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Fred Jackson finds new foothold in American Flag Football League

Fred Jackson has found the perfect way to turn back the clock.

The beloved former Buffalo Bills running back is showing off his old moves in the American Flag Football League, a newly-formed, 7-on-7 league that channels the playground style of the game kids grow up playing.

The AFFL has given Jackson an opportunity to feed his competitive side, something he's craved since he last played in the NFL in 2015.

"I'm self-admittedly a competition junkie," the 37-year-old back said. "Whenever something like this presents itself, when I can get out there and get the juices flowing and compete at a pretty high level, that's something I want to do."

The AFFL consists of four professional teams — Ocho, Godspeed, Roadrunners and Holdat — vying for a chance at a league title and a million dollar prize. The rosters feature familiar names like Michael Vick, former Giant Steve Smith, Jimmy Clausen and former NBA players Nate Robinson, Carlos Boozer and Matt Barnes.

The winner of the four-team professional playoff faces one last challenge in their quest for a title. Standing in their way is the winner of the amateur division, which features players with less of a pedigree but often more experience playing flag football. The two divisional champions will face off in AFFL Ultimate Final, hosted in Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium, later this month.

Jackson is on Ocho, a squad named after its captain, former NFL wide receiver Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson ("He's still that same guy that loves to talk," Jackson said). They still have a chance at the million dollars, thanks largely to the work of Jackson last week.

Jackson scored two touchdowns in last Saturday's semifinal in suburban Atlanta, leading the way for Ocho in a 25-13 victory against the Roadrunners. His first came on a perfect slant pattern, while the second, which sealed the victory, demonstrated his elusiveness. He caught a pass in traffic at the 23-yard line, then navigated his way through multiple defenders and into the end zone.

The victory earned Ocho a date in Saturday night's Dual Finals in Indianapolis. They'll face Godspeed, captained by former track star Michael Johnson and quarterbacked by Seneca Wallace.

"They've got a lot of guys over there with speed," Jackson said. "A lot of shifty guys."

The winner of this week's matchup will face the winner of a matchup between The Money Team and Fighting Cancer in the league's main event on July 19.

"To be able to say you were a champion in this league is something I'd be proud of," Jackson said. "It's going to take a lot. We're looking forward to that challenge."

Jackson stumbled upon the AFFL somewhat by accident. He saw an advertisement for the league, compelling him to contact former Seattle Seahawks running back Justin Forsett to see how he enjoyed playing in the AFFL last season. After hearing positive reviews from Forsett, Jackson contacted the league to get involved.

"When the opportunity presented itself, I was quick to jump on it," Jackson said. "We get to play with a ton of guys that have played football and played well, some Pro Bowlers on both sides. Anytime you get out there, you know it's going to be competitive."

He ramped up his training to get in game shape, but perhaps his biggest adjustment was a mental one: Sometimes you get a bit carried away playing flag football when you're used to the bruising nature of pro football.

"My first catch of the first game I ever played in I got a penalty because I attempted to stiff-arm somebody," Jackson said with a laugh. "It's something different. You have to train your mind and your body."

He also has to play on both sides of the ball, serving as a middle linebacker on the defensive unit. Helping in that adjustment is his experience breaking down those units during game preparation.

"Just talking to some of the guys that are primarily defensive players on our team, when they say what you're responsible for in a Cover 2 or a Cover 3, it was all stuff that I knew from going against Cover 2 and 3 defenses," Jackson said. "It was easy for me to pick that up and translate it to the field."

Jackson sees a big future for the league, especially since it's already getting decent exposure due to a television deal with NFL Network. He said multiple former Bills teammates have reached out to him about his experience, including Aaron Williams, Terrence McGee and Bryan Scott.

"I think it's going to blow up," Jackson said. "It's a lot of fun to watch. Even when I wasn't competing, just coming the next day to watch, you see them flying around."

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