Arizona Rattlers wide receiver Braxton Haley has dreamed of playing professional football since he was five years old.
The second-year Indoor Football League player grew up in Athens, Georgia, and played collegiate football at Dodge City Community College, Notre Dame College and Illinois State University.
After he graduated from Illinois State in 2020, Haley was looking for any opportunity to continue his football career. I have found one in Arizona.
“I graduated college back in COVID,” Haley told The Republic on Thursday. “I was at home for a year working, working out. And my agent called me and was like, ‘Do you still wanna play football?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘Do you want to go to Arizona and play?’ I had to think about it for a couple hours and then called him back and said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’”
Haley said he and his father drove out to Phoenix from Athens to make his professional football dream a reality. But Haley wants to take his talents from him one step further to the NFL, and he thinks the IFL can help him get there.
“This is a developmental league,” Haley said. “I’ve definitely improved my skill set over the past few years being here. And just playing football, practicing every day, that helps you grow… If you do something every day, it helps you.”
Haley said he’s looking for new representation to connect him with NFL coaches, but he’s doing additional training outside of Rattlers’ practices and sending highlight tapes to coaches.
The 25-year-old has 17 receiving touchdowns in 2022, leading the Rattlers. He is one of two offensive players, the other being quarterback Drew Powell, to appear in all 15 games this season.
Rattlers head coach Kevin Guy has seen Haley’s improvement over the past two years, both mentally and physically. While Haley was immature at times in his first year in Phoenix, Guy said, he’s now developed the mindset of a professional player.
“He’s been developing as the season goes on, as a second year,” Guy said. “He really kind of came out of the closet this year, developing into a better player. He’s taken a lot more seriously than he did his rookie year. He’s learned how to be a pro.”
But Guy said even though Haley has the talent to make it to the NFL, there are outside factors that go into breaking into the league.
“It all depends on the situation,” Guy said. “Right place, right time, and what that team is looking for. You know, he’s a heck of an athlete and I’d like to see him get a shot.”
Haley and the Rattlers (12-3) play their final regular-season game at the Footprint Center on Sunday at 3 pm against the Vegas Knight Hawks (6-9). The Rattlers have already clinched a spot in the Western Conference Playoffs and can host the first two games at the Footprint Center with a Sunday victory.
On July 2, the Rattlers beat the Northern Arizona Wranglers, 40-28, to reclaim the Western Conference lead. The Wranglers can still clinch the top seed of the playoffs if they win their final two games and the Rattlers lose on Sunday.
But Arizona wants to be in charge of its own destiny.
“It’s a good position to be in, for sure,” Haley said. “I just want to finish well, I want to finish the season on a good note, get this win and get ready for the playoffs.”