The first game of the inaugural season of a brand new professional football league.
The Salt Lake Stallions, one of eight teams in the Alliance of American Football, open their season Sunday in what hopes to be a successful venture into the oft-maligned idea of spring football. And although the team has been together and practicing for over a month, it still has no idea what to expect when it takes the field against the Arizona Hotshots for the first time ever.
“Nobody knows how good anybody is in this league,” Stallions head coach Dennis Erickson said this week on a conference call with reporters. “We had one exhibition game ... so it’s hard to tell who’s got the good teams. Everybody’s got good players. So until we start playing, who knows?”
What the Stallions do know, even at this early juncture of the season, is who they are. They’re a team that will run the ball at least 50 percent of the time, if not 60. They’re a team that has no qualms getting physical.
Salt Lake Stallions at Arizona Hotshots
When • Sunday, 6 p.m. MST
TV • NFL Network
It’s that physicality that quarterback Josh Woodrum thinks will be the team’s biggest strength throughout the season.
“I like our chances against a lot of these teams,” said Woodrum, who has been a member of six NFL teams since 2016. “I don’t think they’re gonna be expecting us to be as physical as we are. I think that’s gonna help us in the end.”
Salt Lake’s roster features a host of players and team personnel with local ties to Utah. Erickson, who won two national championships at Miami and has nearly four decades of coaching experience, came out of retirement to take the Stallions job. He most recently coached under Kyle Whittingham at Utah.
The local flavor is key. Seventeen Stallions players went to college at either Utah, BYU or Utah State. Micah Hannemann, who played at BYU, will be the team’s starting safety, Erickson said. Jeremiah Poutasi, who played at Utah, is at the top of the unofficial depth chart at left tackle, while Anthony Denham, also a former Ute, appears to be the main option at tight end.
Offensive coordinator Tim Lappano made a point to single out wide receiver Dres Anderson. He called the former Ute “a home run hitter” and said he could be one of the fastest players in the league. Anderson, however, is not on the team’s current depth chart.
On the defensive side, Sealver Siliga and Tenny Palepoi are two former Utes who will serve as the main defensive tackle and right defensive end, respectively. Anthony Williams of Utah State and Trevor Reilly of Utah look to occupy two of three main linebacker positions.
“All those guys from Utah have been super big for us up front,” Woodrum said.
Will Davis, the starting left cornerback formerly of Utah State, said some of the local Utah players on the Stallions have competed against each other over the years, whether in college or in the NFL. Some of those players have since had fun “talking trash” to one another about which college team was better and what team prevailed over another.
“The longer you’re in the football, the smaller the world gets,” Davis said. “It’s fun to hear and listen and seeing who knows who and who knows what.”
Erickson, who previously coached against other Utah-based programs during his career, said Salt Lake City is a prime market for football. He cited the “unbelievable” fans he experienced while at Utah and when he visited BYU as an opponent.
“It’s a football state, in my opinion,” Erickson said. “There’s a lot of football in the fall. Now we’re gonna try to bring some football to Utah in the spring and it’ll be enjoyable.”
For some players on the Stallions, it’s been years since they played a single competitive snap. As they get ready to return to the field, the anxiousness is palpable for the opportunity to at a second chance to move up to the NFL.
Davis said that is not only his goal, but the goal of many around the league. In the meantime, he said, the Stallions have “killed” in scrimmages and in their lone preseason game. That could be a good omen for things to come.
“I’m excited about this team,” Davis said. “I think a lot of people are going to sleep on us. … We’ve shown in camp that we should be a solid team. Now we just gotta go out and prove it.”
• Games are scheduled to last no longer than two hours and 30 minutes.
• No kickoffs. Teams will start possession after a touchdown or a half at their own 25-yard line.
• No extra points. After a touchdown, teams will attempt a 2-point conversion.
• No onside kicks. If a team is trailing by at least 17 points, it can opt to attempt converting a fourth-and-12 play from its own 28-yard line. If the conversion succeeds, the team keeps possession.
• Shorter overtimes. Each team will get the ball only once, at first-and-goal from the 10-yard line. If neither team scores, the game ends in a tie. Field goals are not allowed in the OT period.
• No TV timeouts, shorter full-screen commercial breaks, and shorter play clock (35 seconds as opposed to the NFL’s 40).
• Team timeouts will be one minute
• No more than five defensive players are allowed to rush the quarterback on pass plays