Channing Stribling helping to lead surging Stars in USFL

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You don’t get to be a league leader in anything without doing your homework.

Philadelphia Stars cornerback Channing Stribling, whose seven interceptions are tops in the USFL entering Saturday’s regular season finale, makes sure he does his. In the film room, he’ll hone in on a handful of plays that the Stars’ opponents like to run in certain situations.

But on game day, the learning is in real-time, as his watchful eyes spot plays he hadn’t picked out in the days before.

“People ask me why do I ‘press bail’ or play a certain technique, and they think I either can’t press or something like that – no, I just like watching the game and seeing what happens,” Stribling explained to NBC Sports this week.

“A lot of the routes that I’ve had interceptions on – I’ve seen them, during the course of the game, happen on the other side. I’m like, ‘Alright, when it comes to this side, I’ll be able to play this way and that way.’”

Stribling’s hunches have proven correct more often than not. His big-play abilities landed him on the All-USFL Team, and his seven picks are nearly a third of the Stars’ league-leading 22 takeaways this season.

13 of those 22 takeaways have come during the Stars’ four-game winning streak, which they’ll put on the line Saturday against the New Jersey Generals – themselves on a eight-game winning streak.

USFL Week 10 – Philadelphia Stars (6-3) vs. New Jersey Generals (8-1)

  • When: Saturday, Noon ET on USA Network
  • Where: Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama
  • Stream: NBCSports.com

The Stars and Generals will face each other again next Saturday, June 25, at the USFL Playoffs in Canton, Ohio. That same day, the Birmingham Stallions and New Orleans Breakers will meet in the other semifinal. The winners will square off in the Championship game July 3.

Stribling believes this may be the first time he’s ever faced the same opponent in a regular season finale and in a post-season game the following week. But he and the Stars aren’t letting their mind wander to the second contest – the one with much higher stakes.

“I think what we’ve been doing a great job of in our games is just making sure that we’re taking each game step-by-step, lock into the game plan,” he said. “We don’t really worry about the outside factors – championships and stuff like that. We just focus on playing ball and if we do that each game that we play, we’re gonna be successful.

“Our emphasis has been that – lock into just football and whatever’s in front of you right now, you know?”

RELATED: How to watch 2022 USFL Playoffs: Dates, location, matchups, TV schedule, live stream info

For much of Stribling’s life, whatever’s in front of him has constantly changed.

His mother, Sonja, and father, Dennis, both served in the Army for many years. Military life can often mean going from one place to the next and that was the case for the Striblings.

A 2016 piece from the Detroit Free Press noted that Channing Stribling lived in nine different places with eight moves during his first 18 years. But he largely took it in stride.

While he’s admittedly a shy person, Stribling says he didn’t have much trouble making friends wherever he went. Part of that was because he was constantly involved in sports from a young age.

First, it was basketball. But then came football.

“I started playing football probably in the first or second grade,” he said. “I don’t know what age I was, but that was my first time playing. I don’t remember too much about it. I just know that I played it and it was fun. Once I started getting older, I started playing in Pop Warner leagues and stuff.

“… I was playing basketball and I think after that – I think the parents wanted their kid to be a little more busy, so they put me in football, too. From then on, from that point, I think I’ve played sports every season.”

RELATED: USFL selects 25 players to be part of inaugural 2022 All-USFL team

The moves finally came to an end in North Carolina, where Stribling became an All-State player at Butler High School (Matthews, N.C.). From there, he went on to play at the University of Michigan (2013-16). In his 2016 senior season, he earned All-Big Ten second-team honors while holding his own on a defense that included All-Americans Jourdan Lewis (now a Dallas Cowboy) and Jabrill Peppers (now a New England Patriot).

But his pro career has had more twists and turns. Stribling spent time with the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts (twice), San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers over 2017 and 2018, but never played in an NFL game.

Since then, he’s carried on in the alternative leagues: The ill-fated AAF (Memphis Express, 2019) and XFL (Seattle Dragons, 2020), plus the Canadian Football League (Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 2019 & 2021).

Last but not least, there’s The Spring League, where Stribling and well over a dozen future Stars played under head coach Bart Andrus. The group earned a TSL championship in 2020, with Stribling chipping in two interceptions in the title game – one of which he ran back for a touchdown.

