It's not every day that an NFL Pro Bowler and Second-Team All-Pro player joins the National Arena League, but that is exactly what happened last week, when the Massachusetts Pirates pulled off a shocking move and signed 30-year-old Dexter McCluster. The wide receiver signing with the team was such a unique and interesting move, it was even reported by ESPN's leading NFL reporter, Adam Schefter, who tweeted the news to his almost 7.5 million followers, putting the Pirates "on the map".
But that was an easy move. Not in the sense of actually signing McCluster obviously, since as mentioned, players with his impressive resume and background are rarely seen in the National Arena League. It was an easy move because Dexter McCluster is a household name. Anyone who has been watching college football and/or the NFL for the past 15 years has heard of him and has seen his highlights. You don't have to "find" this kind of player.
You do, on the other hand, have to do that to assemble a full roster in the arena league and that is a job for the Pirates General Manager, Jawad Yatim. Or at least one of his jobs, since he is also the owner, president and Director of Player Personnel.
He sees himself and the way he works as pretty conventional, but judging from last season's 11-5 record (The best record in the National Arena League regular season), or the fascinating players he managed to bring to Worcester, "pretty conventional" is definitely working.
"I am always doing my homework, my research", he says. "I always know who is available in the market, who is a free agent. I check the NFL and I check other leagues as well, all the time and if I see someone I like, I try to figure out if we can bring him on the team and how," Yatim said.
He has an endless list of names and of course, some of those names receive priority over the others. What Yatim does not have is a scouting department. "It is just me and my phone" – A one man show and that man has to find quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, offensive and defensive linemen, defensive backs and special teams players and that is just so he can have a team on the field. "Yes, it is nothing like the NFL", he says.
So how can one person do it? How can you operate a full scouting department from your phone? The secret is in social media. Yatim says he uses his social media accounts, mainly his Instagram, to send direct messages to players he wishes to see on the team. "Every player today has at the very least one account, so I am trying to connect with them if I am interested."
He sends them a nice explanation, about the organization, the franchise, its goals and culture, the city and how they can benefit from becoming part of the Pirates. This should not come as a surprise to anyone, but the success ratio is not always great: "If I send 250 messages, I tend to get 35-40 responses. It's a grind. It is hard work, every day, but you know what they say – It only takes one."
And once that one answers with a "yes", after all you have been through in order to get him to join the team, you are more than happy to take it. That is also where one of Yatim's other responsibilities, getting his new players used to the arena game, kicks in: "I am thrilled with every player we were able to bring here."
He sent McCluster a message on Instagram and waited. Some of the players in the Pirates roster have known McCluster well from his Kansas City Chiefs days, where he was one of the best young players in the NFL. Yatim wrote to him, telling McCluster, who recently left the Canadian Football League, how he can become a big star if he joins the Pirates: "Dexter is a very modest and humble guy. He just wants to play football. He is a special player and a great opportunity was created here for our team, so we took it of course. We just want to make it comfortable for him", says Yatim.
Sometimes Yatim uses a different approach. For many years, he himself played as a quarterback and got to know everyone in the arena leagues. He recruited for the Pirates ex-teammates and ex-rivals and he is constantly working on expanding his network, so he won't miss any available quality players: "Before we started the team, I read about every prospect from the previous four NFL drafts and tried to find those who were not selected and do not have a team", he recalls. "I also checked who got cut from the rookie camps. My list was so big at one point."
With transactions happening almost every week, the work never stops and the Pirates know that if they want to make their big dreams come true, the roster needs to the best possible. So if you are a good free agent, make sure you check your DMs. There might be an interesting message with a great opportunity waiting for you there.
The Massachusetts Pirates are members of the National Arena League (NAL). The Pirates play all home games at the DCU Center located at 50 Foster St. Worcester, MA. 01608. For more information on the Massachusetts Pirates please call (508) 452-MASS (6277), email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.masspiratesfootball.com. Single game tickets are available online at ticketmaster.com or the DCU Center Box Office. For group outings please call 508-452-MASS (6277). Follow the Pirates on Facebook at Facebook.com/MAPirates on Instagram @mass.pirates, as well as Twitter @mass_pirates.