Soul

Soul's Jones using NFL past to help AFL present

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Soul's Jones using NFL past to help AFL present

Anthony “Tiger” Jones made the ultimate sacrifice.

He chased his dream, and put his reality on hold.

The dream: Playing in the NFL.

Jones’ reality: Help the Soul win an AFL championship.

He had to choose. Jones couldn’t do both.

The decision was easy, so Jones made it. He gave up on the AFL season last year in pursuit of his NFL dream.

“Gave up is a strong word,” Jones said.

The word sacrifice was then replaced. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s better.”

Jones did have a point.

When the Eagles called him last year to join their preseason roster, Jones sacrificed the remainder of his AFL season.

Jones’ 133 receptions, 2,010 yards and 47 touchdowns -- a footnote. After the Eagles signed him in July 2012, helping a 15-3 Soul team, who advanced to ArenaBowl XXV, was a no-go.

You see, Jones had to relinquish the remainder of his 2012 season to avoid any injury; hence, all the star wide receiver could do was watch from afar. But it was all worth it.

Jones was able to wear an NFL uniform. He was given a chance to pursue his dream, so the decision to leave the AFL was a no-brainer.

“I mean, I don’t regret what I did,” said Jones, recalling his brief NFL stint. “Everybody here, organization-wise, was behind me 100 percent and wanted me to go and do my thing.”

Though the decision to leave was a simple one, it still was a difficult one.

“It was definitely a catch-22, though. We put in a lot of work last year to get where we got, and at the end of the season, you want to finish it out,” Jones said. “To not be there, obviously I felt a certain type of way about it, but an opportunity like that, with the Eagles, you can’t pass up.”

Jones’ stay in an NFL locker room didn’t last long. He recorded two receptions for 10 yards in the 24-23 preseason win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in August. Later that month, he was handed his walking papers.

Listen to Jones recall his NFL experience, you get the sense he wasn’t surprised by his release.

Listen long enough, and he basically confirmed it. His reason: “The cast that they had at receiver, none of those guys aren’t going anywhere. (Jeremy) Maclin is not going anywhere. (DeSean) Jackson is not going anywhere. (Jason) Avant is not going anywhere. So, when you only have five spots available and most of those spots already secure … it’s tough.”

But his stay wasn’t wasted. Jones saw first-hand what being on an NFL team is like, which he said isn’t all that different from his current AFL team. He felt what many attempt to feel but never get the chance to -- playing in an NFL game. His name stitched on the back, NFL logo on the front.

While with the Eagles, Jones saw a little of himself in Avant, who he credited for helping him make the transition.

“He’s not afraid to take a guy and try to show him,” Jones said. “Sometimes you get veteran guys and they just want to do what they do. A young guy or new guy comes in; they really don’t want to talk to him.

“But Avant will take you and talk to you. He’ll show you [how to run a route better]. He’ll just give you tips and pointers.”

Funny how it all works. Jones is playing that same leadership role, the mentor role, right now for the 2013 version of the Soul.

Soul rookie wide receiver Ryan McDaniel is the Tiger Jones on the Eagles, while Jones is playing the role of Avant -- he’s helping McDaniel make the jump. Giving him pointers and tips.

Whatever Jones is teaching, McDaniel is certainly learning and executing on the field. McDaniel is second on the Soul with 748 receiving yards (Jones is first with 1,656) and third on the team in receptions with 58.

“He’s been a real good friend,” a surprised McDaniel said.

Asked if he was shocked that Jones reached out to help, McDaniel admitted he was. “I didn’t think (Jones) would take me in like [he] did when I came into camp. … He’s been very helpful throughout the whole season. It’s not one time that he’s gave me an attitude because I’ve asked a question. He’s a real good guy.”

McDaniel’s last sentence sums up what the Soul thinks of Tiger Jones. Head coach Clint Dolezel and quarterback Dan Raudabaugh included.

Jones was smiling as he recalled his time with the Eagles, blocking out the fact that he was laying on the trainers table getting treatment.

Right now, Jones is giving it all he’s got. He wants a chance to redeem that sacrifice he made last season. Right now, he’s focused on helping the Soul get back to and win the ArenaBowl.