While Stribling was in Canada last year, he found out about the USFL with the help of his girlfriend.

“At the time, I wasn’t really thinking about it or had seen anything,” he said. “But once she put that in my head, that’s when I started thinking about what’s going on and started paying attention.

“I noticed (the USFL) was kind of like The Spring League making a bigger jump, so I’m like, ‘OK, (Andrus) is gonna be back. I’m probably gonna be with whatever team he coaches depending on how they do the Draft.’”

Sure enough, Andrus took him in the eighth round as he fortified the Stars with his old players. And since then, Stribling has become the league’s top ball hawk.

Will he claim another championship on 4th of July weekend? Will the NFL give him another look?

We’ll find out soon enough. But no matter what, Stribling will approach things – his preparation, his games, his craft – with the same relentlessness and determination to stay the course that was instilled in him by his parents.

“Watching from the outside in, seeing everything they’ve been through, everything they’ve kind of sacrificed – for me, it made me think about, ‘If they can do that, give their life toward serving an entire country, I can give my last 10% of energy towards football,'” he said.

“That’s not a lot compared to what they’re doing.”

First and 10 with Channing Stribling

10 quick questions to get to know the new talent of the USFL

Pre-game ritual?

“For me, I think the main thing is I can’t be uptight. I can’t be rah-rah or serious. That’s just not me. I have to be laughing. I think it was the first game – that was the first time I was uptight, and I had to go on TikTok and Twitter and watch funny videos. I went on Hulu and watched Martin. I love Martin. I watched a whole episode and was just laughing, so it kind of helped me just stay loose. I’ll probably just say that – just making sure I’m not uptight or too locked in.”

Post-game ritual?

“The main part is – we call it ‘chopping.’ Talking, basically, go somewhere and eating and talking. Just kind of reflecting on not just football, but life in general. It starts off with football: How the game went, where I could’ve done better, what went well, what didn’t go well. Then you think about the future, in football and past football. Really, just chopping – I can’t just go home and go to sleep. I have to just talk about the game and stuff.”

Favorite food?

“I love pizza. I haven’t had it in a while, just because I’ve had to slow down on fast food. It’s not really working, but post-game for sure, if I had to choose one, it’d be pizza. Or Zaxby’s.”

Favorite football player?

“I’d say Richard Sherman, for sure. I modeled my game after him a little bit.”

Favorite movie?

“I’ve got three – The Wood, Space Jam and The Sixth Man.”

Favorite vacation spot?

“Hawaii. I used to live in Hawaii, and it was beautiful. If I get any vacation time, that’d be the spot for sure.”

Most famous person you’ve met outside of football?

“I haven’t really met a lot of people who are famous. I try to keep to myself, really. … Oh, I met Sinbad! I met Sinbad when I was in Germany. My parents had a basketball game and he did the halftime routine while I was shooting baskets. I was young, so I was shooting ball and I didn’t know who he was. I recognized his face as I got older and started seeing him and was like, ‘OK, was that the guy in Germany at our halftime game?’”

How would your family and friends describe you as a person?

“I’d say honest. Funny. Goofy. Passionate. Hard-working.”

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?

“(I’m) over-analytical. I wish I wasn’t that way. It’s a gift and a curse. In football, it helps a lot. But in certain situations, I’ll think past what it really is versus what it could be.”

Name one thing about yourself that not everybody knows about you.

“I think everybody knows a lot about me. (Laughs) I don’t know. I’m pretty much an open book. I don’t think I have anything people don’t already know about me.”

2022 USFL Week 10 Schedule

Saturday, June 18

Sunday, June 19

Control what you can control: How journey through the fire led Generals RB Darius Victor to the USFL

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“Life feels good when you’re winning,” says one of the men responsible for the Generals’ success last season, running back Darius Victor. “I’m playing the game I love, my team is winning games, and that’s all a man can ask for.”

Victor was named the USFL’s Offensive Player of the Year after leading the league with nine rushing touchdowns, ranking third in rushing yards (577), and fourth in yards per game (57.7). At 5’8″ and 209 pounds, with 30-inch quads (yes, you read that right…30 inches), the Generals RB is a wrecking ball on the field.

