Scooby Wright, Stallions focus on what’s in front – not ahead

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With two weeks left in the 2022 USFL regular season, linebacker Scooby Wright and the undefeated 8-0 Birmingham Stallions have already secured a USFL Playoff berth and the South Division regular season title.

They know they’ll be at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio on June 25, playing for an opportunity to reach the Championship game on July 3.

But with two regular season games remaining – Saturday night against the Houston Gamblers (6 p.m. ET on USA Network) and the June 18 regular season finale against the Tampa Bay Bandits – Wright and the Stallions aren’t looking ahead.

“I think the biggest thing that we’ve done is just attack the week as 1-0 and that’s kind of helped us just to create momentum – having us not get too far [ahead] and just staying focused on each week and make sure we execute that,” he told NBC Sports this week.

USFL Week 9 – Houston Gamblers vs. Birmingham Stallions

  • When: Saturday, June 11 at 6 p.m. ET
  • Where: Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama
  • TV: USA Network
  • Stream: NBCSports.com

The Stallions have managed to execute week in, week out, in all sorts of ways.

Last week, the Stallions engaged in a defensive struggle with the Breakers (see highlights at the top). Wright made eight tackles, suitably playing his role in a game that included a total of six turnovers and five missed kicks.

Following Brandon Aubrey’s go-ahead field goal with less than two minutes to go in the game, the Stallions sealed a 10-9 win on an interception from Josh Shaw with six seconds left. With that, they overcame a second-half deficit to win for the seventh time in eight games this season.

Afterwards, head coach Skip Holtzwho had previously told NBC Sports that the then 4-0 Stallions hadn’t quite put it all together yet as a team – proclaimed the Stallions as championship caliber on account of their mental toughness.

“A championship team isn’t perfect,” Holtz said. “A championship team isn’t [a team that] never has a bad play. But a championship football team overcomes those things because they’re mentally tough enough to do it.”

When asked where that toughness has come from, Wright pointed to his teammates.

“We have some good guys on our defense that just love football – and are some dogs, to be honest,” said Wright, who may also have some dog in himself if his “Shark Dawg” sack celebration from Week 4 was an indication.

“Just that ‘we’ll never quit.’ I know (linebacker) DeMarquis Gates – he’s a great football player, he plays hard every single play. We have a lot of great guys on our defense: (cornerback) Brian Allen, Josh Shaw, a lot of guys with good football experience and guys who are good football players.

“When we’re firing on all cylinders, we do pretty good. So (we) just got to make sure we keep doing it.”

RELATED: 2022 USFL Playoff Picture – Current standings, clinching scenarios, and key dates to know ahead of Week 9

There’s more football to play, but on the field, Wright says it’s already been the best of his three excursions into the alternative pro leagues.

A former All-American at the University of Arizona and veteran of 13 NFL games (Cardinals, 2016-17), Wright’s pro career continued in the Alliance of American Football (Arizona Hotshots, 2019) and the second version of the XFL (DC Defenders, 2020).

On both of those occasions, the league shut down before it could complete a season.

When his time in the XFL was over, Wright took up martial arts and competed in jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai tournaments. He also began training to become a firefighter in his home of Sonoma County, California (more on that below in our First and 10 section).

But when the USFL emerged, Wright couldn’t resist putting the football pads on again.

In comments from February to a sports radio station in Tucson, Arizona, he noted the “comical part” of going back into alt-league football after the AAF and XFL’s untimely ends.

But he also said: “No regrets – I’m not trying to look back when I’m 50 and wish I would’ve done this or done that. I’m just going to send it.”

Wright’s done just that, and he’s now a key component for a Stallions defense that’s allowing the fewest points per game (16.8) and second-fewest net yards per game (277.1) in the USFL.

He’s also become a sort of folk hero to the Stallions fans at Protective Stadium and Legion Field who come wearing shark masks and Scooby-Doo – or is it Shark Dawg? – chains around their necks. One fan had the honor of giving Wright his own chain.

