Raul Vijil feels he is still in a good place with the Spokane Shock.
It’s just not the place the 5-foot-10, 190-pound record-setting wide receiver had hoped to be, come the start of the 2009 arenafootball2 league season.
Vijil, like many of the 32 players who took part in the Shock’s first day of training camp Monday morning, had planned to take a step up to the Arena Football League this spring. But that dream was crushed last December when the AFL suspended operations for the 2009 season.
Vijil, a three-year af2 veteran and the Shock’s all-time leader in receptions (233), touchdown catches (62), receiving yards (2,454) and all-purpose yards (4,164), had a contract in place to play for the AFL’s Utah Blaze when the league announced it was cancelling the season, with hopes of resuming operations in 2010.
“That’s been my goal ever since I started playing here in Spokane,” admitted Vijil, a former standout at Eastern Washington University, who was a first-team All-af2 selection last season after catching 107 passes for 1,212 yards and 35 touchdowns in helping the Shock to the af2 Arena Cup title game where they fell in overtime to the Tennessee Valley Vipers.
“I finally had my chance, and was getting ready to move up when the announcement came. That was kind of a tough pill to swallow, and I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go after that. So I weighed my options and decided I was going to stay here in Spokane.”
Vijil’s story of disappointment is hardly unique.
In fact, third-year coach Adam Shackleford figures he only has two or three guys on his current roster who weren’t offered contracts to play in the AFL this season.
“A lot of our rookies are guys who where headed to the AFL,” he said. “But when that fell through, they were all looking for a place to play and ended up here. Before the AFL folded, we really thought we were going to be an extremely young football team, so we tried to load up on as many rookies as we could. Then, as we started getting more and more veterans back, we saw the potential to be a loaded football team this year.”
Shackleford, who has been involved in arena football since 2002, calls this year’s group of rookies the most talented he has ever seen. And he added this will be the first season he has ever worked with a starting quarterback for more than one year, thanks to the return of last year’s starter, Nick Davila, who threw for a franchise-record 2,935 yards and 66 touchdowns as a rookie in 2008.
“And we’ve also got our top three receivers back from last year, along with two of our all-conference linemen,” he noted. “I coached college football for a long time, too, and this has more of college feel, where you have a large senior class with a lot of experience coming back.”
The Shock will don pads for the first time Wednesday morning in preparation for their March 18 preseason home game against the Arkansas Twisters and their regular-season opener at home on April 3 against the Stockton Lightning.
And while most of Shackleford’s veterans will be aspiring to be somewhere else next year, don’t expect any huge dropoff in the intensity level the Shock displayed last season.
“This is the most veterans I’ve ever seen here,” Vijil said, “and everyone is hoping to move on for that 2010 season. The No. 1 goal for everybody here has always been to move up to that next level, but at the same time, we want to win games and improve on last year.
“That might be tough to do, though, because the only way we can improve is to win the championship.”