Birmingham Stallions saddle up for year three

Published 1:07 pm Tuesday, March 26, 2024

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Alabama’s only professional football team, the Birmingham Stallions, are getting set to open the 2024 season this weekend.

This is year three for the two-time defending USFL Champion Stallions but year one under the newly formed United Football League (UFL), which merges the XFL and USFL into one league. The Stallions will play in the USFL Conference alongside the Houston Roughnecks, Memphis Showboats and Michigan Panthers. Meanwhile, the XFL Conference will feature the Arlington Renegades, DC Defenders, San Antonio Brahmas and St. Louis BattleHawks.

Last week, the Stallions closed out training camp and finalized their 50-man regular season roster. With a new, merged league – and new season – comes new faces to the Stallions roster along with some familiar faces.

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One familiar face that is no longer a Stallion is former Alabama star running back Bo Scarbrough, who helped lead the Stallions to the 2022 USFL Championship. An injury sidetracked his 2023 season and during training camp he announced his decision to retire from professional football.

The quarterback competition has been an interesting one of note for the Stallions this preseason. Last year’s starting quarterback, Alex McGough, led the Stallions to a second straight USFL Championship but signed with the Green Bay Packers after the season. He re-signed with the Packers in January.

However, J’Mar Smith – who threw for 1,573 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2022 – is back in the saddle at quarterback. Smith started the season opener last season, throwing a touchdown pass on the season’s first drive, but a broken hand sidetracked the remainder of his season.

Joining Smith on the Stallion roster at quarterback is former Ole Miss star Matt Corral and former Nebraska and Kansas State quarterback Adrian Martinez. Corral was an All-SEC quarterback at Ole Miss, throwing for 3,349 yards and 20 touchdowns with 614 yards on the ground in 2021. He went on to be drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Corral missed the entirety of his rookie season due to injury and was released before the 2023 season. He signed with the New England Patriots in 2023 but never played there either.

Martinez threw for 9,752 yards and 51 touchdowns during his college career at Nebraska and Kansas State, while also rushing for more than 2,000 yards. He was signed by the Detroit Lions in 2023 but was waived before the start of the season. This will be both Corral and Martinez’s rookie season in the UFL.

While head coach Skip Holtz said he wasn’t ready to name the starter ahead of the season opener he did say that he was confident that whoever the two active quarterbacks are would both see game action.

“I would think you’re going to see both of those quarterbacks play, whoever they are,” Holtz said. “We still have a work day today before I make that decision (on the starter). It really is that close. It’s one of the reasons I feel very comfortable that I will play more than one quarterback. I don’t think this is a one quarterback team.”

Some familiar faces to the Stallion roster include running back CJ Marable (525 yards, 3 TD in 2023), receiver Deon Cain (668 yards, 2 TD KO returns in 2023), tight end Jace Sternberger (513 yards, 7 TD in 2023), linebacker Scooby Wright (52 TKL, 3 sacks in 2022) and safety JoJo Tillery (19 TKL, 1 INT in 2023).

Another familiar face that returns to the Stallions is former All-USFL linebacker DeMarquis Gates who spent the past two seasons with the Chicago Bears in the NFL. In 2022, he led Birmingham with 68 tackles, 6.5 sacks and one interception. Wright also returns from an injury that sidelined him in 2023. Also back is 2022’s leading receiver Marlon Williams, who missed all of last season due to a knee injury.

Some other new faces on the Stallion roster include receiver Gary Jennings Jr. and defensive end Taco Charlton. Jennings, a former star receiver at West Virginia, spent time with the Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs and more in the NFL. Charlton was a first round NFL Draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 2017, who has recorded 95 tackles, 12 tackle-for-loss and 11.5 sacks during his NFL career, playing with the Cowboys, Dolphins, Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers and Bears.

Birmingham also signed former All-USFL linebacker Kyahva Tezino, who recorded 94 tackles and two interceptions for the Pittsburgh Maulers last season. Birmingham also has brought in All-USFL cornerback Mark Gilbert, who recorded 29 tackles and four interceptions with the Maulers last season.

“There are a lot of players that have been here and done this that probably feel very confident but I think this is also going to be a team that’s a lot like year one when we played New Jersey in game one,” Holtz said of his roster. “There are a lot of unknowns with this team but I do think there is an awful lot of talent. I think we have more talent this year but so does everyone else. I think the league is going to be much better and it will be interesting and exciting to see how it all plays out.”

Former Troy star quarterback Brandon Silvers also made the 50-man regular season roster for St. Louis. Silvers is involved in a quarterback competition with last year’s starting quarterback – and former Alabama All-American – AJ McCarron and former Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins. Silvers was the starting quarterback for the Houston Roughnecks in the XFL last season.

Birmingham will open the 2024 season against the reigning XFL Champion Arlington Renegades on the road this Saturday, March 30, at noon on FOX.