As the host team this season, the support for the Stallions has been noticeable compared to the other teams. But what if that support becomes more muted in a postseason played on a neutral site?

“Don’t get me wrong, we love our fans here in Birmingham – they’ve fully accepted us and it’s really cool,” Wright said. “But I think it’ll be a good experience for us to go up there and see how we play as an ‘away’ game.

“But it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. It’s football. You lob the ball up and you go out there and play. The fans are large to an extent, but it’s not like there’s 80,000 people in the stands.”

Focus on the field. Tune out the noise. Get the win. Move on to the next game.

Sounds like a Shark Dawg’s mentality to us.

First and 10 with Scooby Wright

10 quick questions to get to know the new talent of the USFL

Pre-game ritual?

“Not really. I just kind of have my music on and just chill.”

Post-game ritual?

“Not really.”

Favorite food?

“Pizza after the game… Pepperoni, or meat lover’s.”

Favorite football player?

“James Harrison… Just that he was kind of a journeyman early on in his career and his work ethic, just the way he went about his business.”

Favorite movie?

“The Wolf of Wall Street.”

 Favorite vacation spot?

“Negril, Jamaica.”

 Most famous person you’ve met outside of football?

“Machine Gun Kelly.”

How would your family and friends describe you as a person?

“I don’t know, if I’m being honest. Depends on who you ask.”

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?

“I wish I was 6’2″. Tired of being called short as a linebacker.”

Name one thing about yourself that not everybody knows about you.

“I’m certified to be a firefighter.”

(Writer: Do you plan on continuing that path after the season’s over?)

“I really don’t know what my next few months hold. Just trying to figure it out to be honest. Just feel like I’m jumping timelines back and forth. But I graduated the fire academy in December – got firefighter 1, firefighter 2, all my certificates. Then I was in the process of working on my EMT courses, so I’ve got to get my EMT course, like a five or six week course and pass a test, then I’ll be able to apply for jobs. But I was volunteering as a firefighter back home.”

(Writer: What about being a firefighter or a first responder appeals to you?)

“It was, moreso, I have five or six friends I played with that are all firefighters. So that’s interesting how that would’ve worked out for me, but my football coach growing up is actually the fire captain at the station I work at now. So who knows what’s going to happen. Hopefully I get into another training camp and get an opportunity but just figure it out from there. Probably get back into martial arts, do that stuff.”

USFL Week 9 Schedule

Saturday, June 11

Sunday, June 12

  • Tampa Bay Bandits (4-4) vs. New Orleans Breakers (5-3) – 4 p.m. ET on FOX
  • Philadelphia Stars (5-3) vs. Pittsburgh Maulers (1-7) – 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1

Control what you can control: How journey through the fire led Generals RB Darius Victor to the USFL

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“Life feels good when you’re winning,” says one of the men responsible for the Generals’ success last season, running back Darius Victor. “I’m playing the game I love, my team is winning games, and that’s all a man can ask for.”

Victor was named the USFL’s Offensive Player of the Year after leading the league with nine rushing touchdowns, ranking third in rushing yards (577), and fourth in yards per game (57.7). At 5’8″ and 209 pounds, with 30-inch quads (yes, you read that right…30 inches), the Generals RB is a wrecking ball on the field.

“Thick thighs save lives,” Victor recalls as he laughs about the Week 5 game-winning play. “I had to put them to use and push him [Perez] over to the endzone.”

With his light-hearted demeanor and self-described goofball personality, it would be hard to fathom the hell Darius Victor has walked through to get to where he is today.

“I’m not even supposed to be here”

Victor, who is one of seven children (4 brothers, and 2 sisters), was born in 1994 in a refugee camp in Africa’s Ivory Coast after his parents, Gary and Patricia, fled the first Liberian Civil War.

“Have you ever seen the movie Blood Diamond?” Victor asks, “That’s the type of environment I was born into.”

Victor and his family literally ran for their lives, hiding and sleeping in bushes for safety when their country was being torn apart by violence and bloodshed. Nearly 250,000 people — men, women, and children — lost their lives in Liberia’s civil war.

