SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake Stallions are ready to finally be home.
While the Alliance of American Football’s debut season started two weeks ago, the Stallions finally arrived in Salt Lake City on Thursday. The team has been staying in San Antonio, where the AAF held a league-wide training camp in January, while the Stallions’ football offices were being finished.
Less than 48 hours later, Salt Lake will host the Arizona Hotshots on Saturday at 1 p.m. MST at Rice-Eccles Stadium in the inaugural home opener for the Utah pro team.
“It’s going to be great to be home and be able to stay home. It’s been quite a journey for our football team because of facilities not being ready in Salt Lake,” Stallions coach Dennis Erickson said. “Our players just want some stability.”
Former University of Utah linebacker Trevor Reilly, whose pro career so far has included four seasons in the NFL, offered some perspective on the slight inconvenience of not being “at home” during the first two weeks of the season.
“For us guys that have wives and kids, (the travel's) tough,” Reilly said. “The women know that going into it, the kids know it at this point it’s part of the deal … that you’re away a lot of times during a certain part of the year.
“It was tough, but like I said, we’re talking about first-world problems. It’s relative.”
Reilly said the team — which includes many players who played college ball at Utah, BYU or Utah State — gathered together at the stadium during a walk-through Friday morning. The Stallions’ roster includes 10 former Utes (Dres Anderson is on injured reserve), five former Cougars and two former Aggies, as well as several players from the Intermountain Region.
“At the end of the day, we’ve come together — BYU, Utah, Utah State … a lot of us are Intermountain guys," Reilly said. "Even though we’re in Rice-Eccles, if we were in LaVell Edwards Stadium or we were up in Logan, it wouldn’t matter.”
Players to know
Here’s just a few of the names Stallions fans should familiarize themselves with for the home opener:
Josh Woodrum, quarterback: The Stallions’ starting quarterback missed the second half of Salt Lake’s opener with a hamstring injury and was also sidelined last week, with backup Austin Allen earning the start. Woodrum, who has NFL experience as a practice squad member, has been practicing this week and will again join the starting lineup Saturday.
“This being our first year together as a team, we still have a lot to figure out, but I like our chances against anybody in this league,” said Woodrum, who’s completed 10 of 22 passes for 103 yards, a touchdown and an interception in his one half so far.
Karter Schult, defensive end: Schult, who played collegiately at Northern Iowa, has been a force up front for the Stallions and is tied for the AAF lead in sacks with three. That included two last week against Birmingham, and he added six solo tackles and four quarterback hurries while forcing a fumble.
Kaelin Clay, wide receiver/returner: The former Utah star with NFL experience has missed the first two weeks of the season with a hand injury but he’ll make his Salt Lake debut Saturday. “He’s our normal punt returner, so you’ll see him back there on Saturday,” Erickson said.
Gionni Paul and Reilly, linebackers: The two former Utes help form the backbone of the Stallions’ defensive front seven. Paul missed the team’s first game but had a team-high 12 tackles, a half-sack and a quarterback hurry in the team’s 12-9 loss to Birmingham last weekend. “He was a great player at Utah, and he’s going to be a very good player in this league. He showed it last week,” Erickson said.
Reilly, meanwhile, forced a fumble and had a fumble recovery and a pass deflection versus the Iron while also collecting six tackles. He has 10 tackles on the year.
Joel Bouagnon and Branden Oliver, running backs: Bouagnon and Oliver are the lead backs in Erickson’s run-oriented offensive attack. Bouagnon has rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries, while Oliver is right behind him with 99 yards on 22 carries.
Hotshots! Part Deux
The Stallions (0-2) will be attempting to earn the franchise’s first-ever win when they take on Arizona (2-0). The Hotshots beat Salt Lake 38-22 in the season’s first week.
Arizona has one of the Alliance’s top offenses, led by quarterback John Wolford, who has completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 469 yards and a league-high six touchdowns, with two interceptions.
Wide receiver Rashad Ross had five receptions for 103 yards and two touchdowns in the Hotshots’ Week 1 win over Salt Lake, while running backs Jhurell Pressley (121 rushing yards) and Justin Stockton (100) are among the league's top six backs in rushing yards.
The Salt Lake defense is coming off a strong performance, having held the Iron to just one offensive touchdown and 216 total offensive yards.
“I’m glad we’ve got the opportunity now to show Arizona a different defense than they got last time,” said Stallions cornerback Will Davis, a former Utah State defender.