As for the NFL, “If it happens again, then it happens again,” Jones said.

But what if the recently turned 31-year-old gets another phone call, this time from Chip Kelly, inviting him to another Eagles training camp -- what then? Does Jones make another sacrifice and depart the Soul one more time? Does he stay?

He was asked those questions and responded, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

Soul topple Storm to win 2nd straight ArenaBowl

Soul topple Storm to win 2nd straight ArenaBowl

The Soul are the best team in the Arena Football League, again. They just had to deal with some first-half nerves, some sloppiness, and the small matter of a torn ACL to prove it.
 
In front of 13,648 rowdy fans at Wells Fargo Center, the Soul hoisted the Foster Trophy, with a 44-40 win over the Tampa Bay Storm. That outcome didn’t look very likely midway through the second quarter.
 
Dan Raudabaugh, the team’s star quarterback, only completed two of his first ten passes. He fired a pick-six straight to Storm linebacker Alvin Jackson, putting the Soul behind, 20-7. Oh, and he sustained a serious knee injury, which majority owner Ron Jaworski said post-game was a torn ACL.
 
Backup quarterback Luke Collis came in for a play, but Raudabaugh was determined to stay on the field.
 
“That’s my job,” Raudabaugh said. “I’ve missed very little play in my whole career, and I take a lot of pride in preparing like a champion and being reliable and accountable each week. I knew that we weren’t playing well, but we never lost hope or anything.”
 
Raudabaugh may have stayed positive, but after dropping what should have been an easy touchdown and the Soul’s second score of the game in the first quarter, wide receiver Darius Reynolds admitted that he wasn’t feeling too great about himself or the team’s prospects.
 
“A little doubt crept in, to be honest, but our fans stayed live and kept us motivated … I did get kind of down on myself, but I had a lot of inspiration from my teammates. I can make the worst play, I can fumble or anything, and they’ll still lift me up. Our team is very strong. We believe in each other and we let everyone know, no matter what happens, even if you mess up, we still have your back.”
 
After Jackson’s interception return, the Soul narrowly avoided another turnover when wide receiver Shaun Kauleinamoku, who finished with a team-high eight catches for 81 yards and one touchdown, fumbled after a third-down catch as he searched for extra yards. Fortunately, Reynolds recovered the fumble, and the Soul held on to possession. Fullback Mykel Benson finished the nine-play, 44-yard drive by punching in a one-yard touchdown, and the Soul entered halftime trailing by a 20-14 margin.
 
“As bad as it was, we were still down a possession and getting the ball to start the second half, so we never really thought the game was out of control,” Raudabaugh said. “Especially with the defense we have, we’re never out of it.”
 
The Soul’s offense began to jell in the third quarter. On the team’s first drive of the second half, Reynolds sprinted past the Storm secondary on third down, hauling in a 40-yard touchdown pass.
 
Though Tampa Bay answered with a score, the 6-1, 265 lb. Benson plowed in for another one-yard touchdown, and the Soul led 28-27 heading into the fourth quarter.
 
Cornerback James Romain, who picked off Tampa Bay quarterback and league MVP Randy Hippeard in the first quarter, sealed a decisive defensive stop early in the fourth quarter. On fourth down and 13, Romain tackled Storm receiver Joe Hills a yard short of the first-down marker.
 
The offense cashed in on the stop, thanks to another crucial fourth down conversion. Coach Clint Dolezel, having just called three rushes for Benson near the goal line, made a bold call. Instead of giving it again to Benson, Raudabaugh faked the hand off, rolled out, and fired the ball to rookie receiver Darius Prince in the back of the end zone.
 
“They all key on me when we’re down near the goal-line, so I understand if we go to someone else,” Benson said. “I’m not a selfish guy, I want to win and it doesn’t matter who scores, as long as we get that W.”
 
Prince was named MVP for his performance, which included five catches and two touchdowns. He was pleasantly surprised.
 
“I didn’t believe it at first,” he said. “It was really a team effort tonight. We started out slow, but we came on in the second half and picked it up.”
 
