WEST VALLEY CITY — And the name is (drum roll please) ... the Utah Blaze!
Ownership of Utah's latest arena football team announced at a press conference Tuesday that the familiar moniker will be put to use once again. The rebirth of the Blaze marks the return of arena football to Utah — this time competing as a member of the newly formed Arena Football 1 League. The Blaze will play their home games at the E-Center.
Team owner Dave Affleck announced that the new league had purchased the assets of the now-defunct Arena Football League, including things like trademarks, logos, etc. Several teams from the old league joined together in forming a new 15-team AF1 League, which opens play on April 9.
AFL veterans form the nucleus of the Blaze organization, with Steve Videtich named as general manager and Ernesto Purnsley as head coach. They have 13 years and 12 years experience, respectively, in arena league football.
In order to make this team (and league) viable, Affleck is hoping to learn from mistakes in the past.
"League offices were spending a lot of money ... (on unnecessary items). Everyone now is in a more conservative mode," said Affleck.
He and Videtich both mentioned that player salaries have been lowered.
"Player salaries are one-third lower, but the players have been coming back in droves," Videtich said.
Purnsley concurred. "We are bringing in quality guys," he said. "Our goal is to win a championship."
Players who will be joining the Blaze for their inaugural season include Arena Football League veteran Aaron Boone, American Indoor Football Association standouts Mike Affleck, Akamu Aki and Scott Thomsen, former University of Utah standouts Jason Boone and Derek Richards and former Utah State standout Brian Soi.
Aaron Boone, a wide receiver, prepped at Millard High School in Fillmore, Utah, and played collegiately at Snow Junior College and the University of Kentucky. He also played briefly in the NFL and NFL Europe. Most recently, Boone played for the AFL's Utah Blaze and recorded more than 1,500 receiving yards in 2008.
Affleck, a quarterback, prepped at Timpview High School in Provo and finished up his collegiate career at Utah State. Last year he guided the Utah Valley Thunder of the AIFA to an 11-4 record and a berth in the playoffs. He led the AIFA in passing efficiency at 109.6. He was second in the league in passing yards (3,037) and was third in touchdown passes (58). He also rushed for 15 touchdowns.
Aki, a wide receiver, played collegiately at Weber State University before becoming one of the top receivers for the Utah Valley Thunder in 2009. He led the team in TD catches (30), receptions (86) and yards (1,046). His 86 catches were third-best in the AIFA and his 30 TD catches ranked second.
Thomsen, a kicker, played collegiately at Northeastern State prior to becoming a member of the Utah Valley Thunder last year. Thomsen kicked 54 extra-points and six field goals. He kicked a 38-yard field goal with one second in regulation to send the game into overtime against the Ogden Knights. His extra-point later proved to be the game-winner in a 70-69 win.
Jason Boone, an offensive lineman, also prepped at Millard High School and is the younger brother of Aaron Boone. He was an honorable mention all-Mountain West Conference offensive lineman while playing for the University of Utah. He played in 35 games in his career with the Utes.
Richards, a wide receiver, prepped at American Fork High School in American Fork before he playing collegiately at the University of Utah, where he was an honorable mention all-Mountain West Conference selection in 2006. He finished his career with the Utes with 135 catches for 1,644 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Soi, a defensive lineman, prepped at Timpview High School and played collegiately at Utah State before gaining experience with the NFL's Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, New York Giants, Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders.
Another common thread running through the top brass on the team was community involvement.
"It is important for the fans to know this is the community's team," Purnsley said.
"Getting involved in the community," said Videtich, "that's what we're going to be about."
Videtich was particularly exuberant about the new team and the new league. He was devastated when the old AFL shut down in 2008.
"It was like losing a dear friend or family member," Videtich said.
He said he had to find a way to keep arena football going. And when Affleck called him, "He had me at 'hello,' " said Videtich, acknowledging he stole that line from Tom Cruise's movie.
"I want to see the game grow," Videtich said. "It is a great product. It is non-stop entertainment for three hours while the fans are there."
At this point, the team is not fully put together. But Purnsley assured everyone that they'll get it done and will do it right.
"We will put out a group of players you can be proud of," the Blaze coach said.
The Blaze will hold open tryouts on Saturday at BYU's practice facility located at 1060 N. 150 E. in Provo.
Registration and check-in will begin at 6 a.m., with drills beginning promptly at 7 a.m. and continuing until approximately 10 a.m.
Participants can pre-register (credit cards only) by calling 801-331-7096 ext. 1 at the cost of $50. Registration at the door is $60 (cash only). Credit cards will not be accepted on the day of the tryout.
All positions will be evaluated in timed agility drills and position-specific drills on a field turf surface. Players are responsible to bring appropriate shoes and shorts or sweats and a T-shirt. No pads or helmets are required.
All participants will be required to sign a waiver and eligibility form before they can participate in the tryout.
For more information on the tryout, call 801-331-7096 ext. 1.
The Blaze will open their inaugural season on Friday, April 9, when they host the 2009 Af2 champion Spokane Shock. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at the E- Center.
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