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.”

Jake Metz, Soul credit strong 4th-quarter defensive effort for championship win

Jake Metz, Soul credit strong 4th-quarter defensive effort for championship win

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Despite the Soul leading by three touchdowns early in ArenaBowl XXIX, there was little cheering from the their bench.

Given the volatility that is Arena League football and the frequency with which teams can strike, the approach remained resolute and determined. Defensive tackle Jake Metz kept the mindset of a scoreless game and could not stop hearing words coming from Ron Jaworski, a highly vocal partner in the Soul’s ownership.

“He kept yelling that offense gets headlines but defense wins championships,” said Metz, who currently lives in Schwenksville, Montgomery County, and went to Shippensburg University. “That resounded with me, and brought the championship.”

Metz and his defensive teammates then went out and shut down a highly hazardous and explosive Arizona Rattlers offensive unit en route to a 56-42 win (see story). Led by quarterback Nick Davila, the only three-time MVP in Arena Football League history, the Rattlers could manage only seven points in a critical fourth quarter.

At the same time, Metz recovered a fumble by Davila with the Soul holding a slim six-point margin with just under six minutes to play. That turnover was the key point in the Soul’s eventual win, and cemented the role of the defense as a shut-down unit.

On the subsequent possession, Soul quarterback Dan Raudabaugh connected with Shaun Kauleinamoku on a 30-yard scoring strike. That created a 14-point comfort zone and the final margin of victory.

“These players deserve this championship,” Soul head coach Clint Dolezel said. “This is a first class organization and ownership gives the players a first-class experience. That way, we can attract great players, and with great players comes success.”

In capturing the league title Friday night, the victory was the second in franchise history. In 2008, the Soul and Phillies each won championships, and that was the last time a professional team captured a title in Philadelphia.

Metz remembers the Phillies' win over the Rays, and pointed out, “I went to those games as a kid.” That championship stuck with the 6-foot-6, 265 pounder, and helped to forge a championship mentality.

Early in the fourth quarter, Arizona caught the Soul at 42-42. From that point, Raudabaugh directed two scoring drives, and along with Metz’s important fumble recovery, carried the Soul to the title.

“It’s all about how you respond,” said Raudabaugh, who finished with 20 for 36 for 278 yards and six touchdowns. “Granted, they have a very explosive team, but we were never out it. They did come back, but we had an answer for them.”

The answer was a strong defense which Dolezel indicated was playing at their peak just prior to the title game.

Defensive back Tracy Belton, the AFL defensive player of the year and DB Dwayne Hollis, whose fumble recovery for a touchdown early in the game was another key defensive play, clearly showed how a defense can carry a team to a league title. That was the effort the Soul brought together in an environment as unpredictable as the Arena Football League.

Soul fight off Rattlers' comeback bid, win ArenaBowl XXIX

Soul fight off Rattlers' comeback bid, win ArenaBowl XXIX

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Prior to ArenaBowl XXIX, the consensus among players and coaches was the team which makes fewer mistakes had a reasonable chance to win.

When the Arizona Rattlers committed two critical turnovers in the initial minutes Friday night, the Soul jumped out to an early lead and then capitalized on big plays from the defense to earn a 56-42 win and their second ArenaBowl title in franchise history.

The championship is the first for a professional team in Philadelphia since the Soul and Phillies each took individual titles in 2008. Villanova captured the men’s NCAA basketball championship this past April.

Coming into the title game at Gila River Arena, Arizona averaged 83.0 points per game in postseason play, and the Soul defense, which averaged 45.5 points allowed in playoff competition, did not deviate from its norm.

“We trust in our defense,” said defensive back Dwayne Hollis, who scored on an early fumble recovery and had a key interception late. “The fumble was great work from the line. A few guys got in there and the ball came loose. I was able pick it up and I only saw the end zone.”

This one started in a way all too familiar to the Soul defense.

Following a 16-yard touchdown reception from Darius Reynolds, and an early 7-0 Soul lead, Hollis scored just over three minutes later. That’s when he picked up the fumble from Rattlers running back Mykel Benson and ran 48 yards for the score.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Rattlers’ Anthony Amos could not handle the rebound off the netting in the end zone and Tracy Belton, the AFL Defensive Player of the Year, scooped up the loose ball for a touchdown. That brought the Soul out to a 21-0 lead less than seven minutes into the game, and created a relatively secure comfort level.

“We go against those guys every day in practice, and know how good our defense really is,” said quarterback Dan Raudabaugh, who finished with a 20-for-36 night, 278 yards and six touchdowns. “This is such a great defense, and they proved it when it counted.”

Despite an early lead, the Rattlers managed to catch the Soul at 42-42 early in the fourth quarter. On the next possession, Raudabaugh engineered a six-play scoring drive that culminated in a 21-yard TD strike to Shaun Kauleinamoku. After the extra point was blocked, that created a six-point lead, and then the key defensive play of the game.

As Arizona quarterback Nick Davila attempted to pass from the Soul 15-yard line, his arm was hit and defensive tackle Jake Metz recovered. From there, Raudabaugh connected with Kauleinamoku on a 30-yard scoring strike, and this one was in the win column for the Soul.

“Our defense is persistent,” said Metz, a native of Souderton, Pennsylvania, who went to Shippensburg University. “This group never gives up, and we did our job.”

In postgame awards, Kauleinamoku was named the Playmaker of the Game, and Belton was honored as the Defensive Player of the Game.

For his key 30-yard TD reception late in the game, Kauleinamoku was given the Catch of the Game, and Hollis’ fumble recovery and touchdown early was noted as the Highlight of the Game.

Soul's Clint Dolezel shares Coach of the Year award with Rattlers' Kevin Guy

Soul's Clint Dolezel shares Coach of the Year award with Rattlers' Kevin Guy

For the third time in five seasons, the Soul and Arizona Rattlers will compete in the ArenaBowl. Prior to Friday night's 7 p.m. matchup, the leaders of both squads, Soul coach Clint Dolezel and Rattlers coach Kevin Guy, were each named Marcum Moss Coach of the Year.

Dolezel and Guy will share the award but not the ArenaBowl trophy, which the Soul haven't won since their lone triumph in 2008 over the San Jose Sabercats. Dolezel, who has been at the helm since August 2012, led the Soul to the ArenaBowl in 2012 and 2013 but lost to the Rattlers on both occasions.

This season, Dolezel, who spent over a decade as a quarterback in the AFL, coached the Soul to a 13-3 regular-season record. The team advanced to the ArenaBowl with a dramatic win in the American Conference championship game over the Jacksonville Sharks.

Dolezel also earned the Coach of the Year award last season for guiding the Soul to a 15-3 overall mark and a conference championship game appearance.

“Without a question, Clint is one of the best offensive minds in AFL history,” Soul majority owner Ron Jaworski said in a press release. “His success is attributed to a great deal of preparation and hard work. To make a playoff appearance every year as a head coach shows his dedication and willingness to win.”