Samie Parker slowly flexes his gloved hands. His shoulders rise beneath a white practice jersey as he takes a single deep breath 6 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
When his right foot shoots forward, it's clear that Parker still has the blazing speed that made him a fourth-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2004. He hits the line as the ball is snapped to quarterback Nate Davis. Parker breaks to the middle. Two hungry defenders in black jerseys wait for him.
A defensive back moves to wrap him up, but Parker spins to the outside. He loses his helmet but keeps his head up. Seconds later, Davis floats the football into Parker's arms. The coaches blow the whistle after the catch, and Parker trots back to the end line to wait for the next drill.
It's just after 9:45 a.m. on a Tuesday in February, and this marks the first simulated play that the former Chief has run for the Kansas City Command, of the Arena Football League. It's also Parker's first play of 2012, a year that he hopes will take him back to the National Football League — his goal since the Oakland Raiders released him in August 2009.
"It's the right place and right time for me to come back to Kansas City and display my talents," Parker says. "I really don't think I got a chance to showcase everything I can do."
To get from downtown Kansas City to the KC Sports Lodge in Independence — the Command's practice facility — you have to drive by Arrowhead Stadium on Interstate 70. Parker's route has been less direct. After the Chiefs didn't re-sign him following the 2007 season, Parker had stints in Denver, North Carolina, Seattle, Oakland, Las Vegas and Chicago.
Inside the gym of the Sports Lodge, whistles beat time with pounding rock music, and a TV above a treadmill is tuned to an ESPN discussion about the upcoming NFL draft. The likely No. 1 overall pick on April 26 is Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Just two weeks ago, the rookie was throwing passes to Parker, trying to — as Luck told Sports Illustrated in February — "adjust to the speed of the NFL."
Luck's other target was Parker's younger brother, Tray Session, a speedy University of Nevada wide receiver with his own NFL ambitions.
"I know he has the drive," Parker says of his brother. "He knows what it takes. He just has to get in front of guys and be able to compete."
If anyone knows how true that is, it's Parker.
The sound of two massive palms clapping grows louder near the end of the tiled walkway in the indoor practice facility. The claps are punctuated with screams, grunts — and laughter. Thirty-five hopefuls are in training camp, each vying for one of the Command's 24 roster spots. (The season opener against the defending champion Jacksonville Sharks is March 16.)
Like many Arena Football League teams, the Command is a halfway house for athletes whose names hover in recent memory. There's defensive back Rashad Barksdale, who played six games for the Chiefs in 2007. And college-football fans may recall Carl Gettis and Tommy Chavis from the University of Missouri, and Terrance Sweeney from Kansas State. The local focus stems from the constant reshuffling of the roster. All AFL contracts last for one year, with players receiving $400 a game (plus meals, lodging and a per diem on the road).
"How can you do a bobblehead night when you need four months' lead time?" asks play-by-play announcer Nick McCabe, who also handles marketing duties for the Command. "Who's going to be the bobblehead?"