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Stallions ‘balled out’ in joint practice with Memphis Express

Stallions ‘balled out’ in joint practice with Memphis Express By Chantel Buchi / The Alliance The second joint practice for the Salt Lake Stallions started off like the first. A cool drizzle of rain, a Polynesian chant from Matt Asiata to hype up the team and individual team warmups before coming together with the Memphis Express to start off with punt returns. For the beginning of the 7-on-7 drill, cornerback C.J. Smith swatted a ball and linebacker Blake Nelson intercepted former UT Martin quarterback Troy Cook’s pass. The defense started strong, only allowing the Express to throw short passes. When the Stallions offense was up, quarterback Josh Woodrum connected with wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El and quarterback B.J. Daniels completed a pass down the middle to wide receiver Sam Mobley. When the roles were switched again, linebacker Luke Carrezola deflected a pass, defensive back Jeremiah Johnson deflected a catch and the run defense was solid. “The defense, in particular, played really well,” head coach Dennis Erickson said. “The pass defense did really well. Our corners are playing well. Will Davis from Utah State is probably playing as good as anybody.” Davis was running off adrenaline by the end of the joint practice and was proud of his performance. “The secondary balled out, nobody can question that,” Davis said. “It was just a blessing being out there with these guys and having another day killing it. I took care of my assignments. Covered everyone I needed to cover. No catches. Locked down, like usual.” With the ball back on the Stallions offensive side, plays were being made left and right. Woodrum set the tone with a 25-yard throw to Pierson-El. Next, running back Aaron Duckworth slipped through the defense with ease. Then, quarterback Matt Linehan completed a 40-yard pass to wide receiver Dres Anderson. The Stallions went wild when tight end Tanner Balderee caught an over-the-shoulder pass down the field. The offense was making big plays with catches up the middle. After the Stallions defense stopped the Express’ run game, it was red-zone time. The Stallions scored three touchdowns: running back Joel Bouagnon caught a screen pass from Daniels, Linehan completed a pass to tight end Tyler Hoppes and Bouagnon ran it in. When it was the Stallions defense’s turn to step on the field, safety Micah Hannemann was ready. He intercepted former Troy quarterback Brandon Silvers twice. Toward the end of practice, the offense lost a little bit of their touch, but Daniels is confident the Stallions can be better. “We can tighten up on our fundamentals and our two-minute drills at the end of halves. I think if we focus on that, we can have a complete package of a team and an explosive offense,” Daniels said. # # # Chantel Buchi covers the Salt Lake Stallions for The Alliance of American Football. You can follow her on Twitter @Chantelbuchi # # # The Salt Lake Stallions open their season on February 10 with a visit to Arizona Hotshots. The Salt Lake Stallions open their home schedule on February 23 hosting the Arizona Hotshots. Get your tickets here:

Dia’Vante Brown: Countless hardships, countless blessings

Dia’Vante Brown: Countless hardships, countless blessings By Chantel Buchi Some people might wonder why Salt Lake Stallions linebacker Dia’Vante Brown is so open about his life, but he has one philosophy: “Somebody else is going through the same thing,” Brown said. “I have to share this because I have no idea who is dealing with this too. You can save a life. The same thing you’re living out, I am living out too. If people would just let themselves be vulnerable.” Brown grew up in a low-income neighborhood, worked twice as hard at football in a small university to be seen, met his dad at 18 years old, came to terms with his mom being in prison and has trained a countless number of hours to finally be on a professional football team. Brown grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina before walking onto Liberty University’s football team in 2013. He says Liberty players go unnoticed unless they have insanely great statistics. “I had to work twice as much to get noticed,” Brown said. “They told me one of my sacks against a school at the same level is like a QB hurry in the SEC. They told me I would need 25 sacks in a game.” He might have been told if he were faster, taller or had longer arms, that he would “be worth more”, but Robert Wimberly, his offensive coordinator at Liberty, told him to remove all doubt. He advised him to slowly take away reasons why he shouldn’t be on a team. So, he slowly kept taking those reasons away. Before graduating from Liberty in 2017, he attended their Pro Day and later went to the minicamp of the CFL team Saskatchewan Roughriders, but no luck. “The NFL said I wasn’t fast enough,” Brown said. “And the Roughriders told me it was a numbers game. They could only take a certain number of Americans.” While living in his apartment in Lynchburg, he worked at the J. Crew factory while taking four-week breaks here and there to stay in Atlanta. Brown would train at Chip Smith Performance Systems in Atlanta to be ready for when this call came. “My agent called me and said ‘Hey, there’s this new league and it’s going to be a big deal’,” Brown said. “I know you haven’t heard of it but train for the Combine. Get your 40 (yard dash) down.” After The Alliance’s Combine, Brown’s agent got a call from Stallions general manager Randy Mueller. “I trusted The Alliance and not a lot of people did,” Brown said. “This is very much luxury. It was a blessing and God was in control of that.” Brown says making it on the roster of an NFL team is his ultimate dream, but if that does happen, he will forever be indebted to The Alliance. “I wouldn’t be surprised if guys who are in The Alliance and make it to the NFL, that they’d be wearing The Alliance shirts while at the NFL,” Brown said. When he got the call from his agent that he will be a part of the Salt Lake Stallions, […]

