Aaron Boone was born in Provo and grew up in Fillmore, so when he signed two years ago with the Utah Blaze, he said it was a dream come true to be able to play professional football in his home state. At the time, he was excited to be able to play in front of family and friends.
But he found out that it came with a price literally.
"The biggest negative (about playing for the Blaze) has been trying to get my whole family into games," Boone, who is the sixth of 10 children, said jokingly. "Most of my paycheck goes to buying tickets."
The Boone clan has liked what they've seen of Aaron's play all year and of the Blaze's play as a whole the past month or so. Utah, once the laughingstock of the Arena Football League after losing its first nine games of the season, could actually clinch a playoff spot on Monday night when they host the Los Angeles Avengers in an ESPN2 game. The Blaze have won four of their past five games and are currently one of the hottest teams in the AFL.
"We knew all along we had a good team and a good bunch of guys," Boone said. "Now we're finally showing it, and we need to keep showing it."
Even in the bad times this year, Boone and his fellow wide receivers Huey Whittaker and J.J. McKelvey were putting up big numbers. Boone currently ranks first in the AFL with 123 catches on the year. Whittaker is second with 117, while McKelvey is 10th with 105. All three have more than 1,300 yards on the year, ranking them in the top six in the league in that category.
"If I could have drawn a blueprint for this season, that's exactly what I would have wanted from our receivers," said Blaze coach Danny White. "We didn't want one guy dominating like we had last year in Siaha (Burley). We like it much better to have three different guys so that (quarterback) Joe (Germaine) can spread the ball out more and defenses can't concentrate on stopping one guy."
A big key to the Blaze receivers' success this year has been staying healthy. Boone was excited about returning to Utah to play professionally after stints in NFL Europe and with the AFL's Kansas City Brigade prior to the 2007 season. But a nagging ankle injury caused him to have little impact for the Blaze a year ago.
"Last year was definitely frustrating," Boone said. "In Game 1, first quarter, I got hurt. I tried to play with the injury, but it was frustrating, to say the least, because I couldn't play like I knew I could."
Boone saw action in seven games in 2007, catching 32 passes for 420 yards and eight touchdowns.
White isn't surprised Boone has more than returned to his 2006 form, when he was named to the AFL All-Rookie team as a member of the Brigade.
"We watched Aaron score five touchdowns against us in one game (in 2006), so I knew what his potential was and that he was a playmaker," White said. "Last year was a little bit of a disappointment for him and for us where he was concerned. But this year he's been able to stay healthy and he's put up some big numbers."
Boone joked about having to pay to get his family into games at EnergySolutions Arena, but deep down he really likes it. After transferring from Snow College to play for Kentucky in the SEC and them moving on to Europe for a couple of seasons, Boone missed having his family around after games.
"It's fun walking off the field and having friends and family there," Boone said. "I've played in some amazing stadiums in college and pro. I played in front of 107,000 fans at Tennessee, but not knowing any of them makes it lose some of the meaning. That's what's been really neat about playing here."
Since returning to Utah and settling in Sandy, Boone has married his wife, Lindsay, and has started to look into life after his playing days are over. He has helped coach the Timpanogos High football team and would like to continue to share his knowledge of the game at that level.
Boone served an LDS Church mission to Peru and is fluent in Spanish. He also learned some German while playing in NFL Europe and lived in China during a study abroad program.
"I'd like to coach at the high school level," Boone said. "But I also want to get into different business ventures and real estate. I studied international business. That's my passion, traveling and business."
Boone's younger brothers, Jesse and Jason, starred as offensive linemen at the University of Utah and have also played professional football, a fact that makes Aaron proud."It's pretty rare that three professional football players have come out of a little 2A school like Millard," Boone said.
BLAZE BRIEFS: Germaine's infant son, Crew, has been released from the hospital following his heart surgery two weeks ago. "He's doing a lot better," Germaine said. "He still has some mountains to climb, but the fact that he's come home shows that he's definitely gotten better than what he was." ... A Blaze win over the Avengers along with losses by 3-10 Kansas City and 3-10 Grand Rapids this weekend would clinch a playoff spot for Utah. ... The 4-9 Avengers beat the Blaze by 17 points earlier in the year in Los Angeles. That means it could be advantageous for the Blaze to not only win on Monday, but to win by 18 or more points for tie-breaker reasons. To that end, White said his team might do some unusual things, like going for a two-point conversion after a touchdown if they are up by 16 late in the game.
Blazing to playoffs?
L.A. Avengers (4-9) at Utah Blaze (4-10)
Monday, 8 p.m.