Will 3rd Time Be the Charm for Arena Football’s Pfund?

Fans love it when receivers tumble over the walls
While some guys don’t like going over the middle, Chris Pfund does. Craig Macnaughton

Chris Pfund, a 2009 graduate of East Hampton High School who lettered in football and baseball there, was on his way Monday to Raleigh, N.C., where he will play arena football for the Triangle Torch.

Pfund, 27, is in his third year with the Torch organization, though he hopes the 2018 campaign will mark a breakthrough.

“It was a little rough at first,” the 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound wide receiver from Montauk said during a conversation at The Star this week. “I bounced around initially, but now I’ve found a home. I was cut by two teams before being taken onto the Torch’s practice squad. I spent last year pretty much fighting to get off it and onto the starting roster, which I did right before the playoffs, but on the Tuesday before our championship game [with the Cape Fear Heroes] I pulled a hamstring, and my hip too. It went down to a game time decision, and I didn’t get to play.”

If a practice session he went through on the high school’s turf field Sunday afternoon, with Jacen Tuthill and Robert Weiss, is any indication, Pfund, who has been training with Mike DeLalio and Gordon Trotter at the MuvStrong fitness studio in the One-Stop complex this winter, looks to be in fine shape, armed as he is with explosive moves and quickness and soft hands.

“It’s eight-on-eight football in an N.H.L.-sized arena, with running, tackling, passing, blocking, kickoffs, field goals, extra points, and four downs to go 10 yards, though there’s no punting on fourth down. . . .”

“There are three linemen, a quarterback, a running back, and three receivers on offense,” he continued, “and three linemen, two linebackers, and three backs on defense.”

It was, said Pfund, a fast-paced, frequently high-scoring game, a passing one fundamentally, though there were running plays too.

The playing area is about one-fourth that of a National Football League field — 66 yards long by 28 yards wide — and, of course, it is bounded by waist-high walls over which receivers sometimes tumble. “The fans like that,” Pfund said with a smile. “There are maybe 5 yards of walking space between the walls and the seats, though there is a V.I.P. area, which I’ve fallen into at times.” 

“I’m what they call a Z receiver, a wall receiver. . . .” Whereupon he showed this writer a YouTube clip of him snagging a pass thrown over the middle and dragging three or four defensive backs down the field with him, Gronkowski-style. “Normally it takes more than one guy to bring me down.”

“A lot of people don’t like going in the middle, but I prefer it. You’re really focused when you run in the middle, maybe even more so than when you’re all alone, wide open. But please say that wherever the ball is thrown I catch it!”

If he made a catch at the wall and flipped over it, it was still a catch, none of this stuff about having both feet touch the floor first. And breaking the plane governed receiving touchdowns, he said. There were no agonizing official reviews.

“Technically, I’m a starter this time, though it’s not set in stone. I have a contract, though I’ll have to fight for my spot. . . .” The head coach, Chris McKinney, who shares the N.C.A.A. record for touchdown punt returns in a single season, and he had “a brother bond,” he said. “He signed me to the [Atlanta-based] Georgia Rampage in 2013, when I was at Suffolk Community College.”

It is, as aforesaid, his third season with the Torch. “The first year, I tore my abdomen, which put me out for the season. Last year, as I said, I was re-signed to the practice squad, where I was for most of the season before getting hurt right before the championship game. The Heroes won it 30-24. We had the ball on the 4-yard line with 30 seconds to go and threw an interception in the end zone.”

Aside from the Torch and Heroes, other franchises in the 12-team American Arena League are the Richmond Roughriders, the High Country Grizzlies of Boone, N.C., the Atlanta Havoc, the (Lakeland) Florida Tarpons, the Carolina Energy of Charlotte, and the Peach State Cats of Dalton, Ga.

As for hooking on with the N.F.L., “if it happens, then great, but I’m happy where I am. I hope to keep playing; I’ve got some 30-something teammates. Hopefully, I’ll have a good year. I actually feel as if I’m getting younger physically, thanks to the training I’ve been doing at MuvStrong, and with Jacen and Andrew Foglia and Dustin Lightcap.” 

“I’ve been working out with them, depending on which one has the time, every other day at the high school or at Lions Field or the Playhouse gym in Montauk. I’ve been going to MuvStrong on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. Mike’s been writing up workouts for me every four weeks. But really it’s come down to me making myself work.”

Concerning the coming season, which begins soon and goes through June, Pfund said he thinks he might make a good Jack linebacker too. “There are two linebackers, a Jack and a Mack. The Mack blitzes. The Jack’s job is to protect the width of the field. . . .”

“Some of the games are on TV,” he said in reply to a question. “I know you can see them on YouTube TV. A lot of people from here have seen me play. I love it.”

Come the summer, Pfund will be back here, working with his father, Chris Sr., and playing slow-pitch at the Terry King ball field in Amagansett. Though slow-pitch, he readily agreed, didn’t get you in shape for football.

Arena football, he said, with a smile, in reply to a question as he got ready to go, “is popular everywhere that’s not here.”