Stallions former BYU players are blue at heart

Stallions former BYU players are blue at heart By Chantel Buchi For five of these Salt Lake Stallions, their blood continues to bleed blue. Five former BYU Cougars are together again on the football field playing their hearts out. “BYU is not a very big school for guys who want to play professional,” Stallions safety Micah Hannemann said. “So, it’s cool that we are all on this team together and it will be fun for all of us to play in Utah. Hopefully, we get a lot of BYU fans in the stadium.” Hannemann played with BYU in 2012, served a church mission in San Diego for two years and then came back to finish his collegiate career from 2015 to 2017. After Hannemann graduated, he signed with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent. But Hannemann is especially happy to be reunited with close friend, Handsome Tanielu. Handsome Tanielu played for BYU in 2016-2017 and served a mission in Charlotte, North Carolina earlier in his life. This defensive lineman is named Handsome for a reason. “It was the first thing my mom said to me when I was born,” Tanielu said. Now back in Utah after spending a little time with the Kansas City Chiefs, he is happy to be near his family, in the cold weather again and playing for a Utah-based team with former teammates. “It’s heartwarming because we’ve come such a long way,” Tanielu said. “And to be here and do the thing that we love, it’s good.” Although Tanielu and Stallions offensive lineman Tuni Kanuch had a fun rivalry in BYU being on opposite sides of the ball, sharing a hotel room at training camp in San Antonio has made them closer as teammates. Kanuch served a church mission in San Diego, played for the Cougars from 2013 to 2017 and is now on the field as a Stallion. “I was lucky enough to play with all of them (BYU Stallions),” Kanuch said. “It’s also awesome to play with these University of Utah players too. It’s a great experience to play with both and bring all the talent of the state together to see how we get along as teammates. I feel lucky to be on this team.” Kanuch said he is especially happy to have the opportunity to represent Utah again and would love to play for this team as long as he can. Stallions wide receiver Jordan Leslie played with Kanuch during his one-year BYU career in 2014. Leslie signed with the Minnesota Vikings in 2015 as an undrafted agent, played with five other NFL teams and is now happy he is back in Utah. “My family lives out in Utah. My mom, my little brother and sister,” Leslie said. “But my dog is out there, and I definitely want to see her. She’s a Shiba Inu. Also, a lot of BYU fans have actually reached out. I have had a good supporting cast and it will be good to play in front of them again.” Stallions tight end and former BYU player (2014-2017) Tanner Balderee received an invitation to the Browns […]

Living in foster home made Stallions’ Denham the man he is today

Living in foster home made Stallions’ Denham the man he is today By Chantel Buchi When Stallions tight end Anthony Denham was 11 years old, he was placed in a foster home due to his mother losing custody of him, his two brothers and his sister. This sequence of events would eventually shape Denham into the hard-working, determined football player he is today. “Life started rapidly, trying to grow without having the similar background as someone coming from an African-American home,” Denham said. “The home I was placed in was a Hispanic home. It was open arms and very welcoming, but it’s nothing like having a mother’s touch.” Not only did his life-changing events force him to mature quicker than most 5th graders, but it positively forced Denham to focus on what he wanted out of life. “It was a really good way for me to hone in on what I want to do in life, to find opportunities I didn’t have like being with my family,” Denham said. Fast forward to today. Denham is happy to be back in Salt Lake City. This former University of Utah Ute (2011-2012) is elated to be reunited with his former Ute brothers and coach Dennis Erickson again, but he is also grateful for the opportunity to be on a team with The Alliance. “This gives me another opportunity because the AAF offers plenty of programs like the NFL. I’m going to keep playing until the wheels fall off, but I do want to find or figure out a Plan B when this is over. But right now, I’m just living in the moment,” Denham said with a chuckle. Denham’s journey to The Alliance was no easy feat. While at Woodrow Wilson High School in Los Angeles, Denham received collegiate football offers. He was unable to take these offers because his high school didn’t give him the proper classes needed to be qualified for those colleges. So, he went to a junior college and became emancipated at the age of 17. “In order for me to emancipate into an independent living program for foster youth, I had to have a job and go to school,” Denham said. “Well, I had a full-time school schedule and a part-time job. It was a graveyard shift at the FedEx. I was working while I had 16 units plus football. I had a lot on my hands my freshman and sophomore year.” Then he was qualified to play for a university. “I dominated in school and on the football field, and then got a lot of offers,” Denham said. “One of the offers I took pretty seriously was from the University of Utah.” Denham graduated in 2013 with a Sociology degree and signed with the Houston Texans as an undrafted free agent in 2014. He gave back to his high school with a $5,000 donation through his non-profit organization, Denham Dreamers Foundation. Later, Denham finished playing with the Philadelphia Eagles for a few games in the 2018 season. “I’m glad I got the opportunity to play again, but now in the AAF with the Stallions and being […]

