February 07, 2002 11:00 pm

By Pat Perkins

Observer Staff Writer

Darin Tankersley is moving up in the world of professional indoor football, but the former Eastern Oregon University kicker is realistic about life after the game.

If I cant keep stepping up, Ive got to get a real job, said Tankersley, who has signed with the Tri-City (Neb.) Diesel of the National Indoor Football League. Ive got to pay off my student loans.

Tankersley has spent the past two seasons playing for the Idaho Stallions of the Indoor Professional Football League, and that came after two years at Eastern as a defensive back and kicker.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Tankersley will kick for the Diesel, which is based in Kearney, Neb., about 180 miles west of Omaha.

Tankersley started four games over two seasons for the Stallions, a Boise team, but as kicker he became the third all-time leading scorer in team history.

Indoor football features eight men on a side, 50-yard fields and four downs to score with no punting. That gave Tankersley a lot of work.

We had the worst offense in the league, so theres not much I could do when Im kicking 60-yard field goals, he said. Out of the back of your own end zone, you just try to get it out in the corner.

Another factor is the size of the goalposts. College goalposts are 18 feet, 6 inches wide, but the indoor league uses 10-foot-wide goalposts.

From 50 yards out there, they are so small, he said.

Tankersley made just 10-of-39 field goals for the Stallions in 2000 but improved his percentage to 13-of-36 in 2001. He was 40-for-52 on extra points in 2000 and 27-for-35 in 2001.

He wont get rich playing indoor football in Nebraska; players get between $300 and $350 per game, plus they get a housing subsidy.

Tankersley kicked for one year at Eastern, 1998, and started his career with a 51-yard field goal with one second remaining that beat Southern Oregon.