“Thick thighs save lives,” Victor recalls as he laughs about the Week 5 game-winning play. “I had to put them to use and push him [Perez] over to the endzone.”

With his light-hearted demeanor and self-described goofball personality, it would be hard to fathom the hell Darius Victor has walked through to get to where he is today.

“I’m not even supposed to be here”

Victor, who is one of seven children (4 brothers, and 2 sisters), was born in 1994 in a refugee camp in Africa’s Ivory Coast after his parents, Gary and Patricia, fled the first Liberian Civil War.

“Have you ever seen the movie Blood Diamond?” Victor asks, “That’s the type of environment I was born into.”

Victor and his family literally ran for their lives, hiding and sleeping in bushes for safety when their country was being torn apart by violence and bloodshed. Nearly 250,000 people — men, women, and children — lost their lives in Liberia’s civil war.

“I was too young to remember what happened at the time,” Victor told NBC Sports. “But from the stories my parents have told me about what we were running away from, I’m not even supposed to be here.”

The Victor family moved to the U.S. in 1999 and lived in Manassas, Virginia before moving to Hyattsville, Maryland, in 2002. After leaving everything behind, Gary and Patrica worked tirelessly to provide for their family and while their parents were out just trying to make ends meet, all seven of the Victor siblings Velma, Earl, Kevin, Darius, Leon, Shaka, and Nicole — looked out for one another. Helping with homework, making sure everyone was fed, and involved in activities. For Kevin and Darius in particular, that activity was football.

Sibling Rivalry

“My older brother Kevin was my role model growing up,” Victor recalls. “I used to go with him to football practice and he was pretty good. He was a Boys and Girls Club legend. I had to compete with him in everything and I wanted to be better than him in everything that I did. So I started playing football and tried really hard to be better than him. Having that role model to follow is what really gave me a love for the game.”

The duo, four years apart in age, went on to play football at Northwestern High School, sharpening each other with their competitive nature both on and off the field. But everything changed in December 2011, when Kevin was tragically shot and killed walking home from the local community center after playing basketball with friends — just one block away from his family’s apartment.

“Losing a child and a sibling is crazy,” Victor said. “It was tough but it made us even closer as a family. It made me go even harder because Kevin was always the tough one on me. When we were kids I would always cry on the football field if something didn’t go my way and Kevin would straighten me out.”

“His passing has given me a mindset of toughness and resiliency. I’m always thinking about him and trying to live up to the level of confidence that he had in me.”

In October, just 10 months after Kevin’s passing, Darius was in the midst of a breakout senior season when the Victor family’s apartment burned down.

“The toughest part wasn’t even losing our stuff but it was seeing my Mom and Dad cry again. That was so tough on me.” Darius recalls. “At that point in my life, I had to decide to never question God, believe that everything happens for a reason, and control what I could control.”

Towson Tough

With family at the forefront of his mind, Victor decided to play football at Towson University, where he earned a scholarship, roughly 45 minutes away from his hometown. He earned First-Team All-CAA honors in 2014, rushing for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns on 250 carries, but says he also a learned new level of toughness from his coaches and teammates that he still keeps in contact with today.

“Coach Reno Ferri really believed in me and that gave me so much confidence,” Victor said. “But there are so many guys there that really spoke into my life including my teammates FB Dreon Johnson, RB Terrance West, and coaches Rob and Jared Ambrose.”

Stay Ready

Victor, who only played in 4 games during his senior year of college due to a toe injury, went undrafted after graduating from Towson in 2017 but had several opportunities with NFL teams. Victor received an invite to the New York Jets rookie minicamp, the New Orleans Saints training camp, and even landed a spot on the Arizona Cardinals practice squad but unfortunately, those opportunities didn’t end the way he wanted them to.

However, the Hyattsville native didn’t let that discourage him.

“I’ve been through so much in life that I’ve grasped the concept of controlling what you control,” the 28-year-old said. “One of my mottos is to stay ready so you don’t have to get ready so doing that and just trusting God made me available mentally and physically for the next opportunity.”

For Victor, that meant showing up to train long hours after working a 9-5 job every day as a Sales Operations Manager at Penske and staying consistent no matter what — even when the CFL signed and cut him a day before he was supposed to leave for Canada (2019) and when the XFL season came to a sudden halt in the midst of a global pandemic (2020).

