Standing in the tunnel, he waits as fans take their seats, music thunders in the arena and anticipation grows. He is focused, alert, and calm as he silently prepares for the task at hand. It’s time to go to work, and this is no ordinary day job. This is game day.
Jeremiah Fennell, who hails from Sandusky, Ohio, a small town near Lake Erie, is a professional arena football player who, when not training for football, crafts pizzas for guests at Pizza Snob with a technique he calls “pizza freestyle.”
“Football has taught me the importance of hard work,” he said. “When you want something, it’s not going to come to you when you’re just sitting around. You need to go get it.”
Ashley Carter, Pizza Snob’s general manager, said with the way Fennell creates pizzas, interacts with customers and makes everyone smile, he is definitely someone the establishment wants as part of their “snob team.”
“He is just so full of life and energy,” she said. “He is like that day in and day out. When he walks in the door, you know he’s there.”
Fennell moved to the DFW Metroplex in 2013, he said, with hope that living near the Dallas Cowboys would provide more exposure to the team’s scouts.
“Getting into the NFL is my overall goal,” he said. “Hopefully… I will get my film out again and get some training camp invites. I just need to get my foot in the door.”
Fennell played football in high school and hoped to pursue his love for the game in college, he said. Instead, he accepted a wrestling scholarship from Campbellsville University in Kentucky, enjoyed a successful collegiate wrestling career and coached there for two seasons after graduating in 2010.
During his time at Campbellsville, Fennell enjoyed wrestling, but his lingering passion for football inspired a personal goal, he said. Fennell wanted to return to the game, but this time as a professional football player.
Driven by determination, Fennell pursued his dream.
In 2011, Fennell received a phone call while coaching wrestling practice, he said. Unable to answer, he later returned the call to learn that the Eastern Kentucky Drillers arena football team coach had watched his semi-pro film and wanted him to report to training camp.
Recognizing the opportunity as a major stepping-stone in his career, Fennell said he left his coaching position and charged through two weeks of training camp to earn a spot on the Drillers’ starting roster at defensive tackle.
With training camp behind him, Fennell still had much to prove to his teammates and coaches, he said. Unlike many professional football athletes, Fennell did not have the luxury of a college football career. Instead, he said he studied football extensively and referred to YouTube videos for coaching on how to perfect his fundamentals.
Still, Fennell found himself fighting an uphill battle.
“For the first half of the season, nobody knew my name. They just called me ‘the wrestler,’” he said with a chuckle. “Whenever we would talk about football and I tried to give my two cents, they would tell me, ‘You don’t know, you’re just a wrestler. This is going to be a lot harder than wrestling.’”
Now, a few years later, Fennell has shown he can play with the best. From 2012-2013, Fennell started for three different arena football teams including the Eastern Kentucky Drillers, the Chicago Slaughter and the New Mexico Stars.
Fennell said he has always been smaller compared to other family members, but that he enjoys the challenge of lining up against someone bigger or with more experience and coming out on top.
"I like coming in and being the underdog,” he said. "It's more gratifying."