Stallions defense and offense alternating improvement in practice

Stallions defense and offense alternating improvement in practice By Chantel Buchi The offensive and defensive excellent efficiency are alternating. One day the offense is on fire while the defense is making undesirable mistakes, and vice versa. What fans need to know is Stallions head coach Dennis Erickson is not worried. Erickson said it’s normal for the performance of one side of the football to be better than the other. What matters most is being ready for the preseason game in a couple weeks. Yesterday, Erickson wasn’t too pleased with the offense’s performance but was proud with the defense. “We made too many mental mistakes,” Erickson said. “Defensively, I thought we played really well and we continued to improve.” Today, the outstanding performance was switched. “Today the offense came back and practiced really well,” Erickson said. “Defensively we weren’t quite as good as we were yesterday. Consistency on both sides of the football when you compete against each other, somebody wins, somebody loses.” Defensive backs coach Ronnie Lee said a few guys are coming back from an injury and there needs to be better communication, but he is excited to see what tomorrow has in store for his players. Tomorrow, the Stallions are going have a scrimmage of about 20 plays. The coaches want to see how each player tackles, handles tackles and slips away from tackles at this point. “We haven’t tackled yet and we want to see where we are at with tackling as a team,” Lee said. Erickson said the National Football League doesn’t do much tackling during the preseason practice but there is only so much time before the first game of the Alliance of American Football season. The Salt Lake Stallions open their season on February 10 with a visit to Arizona Hotshots. The Salt Lake Stallions open their home schedule on February 23 hosting the Arizona Hotshots. Get your tickets here:

Keon Willis: Back on the right track pursuing his football dream

Keon Willis: Back on the right track pursuing his football dream By Chantel Buchi It’s a blessing that cornerback Keon Willis is playing football, let alone running, on the field with the Salt Lake Stallions. “In high school, I was told I would never play football again and it would be difficult for me to walk when I’m 21,” Willis said. At Shaker Heights High School in Ohio, Willis ran track, played basketball, sang in the choir and was a dancer. Although he was talented in many areas, his passion was football. But on a Saturday night at the end of the 2010 football season his senior year, his whole life changed. Willis took a hard hit to the crown of his helmet and it wasn’t until soon after he stepped off to the sidelines did he realize something was terribly wrong. “I was in a lot of pain,” Willis said. “I had to get my pads off of me. When people touched my arm, it felt like knives driving through my skin. I cried for 30 minutes straight on the bus ride home.” After some tests, the doctor called a week later to let Willis know he had two herniated disks putting pressure on his spinal cord. This limited fluid to the area and caused problems to his nervous system. During that phone call, the doctor told him the bad news. “He called and said ‘just want to let you know you’re going to be fine, expect football is done and it has potential to get worse as you get older. It might be rough walking around 21. Prepare for what comes next’,” Willis said. Although Willis was told he could no longer play football, that didn’t stop him from walking on with the track team at Ohio State University. He competed in the 400-meter race and long jump while longing to be on the turf in a helmet and pads. “I hated track,” Willis said. “Not anything against track, itself, but it just wasn’t football.” After the phone call from the doctor and before joining the Buckeyes track team, Willis decided to make a promise to himself: He was going to be in the best shape of his life by his 21st birthday. Now 27 years old, Willis said he started running Tough Mudders at 21 with his brother and best friend. By the time he was ready for his first muddy, 12-mile obstacle course race, he was the fastest and strongest he had ever been in his life. “You can either sulk or take on the challenge,” Willis said. “I was running away from the inevitable.” After showing life who is boss, he secretly went to the doctor a year and a half ago to check what the X-rays would show. The doctor told him everything looks normal. “I left and called my people,” Willis said. “I was crying and pumped up. Looking back, the story of getting here is kind of wild.” After writing and sending out 132 letters to NFL personnel, receiving one response back gave him hope to get back into the sport. Later, […]