lawrence, who played on the defensive line at Tabor, said the chance to continue to play ball with a teammate is special.
“I consider (Torrey) one of my brothers,” he said. “We’ve been super close since we’ve been playing football at Tabor. We hang out all the time. Even after we graduated, we keep in contact, even though he’s in Kansas and I’m in Oklahoma. It’s a great feeling to know that you have a teammate that you played in college with because that’s rare.”
Gill, who was a wide receiver at Tabor, echoed the sentiment.
“We’ll be able to room together and be able to play football together,” he said. “It’s awesome. I’m very grateful.”
Lawrence and Gill, who both graduated from Tabor last May, have pursued a number of opportunities to continue playing football. The pair participated in an NFL Regional Combine hosted by the New Orleans Saints last March, and pursued opportunities with the Canadian Football League as well.
Lawrence said after getting overlooked at CFL tryouts, he turned his attention to arena football.
“I remember Coach Gardner telling me that for my body type, arena would probably be the perfect fit for me,” he said. “So I wanted to look into it.”
Lawrence sent film to Force head coach Paco Martinez, who invited him to the open tryout.
“I drove up there and had a successful tryout,” Lawrence said. “He offered me on the spot.”
Lawrence was a 2015 NAIA Coaches’ All-America second team selection. He graduated with a degree in physical education.
“Wichita Force had a few D-linemen retire from the team, so they’re looking at me to hopefully become one of the starters on the defensive line,” he said. “So in camp, I just have to show them my skills and prove to them that I could take that spot that is open.”
Lawrence currently coaches and serves as a paraprofessional at Jenks High School (Okla.), where he said he enjoys encouraging kids to continue playing and never give up on their dreams.
“I’m just glad I get to stay around the sports that I love,” he said. “I love basketball. I love football. I’m just glad to be around it and help kids possibly get to play college ball and possibly play professional ball like I am now.
“I never knew that I could possibly play professional football playing at an NAIA school.”
Lawrence said he intends to remain at Jenks and drive to Wichita for practices and games. He said he is most excited about getting the chance to further his football career.
“After a devastating loss in the second round of playoffs in 2015, at that moment, I thought my career was over,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to be playing football ever again, because it’s not like basketball (where) you just go out there, shoot around. Football is a sport that you have to be on a team to play.
“I thought my career was over, so now I’m getting a chance to further my career. It’s just exciting getting to do it again.”
Gill, meanwhile, will compete for a starting spot as a wide receiver with the Force. A two-time All-KCAC honorable mention wideout, he served as wide receivers coach for the Bluejay football team this fall after graduating from Tabor with a degree in sports studies.
Now that Tabor’s football season is over, Gill, who lives in Hillsboro, is focusing on his own personal training, as well as facilitating offseason workouts for some of Tabor’s wideouts.
Gill said he remained prepared should an opportunity arise, and now he’s ready to make the most of it.
“I never lost faith,” he said. “I always felt like I’d have another opportunity to play football. I kept praying, I kept a positive mindset. (It) ended up working out for me. I’m just looking forward to taking advantage of the opportunity.”
Training camp will be held in February, and Lawrence and Gill will be in contention for a spot on the 24-man roster. Practices for the Force are held twice a week, with games scheduled once a week beginning in March.