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Defenses (and fish) beware

Published Feb. 25, 2006

At 6 feet 3 and 220 pounds, Storm wide receiver/linebacker Bobby Sippio presents matchup problems for most opponents.

So you can imagine how a 12 1/2-pound bass might fare.

Sippio, a Kissimmee native and aspiring pro fisherman, made his prize catch a few years ago but had to release it because he was fishing on private property.

"That big boy should be about 14 pounds now, so I'll be coming to get him one day," Sippio said. "I know where he is."

Fortunately for the fish, Sippio, 25, should be occupied for several more years with his second love: football.

Fully recovered from an ankle injury sustained during training camp, the Storm's most significant free-agent signing during the offseason has 26 receptions for 285 yards and six touchdowns in four games, including 10 for 136 yards and two scores in a 67-64 overtime loss to Orlando on Sunday.

"He's certainly just a big target to throw it to, and running after the catch, he's doing a nice job," Storm coach Tim Marcum said. "We just need to get him the ball more."

Sippio's size keeps defensive backs from crowding the line of scrimmage and smacking him before he gets into his route. As smaller opponents tire of hitting him, it allows him to pick up more yards after the catch.

"At that position, we typically don't have a (6-3) 220-pound guy," quarterback Shane Stafford said. "So the fact he's as big as he is and he's a playmaker, game time, he comes out and he just balls. It's a big thing for us to have him."

Sippio's size, hands and leaping ability made him highly coveted during free agency, and Orlando made a hard push for him. After praying and discussing the matter with his family, Sippio said he felt most comfortable with the Storm.

"I just enjoy the winning attitude, winning coach, winning team, the fans, everything," he said. "It's just really a football atmosphere. I'm from Florida. I know this is a football state, so I knew what it was going to be when I came here."

Sippio took a circuitous route back to the Sunshine State after he led Kissimmee Osceola to a Class 5A state championship as a quarterback in 1998.

At Western Kentucky, he was one of the top cornerbacks in Division I-AA and the first Hilltopper to earn consensus All-America honors after a sophomore season in which he set a school record for interceptions (10). He declared for the NFL draft after his junior year but was not among 261 picks.

Though he had been suspended from the team twice for attitude problems and arrested twice around the time of the draft (including a sentence of 10 hours of community service for receiving stolen property), Sippio blamed the lack of interest on his school's small size.

"It's all about who you know and where you go," he said. "I wasn't at no Ivy League school, and I wasn't on TV all the time. So that hurts you. That's really what it's all about. The bigger the school, the easier you've got it, no matter what kind of trouble you get into."

Sippio joined Greensboro of arenafootball2, where he was Ironman of the Year in 2003. He signed with the Arena League's Dallas Desperados the next season and caught 75 passes for 1,217 yards and 32 touchdowns. The performance earned him an invitation to the Miami Dolphins camp, but he injured a knee during the preseason and was released.

Sippio still hopes to make it to the NFL, but he said he has other goals if things don't work out. He has an interest in real estate and a lifelong love of bass fishing. He can earn a spot on the pro tour by winning tournaments.

"My skills are so good, I can win tournaments," Sippio said. "I already do. But football is my main focus right now. Fishing is just my hobby on the side. But I still have my ambitions of being a professional fisherman because I can grow old still fishing. I can't play football until I'm 40 or 50 years old."