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Day Break

His Shot in XFL Delayed by Groin Injury

February 04, 2001|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Donnell Day longs to kick the door open on his pro football career, but his body won't cooperate.

"It's getting a little frustrating," Day said.

Day, a former Cal State Northridge cornerback, is trying to stick with the Los Angeles Xtreme of the XFL, the mayhem-promoting enterprise that league officials hope picks up where Oakland Raider fans leave off.

The Xtreme, one of eight teams in the league, opens against the San Francisco Demons today at 1 p.m. at Pac Bell Park in a game to be televised on Channel 13.

But Day won't be there. He's nursing a pesky groin pull that first popped up at training camp with the Raiders last summer, effectively derailing his chance to make the club. A recent relapse threatens his stay with the Xtreme.

"We'll make a decision on his future with the team when he comes off [the injured list]," Coach Al Luginbill said.

That should be in about a week, and Day is growing anxious. He bided his time this week at the Xtreme's practice facility at Long Beach City College, watching everyone else prepare for the Demons. In his mind, the injury is not that serious, at least not enough to keep him off the field.

"I can play on it," Day said. "When it happened with the Raiders I couldn't run at all. . . . I kept going out there because in the NFL you don't want to give up, so it just kept getting worse and worse."

Day, 5 feet 9 and a chiseled 180 pounds with only 3% body fat, played well in scrimmages before hurting the groin.

"He has speed, quickness and good reaction, all the basic tools," Luginbill said. "He's a raw, very competitive, very talented guy who needs time to mature [as a player]."

The chatty Day, never at a loss for words, started to grow as a player at San Diego Morse High, Mesa College and Northridge.

Day, 24, joined the Matadors as a sophomore in 1996 and started at cornerback the next two years. He was an All-Big Sky Conference selection as a senior in 1998 after making 32 tackles and tying for the team lead with three interceptions, and became the first Matador to play in the Hula Bowl.

He returned from Hawaii for a tryout with NFL scouts and ran 4.4 over 40 yards, piquing the interest of the Raiders.

"That was a big turning point for him," said Ron Ponciano, Northridge's former coach. "There had been some questions about his speed."

Day spent training camp with the Raiders in 1999 and made six tackles against San Francisco in an exhibition game, but didn't survive the final cut. He considered playing last spring and summer in NFL Europe with the Amsterdam Admirals, coached by Luginbill, but the Raiders asked him to stay and learn their system.

"The big key for Donnell was that the Raiders kept him, so everyone knew he was a good player," Ponciano said.

The Xtreme noticed. The team selected Day with its third pick, the draft's 32nd. He's eager to prove the club didn't make a mistake.

"If it wasn't for the injury, I know I'd be one of the best cornerbacks in the league," Day said. "I played well in preseason. I didn't get scored on. I didn't give up any long balls.

"I need this season to show I can play."

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