The Arizona Hotshots special teams unit has a particularly local flavor
The up-start professional football team in the newly founded Alliance of American Football began its season with a win, where the well-staffed special teams played particularly well. Each of the main special teams players has his own area ties.
Kicker Nick Folk is a 10-year NFL veteran, having played for the Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers after finishing school at the University of Arizona in 2007. He hit an AAF-record 53-yard field goal against the Salt Lake Stallions in the team’s first game.
Punter Jeff Locke left Mountain Ridge High in Glendale as the school record-holder for most field goals in a season, longest punt and a state-record longest, 63-yard field goal before playing at UCLA. He played for the Minnesota Vikings, Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers before signing with the Hotshots.
Long-snapper Nick Dooley graduated from Scottsdale Christian Academy in 2012, and played four years at University of Texas – El Paso. He also spent a preseason with the Minnesota Vikings before joining the Arizona squad.
Coach Rick Neuheisel says the AAF actively recruited area players to rosters to grow fan popularity and team interest.
“That was the idea when they (AAF)made the allocation rules, that there would be some names people recognized and it would make it easier to identify with the team other than just being in the same town. Hopefully, it’s going to have some real effect,” Neuheisel says.
Special teams coach Chris Reinert, who moved to Scottsdale when he was hired by the Hotshots, says fans who recognize him wish to speak about the team, often asking about their favorite players.
“I’ll wear Hotshots gear to the grocery store, and people will stop me to ask about the team. They’ll ask about Nick Dooley or the other guys from the area. So that’s been pretty cool to see,” he says.
While the players are grateful for the acceptance the Valley has afforded them, the honeymoon period has ended. The players practice and prepare the same way they would in any other football season. It is their job.
Most, if not all, the players wish to make NFL rosters for the first time, or get back to the
professional football glory they once experienced. Though they are enjoying the AAF and the new team, the players are working to get back to that point.
“What I really have liked about being here is the level of professionalism everybody has. All of these guys have the same goal, to be professionals and play football at a high level. You can see it in the way everyone trains,” Locke says.
The Hotshots practice at State Farm Stadium’s Great Lawn. Many of the team’s players with NFL experience have played inside the silver dome, and training outside of the building serves as motivation for the players to work even harder.
“I’m always looking over that way,” Folk says. “I think of all the times I’ve played in there or the NFL stadiums. When I didn’t get the call for any of the NFL teams this year, I knew I wanted to do this so I could keep playing football. I just love being out here.”
Regardless of where each of the Hotshots special teams players end up in their football careers, they are excited to be part of a new team. They take pride in being professional football players, and being on the ground floor of the AAF, which they hope continues to grow for years to come.
Dooley, one of few long-snappers an observer will see hustling down the field to down a punt after it is kicked, says it is a blessing to don a professional jersey of any type, especially getting to compete right where he grew up.
“I have so many people out here rooting for me, friends and family that want to come watch me play in Tempe,”Dooley says. “It’s amazing to see how this thing has gotten going.”