At last unhindered by the pesky anti-celebration rules that threw a bit of a wet blanket over his college football experience, beefy James McCartney was finally free to be himself last season when he joined the Wichita Wild.
The outgoing, excitable defensive lineman turned showman after he made big plays — and there were numerous such moments during his breakout rookie season in 2010.
He recovered a fumble and promptly tossed the football into the stands. He brought down the quarterback for a sack and flexed his muscles.
And the defining moment: After he recovered a fumble for his second touchdown of the season, McCartney pretended to pop open a beer, guzzle it and toss the can down.
So very Ochocinco.
"It didn't really look that great, to be honest, and I don't know how many people even noticed it," McCartney said. "But, hey, I felt good about it. In college, man, you can't celebrate. You get in trouble. So I'm just going wild here because I can do what I want. It's awesome."
McCartney was a standout at Hesston High and a two-time Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference defensive player of the year while playing for Bethel.
Of all the players on the Wild's roster entering tonight's opener at Grand Island, Neb., he might enjoy the role of Indoor Football League player the most. It's not for the money. Players get $225 a week, and an extra $25 if the team wins.
It's simply for the chance to continue playing.
"Dude, this is awesome," he said. "Not everybody is blessed with the ability to keep playing football. It's bliss to me."
Such an attitude is perfect for the indoor game, which encourages player-fan interaction. But McCartney doesn't wait for the postgame autograph session to meet and greet. He regularly chats and high-fives a group of guys who sit in the front row near the end zone.
"James is like a big kid out there," defensive coordinator Troy Black said.
McCartney, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 320 pounds, is a low-maintenance, no-frills player. He arrived at the first day of training camp this season dressed in a gray, sleeveless Shrine Bowl T-shirt — from 2006, the year he played in the game.
His game is equally simple. A workout fiend, McCartney uses strength and power to overwhelm opposing linemen; last year, he recorded five sacks, second on the team, and 33 tackles — most for a Wild defensive lineman.
"I feel like I'm one of the stronger players in the league," he said. "Nobody can stop my bull rush. They can try to hold on to me, but that's about it."
Coach Ken Matous is equally excited about McCartney's potential. The Wild managed only 15 sacks last season, one of the worst totals in the IFL, and Matous envisions a more seasoned McCartney helping the team up that number considerably.
"I'm so excited about James McCartney," Matous said. "He can bull rush, but he also has such quick feet. I think we're gonna see great things from him."