Maurice Douse thought football was over for him when his playing days ended at Ohio State.

Maurice Douse thought football was over for him when his playing days ended at Ohio State.

The 6-foot, 210-pound running back moved from New York in 2003 as a junior college player hoping to get a shot with the Buckeyes. When it didn't work out, Douse turned his attention to academics and gave up on football.

Things changed six years ago when a friend told him about the Columbus Fire, a minor-league football team based on the east side.

"I was actually out of football," said Douse, who lives in Pickerington. "I was just focused on going to school and wasn't worried about football anymore. Once I got out there, I met (team co-owners Jimmy Moore and King Drafton) and they gave me a new lease on life in football."

Douse's story isn't uncommon among former football players who suddenly find themselves one of the 99 percent that never make it to the NFL.

For those who still have football inside of them, there are six minor league teams playing this summer in central Ohio. Along with the Columbus Fire, there's the Central Ohio Spartans, the Columbus Gladiators, the Columbus Marauders, the Columbus War Eagles and the Mid-Ohio Jets.

The Fire are the only AAA team in that group. Some teams like the Jets are a highly competitive AA team. Others aren't as competitive. Some teams have players who value the recreation more than winning.

With such a broad range in the spectrum of skill level, there's bound to be a team for an interested athlete.

"Not all of them are competitive," Jets owner Same Hussein said. "You can go play for a team that's going to be competitive and be very good. The downside is you might not play as much. Or you can go to a team that might not be as good, but you can play both ways."

The Jets typically are a two-platoon team, although there is some overlap between offense and defense for exceptional players. Players and coaches for the Fire make it clear that it isn't sandlot football.

"Here you experience playing against Division II up to Division I and arena league players," said Clinton Wallace, an Eastside resident who is part owner of the Fire. "If you're just starting off, I don't think this would be the right place for you to come. This is the highest level (of minor league football) you can go."

A big difference between a team like the Fire and other semipro teams in the Columbus area is their start date.

The Fire opened their season last Saturday at Reynoldsburg against the Indianapolis Tornados, a fellow Mid-Continental Football League team.

The Jets, Spartans and War Eagles started their seasons in May. Those three teams belong to the Heartland Football League.

The Gladiators, who played their first game June 5, belong to the Gridiron Developmental Football League. The Marauders, a team of EMT personnel, firefighters and police officers, belong to the National Public Safety Football League. They started playing in March.

By starting later, the Fire get stronger commitments from Continental Indoor Football League players, who are paid in that league. Those players have a chance to play a full season with the Fire. The CIFL championship game was last Saturday.

"(The Jets) play too early," said Jimmy Moore, a coach and co-owner. "We have a lot of guys that play indoor football, too. You have to give them the opportunity to go somewhere else and play."

But with the more elite roster and a more competitive league comes increased costs. To keep games competitive, the Fire play in a league with other AAA teams from Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Getting rated by the American Football Association isn't an exact science. Voters take into account the number of Division I college players on a team's roster as well as the quality of the other teams in the league. The Jets won the AA national championship last year and the Fire were runners-up in AAA.

Douse considers the two teams rivals, but they never have played.

One reason is the Jets have an entirely different pool of players. The Fire have been around since 1997 and have earned a reputation for their high level of play. Some of their players have been through NFL training camps. Many are trying to be like Darnell Dinkins, who played semipro for a team in Pittsburgh before earning a Super Bowl ring as a tight end for the New Orleans Saints.

"Once we got locked into the MCFL, the talent started to come this way," Moore said. "We get submissions every day (through the team Web site). Some voluntarily turn themselves away once they see the competition."

The Jets are in their fourth year as a team and play home games at Grove City Christian. They play more of an Ohio-based schedule with occasional trips to West Virginia. The Spartans, who practice in Westerville, are in their second year. Despite the other teams, there was little apprehension that the Spartans would find enough players.

"Everybody loves football," Spartans coach Rod Allen said. "The amount of talent that's down here there's so many high schools and there's so many colleges. There are a lot of players that want to play."