Tom Pace had a huge season for the Utah Blaze a year ago, catching 111 passes for 1,198 yards and 20 touchdowns.
But Pace's accomplishments were overshadowed by teammate Siaha Burley, who was even better. Burley set an all-time AFL record with 2,129 yards on 166 catches and was named the league's top offensive player.
Pace and Burley will be back on the field together Saturday night at EnergySolutions Arena, only in different uniforms. Burley signed in the offseason with the Arizona Rattlers, the team that just happens to be Utah's opponent in the season opener.
"We know Siaha and what a dominant player he can be in this league," said Blaze coach Danny White. "Controlling him has got to be the big concern for us on defense."
But even though the Blaze no longer have Burley, White feels confident that Pace and the other receivers will be able to get the job done.
"I feel good about our receivers, I really do," said White. "We gave up some speed when we lost Siaha, but we're bigger. And by moving Tom into the middle, we get physically stronger there."
With Burley gone, more will be expected of Pace this season. But he also knows that he doesn't have to carry the load entirely by himself.
"Siaha was the MVP of the league," Pace said when asked if he is going to be able to fill Burley's shoes. "He can't be replaced, obviously."
White is hoping the Blaze and quarterback Joe Germaine can spread the wealth around more this season, using four of five receivers each game instead of primarily just two a year ago.
Pace, an Arizona State grad, stands just 5-10, but he is a more physical receiver than Burley. Three of the other receivers the Blaze have are taller targets. Former Millard High star Aaron Boone, who had an injury-plagued first season with the Blaze, is 6-3. J.J. McKelvey, who came to Utah after playing last season for the Philadelphia Soul, is also 6-3, while Huey Whittaker is 6-5.
"We've got four receivers that give us pretty good size, and in J'Sharlon Jones, we have a guy who has the quickness that Siaha had," said White. "I think we have a well-balanced group of receivers and some pretty good choices."
"Boone is a great athlete and so is Huey," said Pace. "We've got J.J. and J'Sharlon, and all these guys know the system. They know our read routes, so there shouldn't be any big mistakes in the game."
Some AFL experts, meanwhile, have suggested that the Blaze made a big mistake by not getting a deal done with Burley.But Pace and Co. are out to show that the Utah receivers can get the job done without him.
Arizona Rattlers at Utah Blaze
Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV: Ch. 14Radio: 1320 AM
E-mail: [email protected]