Football players look to earn a shot with Freedom Fighters

The Boston Freedom Fighters held a practice at Macdonald Stadium in Malden.
John Tlumacki/Globe staff
The Boston Freedom Fighters held a practice at Macdonald Stadium in Malden.

MALDEN — Saturday was a perfect day for football.

The piercing wind whipped down Pearl Street and a thin coating of snow delicately blanketed the turf at Macdonald Stadium as more than 60 football hopefuls arrived with the same aspiration: to impress former New England Patriots running back Patrick Pass, a three-time Super Bowl champion, and his fellow coaches, also former NFL players, enough to earn a spot on the Boston Freedom Fighters roster.

The team is part of the newly formed, eight-team National Spring Football League, which is intended to help players reach the established professional leagues. The other teams are the Arizona Racers, the Georgia Blaze, the Los Angeles Knights, the Rhode Island Navigators, the San Antonio Defenders, the Texas Heat Seekers, and the Virginia Beach Sting Rays.


“It’s a developmental league for a lot of these kids, a second chance to show the NFL scouts, GMs, and owners that they have what it takes to play this game,” Pass said. “We’re trying to give these guys the best film possible to showcase their talents.”

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Paul Shaughnessy, a 23-year-old Malden native and Northeast Metro Tech graduate, came out to earn a spot.

“To play something you love and travel the country at the same time, that’s the American dream,” said Shaughnessy, who also was a running back at Mount Ida College from 2007 to 2010. “A lot of guys in here are legitimate athletes and are excited for this opportunity.”

Shaughnessy is one of 38 Massachusetts natives who attended tryouts on Saturday and participated in traditional drills such as the 40-yard dash and shuttle run, as well as individual position drills.

The Freedom Fighters’ first game is March 30 in San Antonio. According to Pass, the goal is to have a 60-man roster — including 10 practice squad members — set by training camp, which is scheduled to start March 4.


“We want someone who is coachable, and someone we don’t have to teach to play the game of football all over again,” Pass said. “We want someone who can listen, take directions well, and play hard.”

The idea of locating in Boston started when Terrell Parham, the NSFL’s chief executive, contacted Malden businessman Bill Spadafora and asked if he was interested in forming a team.

“There’s always been a need for a pro developmental league, because the NFL doesn’t have that,” said Spadafora, the owner of the Freedom Fighters. “We’re not sanctioned by [the NFL], but we’re hoping, with success, we will be at some given point.”

NSFL standards require all teams to play at a stadium with a 5,000-person capacity, so Spadafora, a lifelong Malden resident whose family owns the restaurant Anthony’s, turned his attention to newly renovated Macdonald Stadium, Malden High’s home field.

The stadium underwent $2 million in repairs and improvements last summer, which included installation of an artificial turf field and a regulation-size track.


To help generate profits, Spadafora has teamed with marketing director Mark Perrone.

‘To play something you love and travel the country at the same time, that’s the American dream. A lot of guys in here are legitimate athletes and are excited for this opportunity.’

“With an endeavor this big, you need a lot of revenue, and it’s not just going to survive on sponsorship,” Spadafora said. “Ticket sales, marketing of T-shirts and hats, concessions, and parking rights are all things that come into play.”

Malden Mayor Gary Christenson, who has supported Boston Baseball Field of Dreams’ plans to develop a minor league baseball stadium on Commercial Street, said he was thrilled to welcome the Freedom Fighters to the city.

“The Stadium Commission has to agree with the [Boston Freedom Fighters] on some of the particulars of the deal,” Christenson said. “I’m thrilled for Malden to have the opportunity to host this team. What makes it particularly exciting for our community is not only to have local ownership, but to also have former New England Patriots players and Super Bowl champions be a part of the organization here in the city of Malden.”

Salem native Sean Stellato — a standout quarterback who helped the Salem Witches capture an MIAA Super Bowl title in 1994 — is the Freedom Fighters’ general manager. He also is the agent for New England Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington and defensive lineman Kyle Love.

Through his Patriots connections, he was able to build a coaching staff consisting of Pass and former Patriots linebacker Vernon Crawford, the team’s defensive coordinator. The staff also features former Washington Redskins lineman Franciscus Mills, former Brown University coach Lee Miller, and Rasi Chau, who coaches at Lynn Tech.

Through sponsors like AT&T, the players will receive NFL-like amenities. All of the equipment, flights, lodging, and meals are paid for while on the road, and players will be signed to contracts.

But unlike the NFL, there will not be any high-priced superstars. Every player makes the same amount — $400 for each game, with a $100 bonus if they win.

“I’m just glad I get another opportunity, and we’ll see where it goes from here,” said former Everett quarterback James Suozzo, 23. “Hopefully I can build and move on to a bigger level of play in the future.”

Suozzo, who helped lead the Crimson Tide to a Division 1 Super Bowl title in 2006, played at Merrimack College from 2008 to 2011, and attended the New York Giants rookie minicamp last May.

“I’ve noticed this is different from other leagues that have started up,” Suozzo said. “A lot were indoor and the rules were different, but this is based off the NFL structure, which makes it more elite. It gives you a better opportunity, and for the most part, gets you ready for the big leagues.”

Anthony Gulizia can be reached at