Coming spring 2019: Murray High football field to host semi-pro footballJun 18, 2018 03:32PM ● By Carl Fauver
Marcus Nelson wants to be the Utah Browns starting running back next year. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
There’s no doubt the worst team in the National Football League in recent years has been the woeful Cleveland Browns. Winners of just one game in 2016, the team found a way to be even worse last year, going 0-16.
So perhaps it’s no surprise one of the newest members of the Minor Football League (MFL) — a team that was originally scheduled to play five home games at Murray High School this summer — has been beset by headaches and conditions out of their control, forcing them to the difficult decision to hold off play for a year.
They are, after all, Cleveland’s namesake, the Utah Browns, a name randomly assigned to the Salt Lake valley group, as the MFL works to expand.
“The bottom line is, we do not want to put an inferior product on the field and ask people to buy tickets to see it,” said Browns Operations Director David Webb. “The MFL is working to expand to a full 32 teams — matching the number in the NFL — but they seem to have been moving too quickly. Other teams they thought were committed, have backed out. We could have played this summer, but the product would not have been as good as we want it to be to build a fan base.”
The Browns’ organization knows full well that secondary football teams have a track record of failure in Utah. Indoor football alone has seen the rise and demise of teams like the Warriors, Blaze and most recently, Screaming Eagles.
“Salt Lake area fans have every right to be skeptical about a new semi-pro football team,” Webb said. “So we want to be sure we can put a quality product on the field. We spoke with Murray School District officials about delaying for a year, and they said we could plan on using the Murray High School football field next year. That’s what we are now working toward.”
He called the MHS Spartans home field “by far our first choice among high school venues. It’s a quality field, centrally located (in the Salt Lake valley) and has good seating.”
Although it’s described as a “semi-pro” league, MLF players are not paid and must instead pay a $250 participation fee. However, Utah Browns Head Coach and General Manager Jon Price said many of the athletes still hope to work their way into the National Football League or another salary-paying league, possibly the Canadian Football League.
“The MFL is working to become an active minor league partner with the National Football League,” Price said. “The Minor Football League has been around since 1993, but mostly on the east coast. The league has been in talks with the NFL for quite some time to try to formalize an agreement.”
If the NFL formally anointed the MFL as their official “farm system,” the status of the league would skyrocket quickly. Utah Browns brass hope that will happen but aren’t banking on it. They’re instead planning to use the next year to reach out to the community and start publicizing their existence.
“We hope to hold some football clinics for younger players this summer and do some other community activities,” Webb said. “Although we aren’t going to play for a year, we have several players committed to us who say they will help out with these events and getting the word out about the team.”
That’s all well and good, but you can bet they wish they had a Browns season this summer. At a recent tryout — before the decision was made to suspend play this year — several players were eager to get to it.
“Once you have an itch to play, you don’t want to give it up,” said Ramone Washington, a running back out of Nebraska.
Lavontae Jefferson is a defensive end who played for Jordan High School and Snow College. “I have a passion for football and really want to keep playing,” he said.
And Marcus Nelson also still has not given up the dream of getting paid to play football, even though he’s 11 years removed from his high school playing days, at Magna’s Cyprus High School.
“I’m married with three kids, and this is how I want to support them,” Nelson said at the tryout. “I am a running back and have bounced around several semi-pro teams. I train every day and will be ready if (the Utah Browns) need me.”
The MFL is committed to videotaping all of their games and providing those tapes to the NFL, CFL or any other league that becomes interested in a player.
Price, a 1995 Cottonwood High School graduate, said there’s plenty of work to be done to get the Browns ready to play next year.
“Everything we do will be in the pro style,” he said. “We will run the short pass, west coast offense and a 4-3 defense. It will be exciting for fans.”
Last year, Price was the offensive coordinator for that one-season-and-done Screaming Eagles indoor team. That’s where he met Webb and Utah Browns Community Relations Director Jeremy Anderson, who interned for the team. A 1997 graduate of Murray High School, Anderson is excited the Browns will play their home games at his alma mater.
“I used to play indoor football and have always had a love for sports,” Anderson said. “I coached Ute Conference football for three years. When the Screaming Eagles went under — after only one season — I wanted to assist in getting a franchise off the ground that can be here for the long haul.”
It remains to be seen whether that will happen. But clearly the Utah Browns are determined to avoid putting an inferior product on the field, a commitment their namesakes out in Cleveland have not been able to accomplish.