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Former Force WR making impact with NFL franchise

FLOWERY BRANCH - When the Arena Football League suspended play, Troy Bergeron was afraid that his football journey might be coming to an end.

"My goal was always to make the NFL. That was my dream," the former Georgia Force star said. "As long as there was the AFL, I had something to fall back on. It was a way to make money and keep going.

"When it folded so close to the season, it was hard on me. It was scary. I didn't know my future. I thought everything might be over."

As it turned out, though, things may finally just be getting started for the wide receiver. At long last, he appears to have a real chance at making an NFL roster.

Bergeron, 25, impressed the Atlanta Falcons coaching staff in mini-camp last spring and has done the same in the early days of training camp. A strong showing in preseason games and the Columbus resident may not have to worry about the AFL's looming demise.

"I'm lucky to have this opportunity with the Falcons," Bergeron said. "I just have to give my all out here and hopefully I can make the team. I wanted another shot and now I've got it."

Bergeron, who never played in a college game, has definitely traveled a winding road in pursuit of his football quest and it appeared that it had hit a dead end more than once.

Because of his success in indoor football, Bergeron got his first chance with the Falcons in 2006. But he was cut at the end of training camp by Atlanta and his only other NFL opportunity had been a few weeks on the Buffalo practice squad late that year.

Bergeron was a standout right from the beginning in the AFL, though. He was rookie of the year while playing for the Force in 2005 and also had outstanding seasons with the team in 2007 and 2008.

With the Force, Bergeron had 328 catches for 4,335 yards and 96 touchdowns. He also 1,416 more yards in kickoff returns.

When the AFL pulled the plug only months before the 2009 season was to start, Bergeron had no place to showcase himself properly indoors in hopes of another outdoor opportunity. Plus, he had no real paycheck to keep him going.

All that was left was to keep in shape by playing a few games for his hometown Columbus Lions in the lower-tier American Indoor Football Association. That almost proved to be an opportunity killer.

The Falcons signed Bergeron for a mini-camp look, but then quickly released him when he tweaked a hamstring during a AIFA game with Columbus.

"It definitely was a bad week," Bergeron said.

Once Bergeron was better, however, the Falcons signed him again, and he turned heads in mini-camp and later at workouts. No longer is he a prohibitive longshot to make an NFL roster for the first time.

Bergeron may even be the favorite to make the team as the Falcons' fifth wide receiver and special-teams performer. He has the speed, the hands and the toughness needed.

Bergeron will get plenty of looks in a variety of roles starting Friday night, when the Falcons hold a scrimmage at Brookwood High School. Catching passes isn't the only thing that will determine his fate. He must also show his value on the coverage and return teams.

"If he makes the team, he'll probably get more snaps on special teams than at wide receiver," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "... We have to find backups (to return punts and kickoffs) and Troy would definitely be one we'd look at because he has very good speed."

That speed coupled with good hands made Bergeron a star in the indoor game. But he still has plenty to learn as he tries to become an NFL receiver.

"It's definitely a different game, with the motion and everything," Bergeron said. "The big thing is the coverages. You only have a couple of coverages in the AFL. In the NFL, you have a bunch of different coverages where you have to adjust your route while the play is going on. That is the hardest part for me."

Although he played in every preseason game in 2006 with the Falcons, he didn't catch a pass. That can't happen again if he is going to make the team this time.

"I didn't get too many balls thrown to me and I didn't get any of the few that were," Bergeron said. "That's what killed me. I played well on special teams. I had four or five tackles on kickoffs.

"It didn't go my way last time. I know I have to make more catches this time and also keep doing well on special teams. You only get so many chances. I determined to make this one pay off."

SideBar: Atlanta Falcons

· What: Friday Night Lights scrimmage

· When: Friday, 6 p.m.

· Where: Brookwood High School