“I was too young to remember what happened at the time,” Victor told NBC Sports. “But from the stories my parents have told me about what we were running away from, I’m not even supposed to be here.”

The Victor family moved to the U.S. in 1999 and lived in Manassas, Virginia before moving to Hyattsville, Maryland, in 2002. After leaving everything behind, Gary and Patrica worked tirelessly to provide for their family and while their parents were out just trying to make ends meet, all seven of the Victor siblings Velma, Earl, Kevin, Darius, Leon, Shaka, and Nicole — looked out for one another. Helping with homework, making sure everyone was fed, and involved in activities. For Kevin and Darius in particular, that activity was football.

Sibling Rivalry

“My older brother Kevin was my role model growing up,” Victor recalls. “I used to go with him to football practice and he was pretty good. He was a Boys and Girls Club legend. I had to compete with him in everything and I wanted to be better than him in everything that I did. So I started playing football and tried really hard to be better than him. Having that role model to follow is what really gave me a love for the game.”

The duo, four years apart in age, went on to play football at Northwestern High School, sharpening each other with their competitive nature both on and off the field. But everything changed in December 2011, when Kevin was tragically shot and killed walking home from the local community center after playing basketball with friends — just one block away from his family’s apartment.

“Losing a child and a sibling is crazy,” Victor said. “It was tough but it made us even closer as a family. It made me go even harder because Kevin was always the tough one on me. When we were kids I would always cry on the football field if something didn’t go my way and Kevin would straighten me out.”

“His passing has given me a mindset of toughness and resiliency. I’m always thinking about him and trying to live up to the level of confidence that he had in me.”

In October, just 10 months after Kevin’s passing, Darius was in the midst of a breakout senior season when the Victor family’s apartment burned down.

“The toughest part wasn’t even losing our stuff but it was seeing my Mom and Dad cry again. That was so tough on me.” Darius recalls. “At that point in my life, I had to decide to never question God, believe that everything happens for a reason, and control what I could control.”

Towson Tough

With family at the forefront of his mind, Victor decided to play football at Towson University, where he earned a scholarship, roughly 45 minutes away from his hometown. He earned First-Team All-CAA honors in 2014, rushing for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns on 250 carries, but says he also a learned new level of toughness from his coaches and teammates that he still keeps in contact with today.

“Coach Reno Ferri really believed in me and that gave me so much confidence,” Victor said. “But there are so many guys there that really spoke into my life including my teammates FB Dreon Johnson, RB Terrance West, and coaches Rob and Jared Ambrose.”

Stay Ready

Victor, who only played in 4 games during his senior year of college due to a toe injury, went undrafted after graduating from Towson in 2017 but had several opportunities with NFL teams. Victor received an invite to the New York Jets rookie minicamp, the New Orleans Saints training camp, and even landed a spot on the Arizona Cardinals practice squad but unfortunately, those opportunities didn’t end the way he wanted them to.

However, the Hyattsville native didn’t let that discourage him.

“I’ve been through so much in life that I’ve grasped the concept of controlling what you control,” the 28-year-old said. “One of my mottos is to stay ready so you don’t have to get ready so doing that and just trusting God made me available mentally and physically for the next opportunity.”

For Victor, that meant showing up to train long hours after working a 9-5 job every day as a Sales Operations Manager at Penske and staying consistent no matter what — even when the CFL signed and cut him a day before he was supposed to leave for Canada (2019) and when the XFL season came to a sudden halt in the midst of a global pandemic (2020).

But when the USFL finally called, selecting him in the 6th round of the Supplemental Draft, he was ready. Victor says his love for his family and his faith in God is what fueled him during the hard times in life.

“Knowing all that my family has been through and the fact that we’re not even supposed to be here, every day I get is a blessing and I just want to make them proud. They are my why, ” says Victor, who is often spotted wearing merchandise with the phrase “Keep God 1st” on his clothing.

“I don’t care if you are a millionaire or dirt poor…life is going to life, but if you put God first everything will work itself out and that’s how I live my life.”