But when the USFL finally called, selecting him in the 6th round of the Supplemental Draft, he was ready. Victor says his love for his family and his faith in God is what fueled him during the hard times in life.

“Knowing all that my family has been through and the fact that we’re not even supposed to be here, every day I get is a blessing and I just want to make them proud. They are my why, ” says Victor, who is often spotted wearing merchandise with the phrase “Keep God 1st” on his clothing.

“I don’t care if you are a millionaire or dirt poor…life is going to life, but if you put God first everything will work itself out and that’s how I live my life.”

First and 10 with Darius Victor

To what do you attribute the New Jersey Generals’ early success?

“We have great coaching and great leadership. The team is very close and we hold each other accountable because we all have the same goal. We’ve all been through similar experiences. I’m pretty sure I’ve talked to 30 or 38 players who’ve been cut multiple times too and that creates a bond.”

“Also, we have a little chip on our shoulder because in preseason we were projected to finish last in the league due to our ‘talent level’, so shout out to whoever released those preseason polls because it made us hungry.”

If someone were to be a fly on the wall in the locker room, what’s one thing that they’d be surprised to find out about the New Jersey Generals?

“After a win, we do a ‘hip, hip hooray’ chant. Coach Riley goes ‘hip hip’ and the rest of the team goes ‘hooray’. It’s the greatest thing ever.”

What’s your role on the team?

“I’m one of the older guys on the team so I consider myself to be one of the leaders and the ‘special teams captain’. Coach always jokes around and says I’m the heart and soul of the team. I just want to do everything I can to make this team successful.”

How would you describe your style as a running back?

“I think I’m pretty balanced but the thing that separates me the most is my physicality. I don’t think a lot of human beings can run the football like me. If you just watch the tape or just watch the football games, that’s how I stand out.”

Pre-game hype song?

“I have to listen to the song “I’m a dog” by Gucci Mane that puts me in my zone.

Gameday superstitions?

“I have a superman Jesus cut-off shirt that I wear under my pads every game. I wouldn’t really call it a superstition but I wouldn’t feel right without it.”

What’s one thing about yourself that not everyone knows?

“I’m addicted to Candy Crush. I’m on level 4,650.”

Favorite Football player?

John Johnson, he’s the starting safety for the Cleveland Browns and also my best friend”.

Favorite Movie?

“Oh, Forest Gump. Easy.”

Favorite pair of kicks?

“Jordan 1s, I can’t pick one specific pair.”

Just Keep Going: Stallions RB CJ Marable makes a policy of perseverance

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RB CJ Marable was instrumental in helping the Birmingham Stallions become the inaugural USFL champions in 2022. Marable who was named the USFL Week 5 Offensive Player of the Week, was Birmingham’s leading rusher finishing the season with 401 rushing yards and 5 rushing touchdowns.

While his highlight reel was, quite literally, on display this past season, his journey to playing professional football has been far from easy.

A Dream is Born

Torrance Marable Jr., who goes by the nickname CJ, laced up his first set of football pads at the age of 5. Some of his earliest memories include tossing the ball outside with his father, Torrance Marable Sr., who doubled as his all-time quarterback in outdoor pickup games. It was in his hometown backyard in Decatur, Georgia that the elder Marable told his son he was capable of taking it to the next level, instilling in him a new passion for the game.

“He just looked at me one day and said, man, you’ve got it,” CJ recalls. “Just stay focused, stay consistent, and the sky is the limit. And that confirmed everything for me. I fell in love with the game and believed I could be whatever I wanted to be because my Dad said it.”

Marable, a two-star recruit coming out of Towers High School, initially signed with Arkansas State as a grayshirt, but in the weeks leading up to his expected start date, he says the communication with the school just stopped, unexpectedly. Arkansas State wasn’t returning his calls and when they finally called him back, they no longer had a place for him on the team.

Pivoting along the Path

Wanting to keep his football dreams alive, Marable pivoted his focus to playing at the junior college level. But a last-minute offer to play at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina — with a full scholarship — was one he couldn’t refuse. Marable’s 2017 freshman season was explosive: the Georgia native started all 11 games and led the Big South with 1,038 rushing yards only to find out that the school was pulling back on its football team and would become a non-scholarship program by 2020.

