By Jose Romero
After four days packed with meetings, photo shoots, equipment fittings, cafeteria-style lunches, and some football on an actual field, by Monday afternoon the Arizona Hotshots had parted ways.
But not without a feeling of gratitude for the chance to continue playing a game the players love and excitement about the team’s potential in the upcoming inaugural season of The Alliance of American Football.
“This is a great opportunity for everybody, and everybody understands that and isn’t taking it lightly,” said Trevor Knight, the first quarterback taken by Arizona in the recent Alliance QB draft. “We’ve got some guys on this team that can make a whole lot of plays. So I left the field (Sunday) extremely excited about this team and about the guys that make up what’s hopefully going to be a championship ball club.”
Knight made sure he was around for as many team activities as possible, given that he first flew to Arizona Thursday, returned to Texas to receive his master’s degree in business management from Texas A&M and then jetted back to Phoenix rejoin the Hotshots.
Knight slapped hands with each member of the offensive line after a practice drill.
“How you play with one another is going to propel you to greater heights,” Knight said. “It’s important for me to have personal relationships with all of them so that they know who I am, I know who they are and we can go to battle.”
Among those enjoying themselves in video promos and photo sessions was former Arizona State and NFL defensive lineman Will Sutton.
“Everybody’s main goal is to go out here and perform the best they can and get wins,” Sutton said.
The highlight of the mini-camp was Sunday’s two-hour practice at Ottawa University in nearby Surprise. The Hotshots still are looking for an offensive coordinator and ran only some basic drills and plays, but the tempo was quick, players looked in shape and the mood was enthusiastic.
“The willingness of all these kids, the willingness of all our support staff, all of our assistants to just do as best as we can given the unknown of the startup, I thought it was phenomenal,” Hotshots head coach Rick Neuheisel said.
Building team unity was at the center of the weekend’s activities, and players took to each other quickly.
At one point in Sunday’s practice, offensive line coach Chris Scelfo lined up his group and asked former University of Arizona player Lene Maiava to show his linemates how to take part in a haka, a traditional Maori war dance.
Later, as the team huddled up at the end of practice, Neuheisel called on former Oregon State running back Tim Cook to repeat his words — in Cook’s deep voice. That drew some cheers and laughs from the players.
“Just building a new league, that’s something special. That’s being a part of history,” said defensive back Robert Nelson, formerly of Arizona State. “Just playing football, playing a game you’ve loved to play since you were a little kid. That’s the most important thing.”
By Monday afternoon the players were off to catch flights, armed with playbooks, some team gear and the knowledge that everything gets real in early January when the Hotshots join the rest of the teams in The Alliance for training camp in San Antonio.
“The key for them is to rest but also stay in shape,” Neuheisel said.
The Hotshots open their season at Sun Devil Stadium on Sunday, Feb. 10, against the Salt Lake Stallions. Tickets are available here.