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Birmingham Stallions back to work with USFL season starting in less than three weeks

BIRMINGHAM — Skip Holtz sent a clear message to his Birmingham Stallions team when they first met for practice less than two weeks ago.

The USFL championship, which was won last season, belongs to last year’s team. This year’s team, however, hasn’t won anything.

“You look at last year, we won a championship, that was great,” Holtz said. “It’s a new year. There have only been eight return winners in the NFL since 1965. In the first eight years, there were four. There have only been four in the last 45 years. It’s hard to repeat. It’s hard to do this.” … The only way we’re going to do it is if we take the mindset that we’re humble and hungry, and we keep hitting that rock and we become the best we can be. We are not the King of the Mountain. We’re 0-0, and we’re going to get what we got this year.”

The work has begun.

“I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed getting back on grass, getting your heart rate up,” Holtz said. “During the offseason, they can lift weights. They can run, they can think about what we might call and the game plan kind of deal. But you can’t simulate 11-on-11. Coming here, we’ve waited eight months for this. Now , having the chance to get it, I love it.”

Holtz said the Stallions return about 80% of last year’s championship roster. Quarterbacks J’Mar Smith and Alex McGough return, as do leading running backs CJ Marable and Bo Scarbrough and receiver Marlon Williams. Defensive end Jonathan Newsome, linebacker Scooby Wright III and cornerbacks Lorenzo Burn and Brian Allen are among those returning to defense.

Starting camp with that core was different than a year ago when everyone was in their first USFL season.

“To get 80% back, those guys are coaching the new ones, the rookies,” said Holtz, who has 58 players on the current roster and must be reduced to 53 by the start of a season that begins April 15. “We now have rookies. Last year, they were all rookies. We have rookies and veterans. We have a lot of guys coming back who know what to do. I think they’ve done a great job coaching the newer players on how we do things, how we execute them. There’s a lot of training, not just from the coaches.”

USFL teams don’t have the luxury of practicing in the off-season or training as a team. Holtz said coaches and players received Zoom calls to help with learning and playbook retention. He said that every time a new player signed in the offseason, they sent him a playbook to start the learning process. It was still much easier for the veterans once practice started.

“It’s very refreshing to know that the first day we went out, 80% of the playbook was done,” Holtz said. “The vets were good. The rookies were swimming a bit, but they’re catching up.”

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