With his dreams once again the line, it was a familiar time for Marable – time to pivot. He transferred to Coastal Carolina, a place he says shaped him into a better person on and off the field.

“We had this acronym B.A.M., which stood for Be a Man,” Marable told NBC Sports. “Coach Jamey Chadwell taught us to be accountable for whatever we do and to stand on our own two feet. He told us that if you quit on football and can’t go through the hard times here, then there’s no way that you’ll be able to deal with the hard times in life.”

Deferred but not Denied

Marable finished his collegiate career with a streak of 32 straight games with at least one reception. In his three years at Coastal Carolina (2018-2020), he rushed for 2,691 yards with 41 total touchdowns, assembling impressive enough stats and film to sign as an undrafted free agent contract with the Chicago Bears in 2021. But once again, things didn’t go as planned and Marable was released before the start of the regular season.

“I wasn’t comfortable where I was because I felt like I should have been drafted,” he said. “I felt like I had a point to prove. I did what I was supposed to do but it just wasn’t in my favor at the time. I never wanted to question God so I just had to stay consistent, stay focused, and continue to grind to get to where I wanted to be.”

It was in this period, dialed in on training and staying pro-ready with tunnel vision focus, that he heard about the USFL, not just once but on three separate occasions. First, the idea came from his manager, who he calls “Hood”, who thought it would be a good opportunity for the running back. His trainer for the NFL combine agreed. But Marable brushed the idea off both times, wanting to stay focused on that potential NFL opportunity. It wasn’t until his girlfriend’s father brought it up again that Marable took it as a sign to do his own research and take the USFL seriously as a path forward in professional football.

Just Keep Going

Looking back, Marable credits his strong support system, specifically his Mother, Sabrina Sims, for helping him stay positive in periods of disappointment and uncertainty.  “She reminded me that every storm I’ve been in, I’ve got out of.”

“Life is going to hit you,” the 25-year-old said. “Nothing is going to go as planned but never give up. If I could go back in time and give my younger self advice it would be these two simple words: keep going. God’s got you, never give up.”

Leading by Example

Marable, who welcomed a baby boy in March with girlfriend Bayley Randall, says he wants to instill that lesson in his son Trae (Torrance Christopher Marable III).

“When he grows up I want to be that example and show him that Dad never gave up. Even though I failed at times the difference between me and anybody else is that I just never gave up.”

The Stallions running back is currently working towards a Master’s degree in Sports Psychology. He wants to help other athletes develop when his football career is over — which, at the rate he’s playing, doesn’t look like it’ll be anytime soon.

First and 10 with CJ Marable

Pregame ritual?

“I love to listen to music, my favorite artist is Future so that’s all I play. But my go-to hype-up album is “Thug Motivation” by Young Jeezy.

What is your role on the team?

To get the offense rolling. My strengths include blocking the ball out the backfield, my vision, and my speed.

To what do you attribute the Birmingham Stallions’ early success?

“I’m really impressed with how well we get along with each other. We laugh with each other. We joke with each other. We are a family. We spend our off days and downtime together. The offensive linemen and the running backs go out to eat every Thursday or Friday depending on the week.”

“Honestly, it feels great when everything you work for is paying off. But in the back of our minds, we know that we have to stay consistent. We have a bullseye on our chest. Everybody wants to beat the Birmingham Stallions.”

What is it like being the only USFL team to play in front of a home crowd?

“I feel like the fans are really coming out there and doing their job and it’s helped us a lot, especially on third downs you can just hear them yelling ‘defense, defense’. We’re the first professional football team for Alabama so it feels great to be able to just go out there and put on for the city of Birmingham.”

Favorite Running Back?

Reggie Bush. When I was at Carolina, we played against BYU on “College GameDay”, and I had a great game. Later during the week, I got interviewed by Reggie Bush so that was a cool experience.”

Favorite Food?

“Wings. All flats.”

Favorite Movie?

“Friday”

Favorite Vacation Spot?

Hawaii

How would your family and friends describe you as a person?

“I’m a driven person and I won’t let anything stop me from getting to where I want to be in life. I’m also funny and outgoing.

Name one thing about yourself that not everybody knows about you.

“I enjoy fishing.”

RELATED: Control what you can control – How journey through the fire led Generals RB Darius Victor to the USFL