Keeping the dream alive: Salt Lake City football team lets players chase their dreams

Published: Sunday, June 30 2013 6:15 p.m. MDT

Cam Morgan, center, Arlando Brown, left, and Sidique Thomas join other members of the Utah Argonauts, a semi-pro football team in Salt Lake City, practice Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at Judge Memorial Catholic High School.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The players moseyed in one by one as the sun started to dip behind the trees in the northwest sky. They carried their shoulder pads and cleats through the gate onto the Judge Memorial Catholic High School football field on Salt Lake City’s east side. They playfully bantered back and forth behind the north end zone as they slipped on their pieces of mismatched football gear. A lone female trainer wrapped ankles as players patiently waited in line. Others started warming up.

“Is our bus really leaving at 5 a.m.?’’ said one, referring to the next day’s 15-hour bus ride to Seattle. Another added: “You know we can’t sleep on the bus very well.’’

“Whoa, look at the beach boy,’’ razzed another to a teammate who walked in wearing light blue sunglasses.

“Hey, who’s helmet is this?’’ barked a coach, searching for a player to match the stray helmet sitting on the turf. Another player approached a coach complaining his helmet was missing one of the ear pads. “Sorry we don’t have any more,’’ replied the coach.

Welcome to the Utah Argonauts, the state’s latest professional team and only pro football team.

The Argos, as they’re more commonly called, are part of the Professional Development Football League, which was organized last year and began play in March with a handful of teams in the West.

The team has played five games since March, sometimes going weeks between games and travelling to places like Seattle, Portland and Denver. They are 3-2 with two games left later this month, both at home. The Argos have had a couple of games canceled, including one the day before its scheduled kickoff last Saturday night.

It’s a long way from the PDFL to the NFL, but it’s also the closest thing for the 40 players who have journeyed from all parts of the country to Salt Lake City for the chance to prolong their football careers. The roster includes players from Tennessee, New Jersey, Louisiana, Texas, California and places in between. It may seem like a pipe dream, but ask any of them and they’ll tell you they want to keep playing football at a higher level, whether it be in Europe, South America, Canada, or the ultimate, the National Football League.

“These are guys who are right on the cusp and for whatever reason, there’s one thing holding them back,’’ said Nate Washington, the Argonauts general manager. “This gives them a window of opportunity.’’

A few have already played in the NFL, but most are former college players who simply love football and believe they still have something left in the tank. Every college in the state of Utah is represented on the team, with most (five) coming from the University of Utah. Several never played above the junior college level; some never played college ball; and one, a 31-year-old starting cornerback, never put on a football uniform until he joined the Argos.

The head coach is JJ Fayed, who has no local connection to Utah. He was a scout for the San Diego Chargers, worked in the Canadian Football League and most recently for a semi-pro team, the Florida Lakeland Raiders.

The majority of the players don’t get paid and the total team budget is around $75,000. The team has a couple of local owners and some sponsors, and relies on volunteers to work as position coaches.

Because it is a development league, the Argos roster is always in flux. The team must put up with the constant risk of losing players who get better opportunities. As a result, the Argos have brought in several players since the season began.

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