A sack in the end zone by defensive lineman and Temple alumnus Sean Daniels expanded the Soul lead. Daniels brought down Hippeard in the end zone for a safety to give the Soul a 37-27 edge and importantly, a two-possession lead.
 
Hippeard managed his third and fourth touchdown passes of the night in the fourth quarter, though Tampa Bay was in desperation mode following the safety. An interception of a Hippeard Hail Mary by cornerback Dwayne Hollis with 2:40 left effectively sealed the championship.
 
Even with his injured leg, Raudabaugh talked with the media after the game, and he was effusive in his praise for everyone, besides himself of course.
 
“It was a great turnout tonight. Great job by the city and the organization hosting it. The crowd was live as ever,” Raudabaugh said.
 
“I think our team really showed a bunch of grit tonight, and I’m proud of them. It was a full team effort.”

Soul take home awards, hope to cap dominant season with ArenaBowl XXX title

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CSN

Soul take home awards, hope to cap dominant season with ArenaBowl XXX title

Based on every metric imaginable, the Soul have been the best team in the Arena Football League this season. They lead the league in scoring, have allowed the fewest points and are undefeated at home. They’ll try to put the finishing touches on a nearly-perfect season Saturday night (7 p.m./6ABC) at the Wells Fargo Center, where they’ll host the Tampa Bay Storm in the ArenaBowl XXX.

Before the showdown, the AFL held its annual awards ceremony Friday afternoon to recognize the best players and coaches in the league. Unsurprisingly, nine of the 18 selections to the 2017 All-Arena First Team were members of the Soul.

One of those players, linebacker Beau Bell, also won the Commissioner’s Award and the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Bell led the league with 13 sacks, despite missing two games.

AFL commissioner Scott Butera presented Bell with the Commissioner’s Award, which honors the player deemed the best representative of the league, both on and off the field.

“I didn’t expect to win this award so I don’t have a second speech planned, but this is a big honor,” Bell said. “It takes a lot of sacrifices to be an arena football player, but I hope I can show people it’s possible to do what you love.”

Bell thanked the commissioner, his teammates, head coach Clint Dolezel, and the front office, including majority owner and Eagles legend Ron Jaworski. Tampa Bay president Derrick Brooks, the former Buccaneers linebacker and Pro Football Hall of Famer, was in attendance as well.

Tampa Bay also won its fair share of awards. Storm coach Ron James was named Coach of the Year, while Tampa Bay quarterback Randy Hippeard won Offensive Player of the Year and MVP honors, edging out Dan Raudabaugh, the Soul QB. Though Raudabaugh’s 82 touchdown passes led the league, Hippeard posted impressive regular-season numbers, with 3,506 yards passing, 80 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions.

James, who guided the Storm to a 10-4 regular season after the franchise went 2-14 last year, had ample praise for Soul coach and AFL Hall of Famer Dolezel, who he coached on the Las Vegas Gladiators in 2005.

“You know on tape when you’re watching a Clint Dolezel team,” James said, “because they always play hard, and they play the right way.”

While Dolezel missed out on his third consecutive Coach of the Year honor, his assistant head coach, Phil Bogle, won Assistant Coach of the Year.

Bogle, Dolezel and the Soul will hope to beat Tampa Bay on Saturday for the fourth time this season. Raudabaugh doesn’t expect it to be easy.

“We know Tampa is going to bring their A-game,” he said. “I’m very excited to play in front of the home crowd; we know it will be really loud in here. Still, we know Tampa is a good team and is going to play their best.”

Raudabaugh, in his sixth season with the Soul, will be making his fourth ArenaBowl appearance, and looking to win back-to-back titles after last year’s 56-42 triumph over the Arizona Rattlers.

“After losing a couple ArenaBowls early in my career (to Arizona in 2012 and 2013), I feel a lot more confident now in crunch moments and big games,” Raudabaugh said. “I’m thankful the organization has continued to have faith in me.”

However, the Soul quarterback said he doesn’t derive much extra confidence from the team’s 3-0 record thus far against Tampa Bay, or from the Soul's 13-1 regular season.

“I’m sure both teams will make some adjustments, but really arena football is a pretty simple game,” Raudabaugh said. “It’s all about who executes best that night.”