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The United Football League’s Sacramento Mountain Lions second California open tryout was held at Natomas High School on Saturday, May 15. Registration began at 7:30 a.m., and drills continued through the day until shortly after 11:30 a.m. Mountain Lions Head Coach Dennis Green spent most of the day in the middle of the field, turning to monitor various position groups and taking notes that presumably only his assistant could decipher.
According to Green, there were approximately 260 athletes participating on this day. The previous tryout was held in San Diego on May 8, and another one is scheduled for San Mateo on May 23. The team roster has 74 total spots, and Green said “there are about 30 open spots right now.” Better make that 29. Former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who played for Green in Minneapolis, has just signed with the Mountain Lions.
Citing ESPN, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that Culpepper has not yet finalized the deal. Culpepper has most recently been with the NFL’s Detroit Lions. A local fan, Randy Silva, said “being reunited with Green in Sacramento seems great for [Culpepper]; after all, he had his most productive seasons in Green’s system with the Vikings.”
True, but he also had Randy Moss to throw to. While ESPN reports that Mountain Lions assistant coaches were telling players that Culpepper would be the quarterback during the tryout, I never heard that on the ground during drills, I never heard that from the players and I certainly never heard that from the coaches.
Perhaps the more important impact, however, is the reduction of one more open roster spot, and the decreasing chance for another quarterback to be signed. Green said, "Even though there are 30 spots open, we still have NFL free agents to look at.”
Culpepper is one of those free agents. For current River City Gators; former California State University, Sacramento, quarterback Blake Mori and others like him, the signing of NFL free agents is an X-factor that makes open tryouts often feel like cattle calls.
Former University of California, Davis, wide receiver Jerome McGee, who currently plays arena football for the San Jose Wolves, also attended the tryouts. He said, “It was good. Tough, but good. We’ll just have to see what happens. A lot of guys will be out there next week too.”
Current River City Gators and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Paris Warren was also there. He played in the UFL last season for the Florida Tuskers. He moved back to Sacramento, at least in part, to become a Mountain Lion. Asked about his experience, he said, “It’s always good to get on the field. I recognized some boys from the league, Fred Amey, Keith Wright and some Utah guys.” The speed is different out here, and you can tell. It felt good.”
Asked about the large number of participants, Warren said, “Whenever you do an open tryout, there are lots of defensive backs and wide receivers. Those are the most competitive positions on the field. We’ll see how it goes. There’s another tryout next week, but I don’t think I’ll be there.”
River City Gators linebacker LaMont Providence, who participated in the open tryouts, said these events are challenging.
“There’s a lot of guys out here, and most of them won’t make it,” Providence said. Indeed, Green confirmed that out of each of the open tryouts, the Mountain Lions might take a good look at three or four, maybe a few more. When asked whether that would translate into three or four player signings per tryout, Green was not so sure.
“We’ll just have to see," he said. "We did lots of work today. We kept them working. I’m excited, but free agents remain.” No matter how hard the open tryout field worked, the specter of NFL free agency looms, and Green’s comment seems to indicate the obvious – that there’s a lot more competition than what participants experienced on the field.
Contra Cost Razorbacks defensive lineman Sione Umufuke had fire and intensity unlike any other in his group. When asked about his motivation, he said, “This is my moment. There is no other. I don’t need to just be better than these guys here. I need to be better than everyone else.” Asked about NFL free agent competition, Umufuke said, “Just give me a shot at them. This is my time.”
Green’s excitement, however, was about more than just a good day of work on the field. He said, “I’m excited because the UFL is the first step toward making American football like the English model of soccer. They have the Premier League and a number of other professional leagues. There’s room for that here, and we’re making it happen.” Asked about whether he also advocated a system where the teams with the worst records in the highest league would drop down the subsequent year and be replaced by the best teams from the next lower division, Green only smiled. “I don’t know about that. One thing at a time.”
The UFL reportedly faced a net loss of approximately $30 Million after the 2009 season. The league has added one team in 2010, the Omaha Nighthawks. The Mountain Lions themselves are a rebranded migrant franchise, only moving to Sacramento after an expensive and ineffective season playing in San Francisco’s Pacific Bell Park as the California Redwoods. The majority of games will be played on Fridays and Saturdays and will be televised on HDNet, VERSUS and a third currently unnamed broadcast partner. The league believes that the collection of off-season adjustments will significantly improve its financial condition.
Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, is the Chairman of HDNet. UFL Commissioner Michael Huyghue said the league is delighted by Cuban’s commitment, which includes becoming an owner. Despite backing out of a deal to become an original investor in 2009, Cuban chose to buy a portion of the entire league last month. Cuban joins, among others, Paul Pelosi, husband of Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, as a league owner.
The league has identified approximately 13 other U.S. cities as potential team locations. Target markets include: Austin, Tex.; Birmingham, Ala.; Columbus, O.; Louisville, Ky.; Memphis, Tenn.; Milwaukee, Wisc.; Oklahoma City, Okla.; Portland, Ore.; Raleigh-Durham, NC; Salt Lake City, U.; San Antonio, Tex.; Los Angeles and San Jose. Until there are more teams, however, open tryouts will continue to be a long shot for aspiring pro players.
Mountain Lions Head Coach Dennis Green (left) spent most of the day working from midfield
Quarterback Blake Mori
Linebacker LaMont Providence
Linebackers assistant coach giving instruction during drills
Defensive Lineman Sione Umufuke
Defensive Linemen being instructed before another drill
Wide receiver Kyle Providence (right) makes the grab
Mountain Lions Head Coach Dennis Green talks to all 260 tryout participants
The third and final open tryout for the UFL’s Sacramento Mountain Lions is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. Sunday. It will be held at San Mateo Community College.