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

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

Earlier this year, Lewis Walker, a former defensive back for the University of Utah, was spotted by a European League scout and now is in Sweden making 3,500 euros a month. “They got film of him after two games and he was on his way,’’ said Fayed, who is happy when any of his players get a shot at a bigger league.

“We’ve got a double-edged sword,’’ he said. “Not only do we want to help these guys get to the next level, we also want to stay competitive and win games.’’

The team is also constantly adding players. Washington scours the country for talent and in the last two weeks alone signed five new players, including former BYU cornerback Joe Sampson.

Practices are usually held Tuesday through Thursday nights, beginning anywhere from 7 to 7:45 p.m. On a given practice night, the team might have as few as 25 players and rarely are all 40 at practice together. On this particular evening there were 27 players at practice. Fayed said two were excused for a wedding, two for a funeral, one was out of town, and the rest were who knows where.

“If guys aren’t accountable, slack off and don’t show, we just cut them,’’ said Fayed, who has dismissed a half-dozen players already this year.

Because only about 10 players get paid and a few more get their housing taken care of, it’s not surprising players don't show up for every practice.

Many faces

With a team like the Argos you get players of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. You have players who started for college football powerhouses like Oregon, Tennessee and Nebraska playing alongside other guys who never played higher than the junior college level. The team’s star player, Justin Phinisee, played just under four seasons in the NFL, while starting cornerback Jacoby Shepherd played for a similar amount of time in the NFL after coming out of Oklahoma State.

Other the other hand, Tim Collins never played organized football before joining the Argos, but made it through tryouts. The team has several players with local ties, including starting quarterback Mike Affleck, who was once one of the top high school recruits in the country out of Timpview High. The team’s leading rusher is former SUU running back Deckar Alexander; the top receiver is ex-T-bird Ty West; former Ute defensive back Damilyn Tanner leads the defense with five interceptions, including one for a touchdown.

Now 28 years old and about 25 pounds over his college weight, Affleck is still living the dream of one day playing in the NFL or at a higher level.

After playing for Timpview a decade ago, local schools like BYU and Utah were dying to get him, along with many of the top schools in the country. USC coach Pete Carroll recruited Affleck hard, as did Arizona State, Oregon, Arizona and Colorado. It came down to the Trojans and Sun Devils before Affleck chose to go to Tempe. (In hindsight he wishes he’d opted for USC.)

“Out of high school I was a big recruit and figured I would be going to the NFL someday,’’ he says.

However Affleck’s college career was a bust, as he’ll be the first to tell you. He left ASU after his freshman year and wandered from one school to another, including Dixie State, BYU and Utah State, never becoming a full-time starter. He played part of a year with the Utah Blaze in 2010 and most recently was playing for an eight-man team in Utah County when the Argos called.

“I definitely thought there was a void from when I got cut from the Blaze and I wanted to get back into it,’’ he said. “It’s kind of crazy. I’m playing with guys who have never played football before and I’m saying, ‘What am I doing?’ But there’s still that thirst to play.’’

Phinisee has returned 10 kicks for an average of 34 yards, including a touchdown, and has three interceptions, including one for a touchdown. After starring for Oregon a decade ago, he was drafted by Tampa Bay and played for five teams in four seasons. He briefly played for the Utah Blaze but found the indoor league was too hard on his body. He also went to the Canadian Football League and was actually in Canada when the Argos called.

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