First and 10 with Darius Victor

To what do you attribute the New Jersey Generals’ early success?

“We have great coaching and great leadership. The team is very close and we hold each other accountable because we all have the same goal. We’ve all been through similar experiences. I’m pretty sure I’ve talked to 30 or 38 players who’ve been cut multiple times too and that creates a bond.”

“Also, we have a little chip on our shoulder because in preseason we were projected to finish last in the league due to our ‘talent level’, so shout out to whoever released those preseason polls because it made us hungry.”

If someone were to be a fly on the wall in the locker room, what’s one thing that they’d be surprised to find out about the New Jersey Generals?

“After a win, we do a ‘hip, hip hooray’ chant. Coach Riley goes ‘hip hip’ and the rest of the team goes ‘hooray’. It’s the greatest thing ever.”

What’s your role on the team?

“I’m one of the older guys on the team so I consider myself to be one of the leaders and the ‘special teams captain’. Coach always jokes around and says I’m the heart and soul of the team. I just want to do everything I can to make this team successful.”

How would you describe your style as a running back?

“I think I’m pretty balanced but the thing that separates me the most is my physicality. I don’t think a lot of human beings can run the football like me. If you just watch the tape or just watch the football games, that’s how I stand out.”

Pre-game hype song?

“I have to listen to the song “I’m a dog” by Gucci Mane that puts me in my zone.

Gameday superstitions?

“I have a superman Jesus cut-off shirt that I wear under my pads every game. I wouldn’t really call it a superstition but I wouldn’t feel right without it.”

What’s one thing about yourself that not everyone knows?

“I’m addicted to Candy Crush. I’m on level 4,650.”

Favorite Football player?

John Johnson, he’s the starting safety for the Cleveland Browns and also my best friend”.

Favorite Movie?

“Oh, Forest Gump. Easy.”

Favorite pair of kicks?

“Jordan 1s, I can’t pick one specific pair.”

Just Keep Going: Stallions RB CJ Marable makes a policy of perseverance

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RB CJ Marable was instrumental in helping the Birmingham Stallions become the inaugural USFL champions in 2022. Marable who was named the USFL Week 5 Offensive Player of the Week, was Birmingham’s leading rusher finishing the season with 401 rushing yards and 5 rushing touchdowns.

While his highlight reel was, quite literally, on display this past season, his journey to playing professional football has been far from easy.

A Dream is Born

Torrance Marable Jr., who goes by the nickname CJ, laced up his first set of football pads at the age of 5. Some of his earliest memories include tossing the ball outside with his father, Torrance Marable Sr., who doubled as his all-time quarterback in outdoor pickup games. It was in his hometown backyard in Decatur, Georgia that the elder Marable told his son he was capable of taking it to the next level, instilling in him a new passion for the game.

“He just looked at me one day and said, man, you’ve got it,” CJ recalls. “Just stay focused, stay consistent, and the sky is the limit. And that confirmed everything for me. I fell in love with the game and believed I could be whatever I wanted to be because my Dad said it.”

Marable, a two-star recruit coming out of Towers High School, initially signed with Arkansas State as a grayshirt, but in the weeks leading up to his expected start date, he says the communication with the school just stopped, unexpectedly. Arkansas State wasn’t returning his calls and when they finally called him back, they no longer had a place for him on the team.

Pivoting along the Path

Wanting to keep his football dreams alive, Marable pivoted his focus to playing at the junior college level. But a last-minute offer to play at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina — with a full scholarship — was one he couldn’t refuse. Marable’s 2017 freshman season was explosive: the Georgia native started all 11 games and led the Big South with 1,038 rushing yards only to find out that the school was pulling back on its football team and would become a non-scholarship program by 2020.

With his dreams once again the line, it was a familiar time for Marable – time to pivot. He transferred to Coastal Carolina, a place he says shaped him into a better person on and off the field.

