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From the NFL to Free Reign

A heavy metal band made up of three professional football players make their music a serious business

By Pat Prince

Free Reigners (left to right) Justin Chapman, Cory Procter, Marc Columbo and Leornard Davis.

Free Reigners (left to right) Justin Chapman, Cory Procter, Marc Columbo and Leornard Davis.

With the NFL lockout threatening to cancel football season for the year, football players might find themselves with little to do in their time off. However, there are three linemen who will continue to be very active: Dallas Cowboys’ right tackle Marc Columbo and right guard Leonard Davis, and Miami Dolphins' center Cory Procter. They spend their days away from the gridiron playing in a heavy metal band called Free Reign. The band's music is energetic and slick, heavy enough for the underground and melodic enough to market to the mainstream. A break from football will give them an opportunity to promote their music more than only a few months out of the year.

Free Reign is still in its infancy. The band started with the release of an EP called “Tragedy” in 2010. The response to the band’s powerhouse metal sound was positive but there was still the feeling that this was a hobby more than a serious musical commitment. It wasn’t until this year's release of a new melodic metal single called “One Step Away" that radio stations and critics started coming around. The single was then followed by an April release of their first full-length studio album called “Heavier Than Metal” (a wink and a nod to their massive athletic build) through their own label, DC Rightside Music. Columbo (vocals), Davis (bass) and Procter (drums) can now sense the respect their music deserves.

The only non-athlete in the band is a very talented Texan guitarist named Justin Chapman. A full-time technician for Exxon/Mobil during football season, Justin wrote the single "One Step Away" to express his dream of making a band like Free Reign a full-time success. Columbo at first related to the song as a football player, disappointed in not reaching the Super Bowl. But soon he came to a similar outlook as Justin's. It's not about being a football player first anymore. And perhaps the mainstream perception will change, too; that this is more than a bunch of jocks trying to jam in their spare time.

"I think that's gonna change," Columbo remarks."The whole thing before we released that EP: we only played a few shows and people didn't know what to think. There's not much time to play music, being an athlete, and they have trouble accepting the fact that we can do anything besides football. With the EP we took the first step, and this album is where we kind of drop the whole 'We're football players' type deal' and say 'We're here for real.'

"And it's been an unbelievable reaction with the single," says Columbo. "It's a song Justin played with his old band — and he wrote it a while back. The first time I heard it I said, 'We need to play that and try to record it.' It's just an amazing song. We got a lot of heavy songs and this was a good way to start things off."

There have been successful musician-athletes before. Take Bernie Williams, for instance — the former centerfielder for the New York Yankees. But it wasn't until Williams retired from baseball that he got credit for being a professional musician.

"It's tough," explains Columbo. "But we do have a formula, and I believe it works."

With the career-length of a football player averaging something like 26 months, a musical career seems like longterm job security. And look at Keith Richards. He can keep playing until he's well past 100.

"Plus," wraps up Columbo, "what's great about our band is that you can't pinpoint who we sound like."