Very few of them ever play professional football.
Ben Stallings has enjoyed much success playing on the pro level in the Arena Football League. Stallings, who played high school football at Bayou Academy and Indianola Academy and college ball at Delta State University and Lambuth, will be entering his third season with the Utah Blaze when the season starts on March 23 against the Pittsburgh Power.
Stallings, 25, has had a great career in the Arena League. The Boyle native has rushed for 337 yards with 23 touchdowns on 91 carries. Last season, he rushed for 129 yards with seven touchdowns on 43 carries as the Blaze advanced all the way to the semifinals of the Arena Football League Playoffs. The Blaze, who finished last year with a 12-6 record, lost to the eventual Arena League Champion Arizona Rattlers 75-69 in their semifinal contest. Stallings has already become the all-time leading rusher in the history of the Utah franchise.
“It’s been a huge experience,” Stallings said. “Coming in as a rookie and playing for one of the best quarterbacks in the league, Tommy Grady, was big. Coming in and being able to protect him and have the best offense in the league for the past two years has been a great experience. You get the results of being in the best offense for two years in a row. It’s a good thing and a good feeling to be able to accomplish that.”
Stallings said when he first began his career at Utah, the Blaze weren’t exactly a winning team as they were 2-14 in 2010.
“The coaches up there really had a big impact on me coming down there,” Stallings said. “Ron McBride is a legend. He’s coached on every college level, and he was my line coach. He was kind of old school. The first year I was there we went 9-9. Last year, we went 12-6 and made it to the semifinals and got beat.”
Through out his playing career, Stallings has had to learn to adapt to the speed of the game on each level he has advanced to.
“I went from playing in private school football to Delta State football and the speed of the game was 100 percent faster. Moving from college to the next level is another 100 percent faster,” Stallings said with a chuckle. “There’s not time to think and say ‘okay what do I need to do better?’ It’s like you better get the job done now or you’re not going to have a spot to play.”
Another adjustment that Stallings had to make as far as playing Arena League is getting used to the size of the playing field. On a regular football field, the playing surface is 100 yards with 10-yard end zones. In Arena League, it is 50 yards with 8-yard end zones. The shorter field has a major impact in the scoring off a typical Arena League game.
“The dimensions of the field are smaller and it makes it a little easier to score for the offense, but the first linebacker I ever went up against was a fifth round draft pick for the Cleveland Browns,” Stallings said. “So, the athletes are just as quick (as they are in the NFL), but the field is twice as small. That’s why we say our game is a lot faster than the NFL.”
Last year, the Blaze ranked third out of 17 Arena League teams in scoring offense by scoring an average of 62.7 points per game. To give an example of how many points are scored in Arena League, the Kansas City Command ranked last in the league in scoring offense by averaging 39.2 points per game.
Stallings said one key stop by the defense can make a huge difference in the game.
“We’ve scored 10 out of 11 drives before and lost the football game,” Stallings said. “We had 11 drives in a game and we lost because we missed one of those drives and didn’t score a touchdown. It’s a offensive game, and our defense has to be super aggressive in order to win.”
In the regular season the past two years, the Blaze has played in 18 regular season games each year. Last year, the Blaze had one stretch where they played 11 weeks in a row after an off week. On this year’s schedule, Utah will have an off week after the third game and will play 15 weeks in a row after that.
Stallings said it has taken a lot of work to stay in shape.
“It’s a everyday grind,” Stallings said. “You’ve got to work at it every single day. When you get five games in, from there on out, your body realizes what I’m I doing. Your knees — you can barely get out of bed. We’re lucky to get a one-week break during the season.
“There’s nothing like it, but it’s kind of fun because you’re around a group of men that know what it takes to finish and get to where we’re trying to go. When you’re around a team with the same ultimate goal, it’s a lot more fun than saying my body hurts,” Stallings added.
Stallings has stayed around the game during the offseason. This past year, he served as an assistant football coach on East Side’s staff. The Trojans had a great year as they went 14-1 and advanced all the way to the 3A North Half Title game.
Before the football season began, Stallings talked with East Side High School Principal Dr. Randy Grierson and East Side head football coach Roger Burton and he was given the chance to join the Trojans’ coaching staff.
“They gave me the opportunity to get on the coaching side of things,” Stallings said. “They gave me the opportunity to teach the kids things that I’ve learned from a lot of great coaches.”
Stallings said coaching at East Side has helped give him a new appreciation for the game and a great respect for everyone in the coaching profession.
“It’s funny,” Stallings said,” because all the coaches that have actually coached me are sitting here telling you to be able to look yourself in the mirror tomorrow and know that you’ve played the last game and left it on the field. You turnaround and you come back to Cleveland, Mississippi, and you’re telling these kids the same exact thing. I don’t know what it is, but when I was younger I knew what he was saying but I didn’t really process it until it actually happened.
“You just try to do your best to teach the kids that no matter what kind of adversity strikes on the football field, you’ve got to fight through it and get to the top,” Stallings added.
Stallings has been taking classes at Delta State University and has finally earned his bachelor’s degree in general business and administration.
He said he would love to be a head football coach in the future and be an athletic director at a school.
Stallings said he is planning on being back in Utah by Jan. 3.