“We had this acronym B.A.M., which stood for Be a Man,” Marable told NBC Sports. “Coach Jamey Chadwell taught us to be accountable for whatever we do and to stand on our own two feet. He told us that if you quit on football and can’t go through the hard times here, then there’s no way that you’ll be able to deal with the hard times in life.”

Deferred but not Denied

Marable finished his collegiate career with a streak of 32 straight games with at least one reception. In his three years at Coastal Carolina (2018-2020), he rushed for 2,691 yards with 41 total touchdowns, assembling impressive enough stats and film to sign as an undrafted free agent contract with the Chicago Bears in 2021. But once again, things didn’t go as planned and Marable was released before the start of the regular season.

“I wasn’t comfortable where I was because I felt like I should have been drafted,” he said. “I felt like I had a point to prove. I did what I was supposed to do but it just wasn’t in my favor at the time. I never wanted to question God so I just had to stay consistent, stay focused, and continue to grind to get to where I wanted to be.”

It was in this period, dialed in on training and staying pro-ready with tunnel vision focus, that he heard about the USFL, not just once but on three separate occasions. First, the idea came from his manager, who he calls “Hood”, who thought it would be a good opportunity for the running back. His trainer for the NFL combine agreed. But Marable brushed the idea off both times, wanting to stay focused on that potential NFL opportunity. It wasn’t until his girlfriend’s father brought it up again that Marable took it as a sign to do his own research and take the USFL seriously as a path forward in professional football.

Just Keep Going

Looking back, Marable credits his strong support system, specifically his Mother, Sabrina Sims, for helping him stay positive in periods of disappointment and uncertainty.  “She reminded me that every storm I’ve been in, I’ve got out of.”

“Life is going to hit you,” the 25-year-old said. “Nothing is going to go as planned but never give up. If I could go back in time and give my younger self advice it would be these two simple words: keep going. God’s got you, never give up.”

Leading by Example

Marable, who welcomed a baby boy in March with girlfriend Bayley Randall, says he wants to instill that lesson in his son Trae (Torrance Christopher Marable III).

“When he grows up I want to be that example and show him that Dad never gave up. Even though I failed at times the difference between me and anybody else is that I just never gave up.”

The Stallions running back is currently working towards a Master’s degree in Sports Psychology. He wants to help other athletes develop when his football career is over — which, at the rate he’s playing, doesn’t look like it’ll be anytime soon.

First and 10 with CJ Marable

Pregame ritual?

“I love to listen to music, my favorite artist is Future so that’s all I play. But my go-to hype-up album is “Thug Motivation” by Young Jeezy.

What is your role on the team?

To get the offense rolling. My strengths include blocking the ball out the backfield, my vision, and my speed.

To what do you attribute the Birmingham Stallions’ early success?

“I’m really impressed with how well we get along with each other. We laugh with each other. We joke with each other. We are a family. We spend our off days and downtime together. The offensive linemen and the running backs go out to eat every Thursday or Friday depending on the week.”

“Honestly, it feels great when everything you work for is paying off. But in the back of our minds, we know that we have to stay consistent. We have a bullseye on our chest. Everybody wants to beat the Birmingham Stallions.”

What is it like being the only USFL team to play in front of a home crowd?

“I feel like the fans are really coming out there and doing their job and it’s helped us a lot, especially on third downs you can just hear them yelling ‘defense, defense’. We’re the first professional football team for Alabama so it feels great to be able to just go out there and put on for the city of Birmingham.”

Favorite Running Back?

Reggie Bush. When I was at Carolina, we played against BYU on “College GameDay”, and I had a great game. Later during the week, I got interviewed by Reggie Bush so that was a cool experience.”

Favorite Food?

“Wings. All flats.”

Favorite Movie?

“Friday”

Favorite Vacation Spot?

Hawaii

How would your family and friends describe you as a person?

“I’m a driven person and I won’t let anything stop me from getting to where I want to be in life. I’m also funny and outgoing.

Name one thing about yourself that not everybody knows about you.

“I enjoy fishing.”

RELATED: Control what you can control – How journey through the fire led Generals RB Darius Victor to the USFL