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MVP Orlando
Blaze wide receiver Tom Pace returns a kick during a game against Orlando last season.

The quarterback, no matter what the league or level, is always a focal point of a football team.

But now, more than ever, Joe Germaine is the man for the Utah Blaze.

"Joe has pretty much got to take this team on his back now and make all the right decisions," said Blaze coach and general manager Danny White.

No pressure there.

During the offseason, two-thirds of the Blaze's most recognizable trio of stars left the franchise, which is now entering its third year in the Arena Football League. Siaha Burley, the AFL's 2007 Offensive Player of the Year, signed as a free agent with his hometown Arizona Rattlers. And Hans Olsen, an outspoken BYU graduate who was a 2006 member of the AFL's All-Ironman Team, retired to concentrate on his budding sports talk radio career.

"Between Siaha and Hans, that was a lot of veteran leadership there," White said. "We'll miss them both."

But Germaine is back and with the Blaze to stay. The record-setting QB signed a five-year contract extension, the longest in AFL history, that is scheduled to keep him in a Blaze uniform through the 2012 season.

"He's committed to the Blaze and we're committed to him," White said. "It's a mutual thing. We want Joe to end his career here. That's the message we're trying to send to him. 'You're our guy, Joe. You're the one we want to lead this team for the next five years."'

Germaine had bounced around from team to team in the past decade after leading Ohio State to a Rose Bowl championship in 1997. He was a backup with the St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers in the NFL before starting his AFL career, again as a backup, with the Rattlers in 2005.

He finally was given a chance to be the No. 1 quarterback on a professional team in 2006 with the Blaze. He showed he was up to the task, too. His passing rating during an injury-filled 2006 campaign was second-best in the AFL. He followed that up with the most prolific passing season in league history last year, when he threw for a record 5,005 yards and 107 touchdowns. In fact, the ball used to complete the pass putting him over the 5,000-yard mark is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Germaine, now 31, could have become a free agent after the upcoming season and could've tried to see what he'd be worth on the open market. Instead, he rewarded the Blaze for their trust in him by signing the longest contract in AFL history.

"I'm not looking to bounce around," Germaine said. "Hopefully, I'll be lucky enough to play that full contract out. I want to try to be a part of something good, and I think we have that potential here."

Germaine also deflects the fact that he's the star of the team now, especially with Burley and Olsen gone.

"I just want to be one little chink in the chain in trying to help this team win," Germaine said. "I just want to do my part. Hopefully we can improve and win and make this organization what we all think it can be."

It's that kind of modesty that endears Germaine to his teammates.

"Joe Germaine is an awesome guy," said new Blaze lineman Devin Wyman. "I'm happy to block for him. There are not too many guys that are as good as he is that are as humble as him. He just loves what he does."

As good as Germaine was in '07, his coach — a pretty fair quarterback himself with the Dallas Cowboys during his playing days — knows his QB can still improve.

"You've only got a split second to make the right decision as a quarterback," White said. "Joe is still getting better at that. He is so competitive that he wants to salvage every play — even if it's 1st and 10. On 3rd and 10 or 4th and 10, you can sort of justify trying to salvage a play. But on first and second down, you need to throw it away and live to play the next down."

Not having Burley, his favorite target from the past two years, could also be an adjustment for Germaine.

"He's not going to have Siaha to bail him out anymore," White said.

But White believes that could actually be a good thing in the long run. The Blaze coach would rather have three receivers with 75 catches per year than one with 166, like Burley had last season.

Utah recently suffered another blow when veteran receiver/defensive back Orshawante Bryant went down with a season-ending injury on the second day of training camp.

Still, the Blaze coaches feel good about the guys they have for Germaine to throw to, led by veteran Tom Pace, who was second on the team last season. Also back are Aaron Boone, the former Millard High star, and 6-5 Huey Whittaker. Newcomer J.J. McKelvey caught 50 passes with 19 for touchdowns last season for the Philadelphia Soul.

"We've got big shoes to fill (with Burley gone)," Germaine said. "But we do have a good group of receivers who can get the job done." Meanwhile, Utah feels like it is vastly improved on both the offensive and defensive lines from the team that went 8-8 and lost a road game in the first-round of the playoffs in '07.

"This game is won and lost in the trenches," said Blaze line coach Ron James. "It's won or lost in the pass rush and the pass protection. That has been the downfall of this organization the last two years. With the upgrades on both sides, we can go as far as those groups can take us."

White certainly has lofty expectations.

"Our goal is to win the division and play at least one home playoff game," the 16-year veteran AFL coach said. "Home field advantage in this game is huge, especially if you have smart fans, and we do. They know when to make noise and when to be quiet.

"... We're to the point now where we want our fans to come to the games because we're winners."

While Blaze players and coaches are optimistic, AFL fans nationally don't seem to like Utah's chances. In a poll on Arenafan.com, the Blaze are picked as the 14th-best team in the 17-team league. They are picked last in the four-team Western Division.

The Blaze would say that the fans don't know what they are talking about.

"This team can be a very deep playoff contender," James said. "We are certainly better than we have been in the past."

And there is no question that Utah has a first-rate quarterback.


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