Birmingham Iron defense

Aaron Adeoye – DE

Aaron Adeoye, was a dual sport threat at Southeast Missouri State, excelling at both D1 basketball and attracting the attention of scouts on the gridiron. In 2018, he gave up hoops to focus solely on football signing with “The Spring League” before finding his way to Birmingham. Given his demonstrated on-field prowess in the secondary, Iron fans will be happy he did.

Beniquez Brown – LB

There are six linebackers on the Iron roster including two who honed their ample skills at Mississippi State University. One of these former Bulldogs, native Alabamian, Beniquez Brown, spent three years (2013-2015) terrorizing opposing runners, receivers and quarterbacks, within the SEC and out.

A punishing tackler with quickness, superior lateral movement and marked instincts, he ranks 10th all-time at MSU for tackles for loss. Beniquez also has a laudable reputation as a leader, a desirable character trait for any player; most especially one on a team coached by Tim Lewis. In 2018, the Green Bay Packers signed Beniquez as an undrafted free agent. He spent some time on their practice squad before jumping into the AAF. Come game day, I suspect Iron fans will be quite happy Beniquez decided to swap out his cowbell for an anvil.

Christian Bryant – DB

Defensive back Christian Bryant, joined the Iron roster as another addition necessary to offset injuries incurred over the last two games. Playing for “The” Ohio State secondary, Christian spent four seasons (2010-2013) at both the cornerback and safety positions. The gifted defender leveraged speed, agility and perceptive decision-making skills to bolster the Buckeye’s strong secondary while amassing very respectable numbers.

In 2011, Christian ranked #3 in the Big Ten for Passes Defended. Earning a reputation as a heavy hitter, he ended a stellar career with 168 tackles and two interceptions. Despite suffering a senior year season ending injury – broken ankle – the St. Louis Rams drafted Christian in 2014 in the 7th Round and he also spent time on the Cardinals, Giants and Browns practice squads.

Given that Christian’s degree of talent and experience has caught the discerning eye of coach and defensive sage, Tim Lewis is a safe bet he will deliver both depth and positive results to the Iron secondary.

Elijah Campbell – DB

Native Minnesotan, Elijah Campbell, is one of 10 DBs listed on the Iron roster. The talented six-footer balled at Northern Iowa University as a junior and senior (2017-2018) having begun his college career – like many former professional football stars – at the JUCO level. (In fact, Elijah played in the 2014 Junior College Championship Game.)

Elijah performed incredibly well his two years in the Panthers’ secondary, being among the team leaders in tackles and hauling in a very impressive eight INTs. His steady and stellar performance earned him an NFL contract with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted rookie. Now rocking Iron black and silver, look for Elijah to bring a similar level of game to the field.

Chris Davis – DB

Coach Lewis has amassed an adroit collection of talent spread across the Iron’s 52 player roster. Arguably, this is no more apparent than in the defensive backfield; a “who’s who” of former college stars tenfold deep.

One such standout, former Auburn Tiger, cornerback, Chris Davis, a 2013 All-American, and best known for returning a missed Alabama field goal 109 yards and a winning TD in the 78th Iron Bowl (breaking Crimson Tide fan’s hearts – alas, this author included – everywhere.)

During his four years at Auburn (2110-2013) he was both a daunting presence in the secondary and equally intimidating returning punts and kickoffs. As such, while Chris’s primary role is pass defense, don’t be surprised to see drop back for the occasional punt or better yet, a field goal attempt!

Xzavier Dickson – LB

In 2014, Alabama’s pass rush was one of the most ferocious and daunting in college football. Linebacker, Xzavier Dickson, was a tentpole in that monstrously competitive unit, recording a ridiculous nine quarterback sacks and 13 tackles for a loss.

Possessing polished technique, brazen attitude, physicality and enviable pass rushing prowess, he was the consummate disruptive force; intimidating and overcoming opponents with his speed, craftiness and good old fashion brute force. Following his time with the Tide, Xzavier, was drafted by Bill Belichick and found himself in New England. A brief stint with the Falcons was his next move before jumping to the Canadian Football League and stops with the Edmonton Eskimos and the Toronto Argonauts.

When the AAF beckoned, Xzavier needed scant coaxing to answer the call. Rumour has it there are seven quarterbacks in the league who wished he had stayed north of the border

Jeremy Faulk – DT

Several notable NFL players – Aaron Rodgers, Warren Moon, LeGarrette Blount, Keyshawn Johnson, Cam Newton to name a few – began their careers at the JUCO level. Iron defensive lineman, Jeremy Faulk, looks to add his name to that illustrious list of stars. While a member of the Garden City Community College Broncbusters – what a great team name – he abused OL opponents, crashing the line with reckless abandon, averaging eight tackles per game.

Jeremy’s on-field ability captured the attention of NFL scouts landing him on the Cleveland Browns roster. Look for Jeremy to bring this same level of intensity and performance to the Iron D-Line.

Josh Frazier

The talent Coach Lewis has stacked on his D-Line is impressive by any unit of measure. The bench is nine deep and brimming with champion pedigree and both collegiate and professional football experience.

Defensive tackle, Josh Frazier, is a case in point. The former Crimson Tide player spent four years at ‘Bama and was a member of two CFP National Champion teams (2015, 2017.) As the number one back-up on the team, the bruising nose tackle was an indomitable presence on the line.

He was a 7th Round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft; ultimately signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Possessing disarming agility and quickness along with a massive degree of ceaseless intensity, Josh bludgeoned offensive opponents time and again. Look for more of the same when he suits up in black and silver.

Placed on injured reserve week 3.

Jacob Hagen

Former Liberty University Flames standout, DB Jacob Hagen, brings speed, guile and NFL experience to the Iron secondary. Team captain on the 2014 Flames team, Jacob obviously possesses the vital leadership attribute crucial in strong backfield. And a desirable character trait we all know Coach Lewis seeks in his players.

Suffered a broken ankle in the week 2 game after showing a lot of promise.

Rickey Hatley – DT

Defensive tackle, Rickey Hatley, is the second of two former Mizzou players on the Iron roster. During his four years at Missouri (2013-2016), he was a lynchpin on the Tigers D-Line and proved to be a reliable deterrent against the run. In 2015, his coaches voted Rickey the Interior Lineman of the Year. His ample skills and positive attitude landed him in the NFL where he played on the Bills, Texans and Chiefs practice squads. No doubt, the Iron defense in stronger and deeper having Rickey in its ranks.

Nick James – DT

Four of the nine Iron defensive lineman played college ball in the South-eastern Conference including Mississippi State’s Nick James. The former Bulldogs stalwart balled four seasons in Starkville, the final two (2015, 2016) as a starter. At 6-3, 320 lbs, Nick was, more times than not, an unmovable obstruction for rival lineman trying to clear a lane and opposing running backs hoping to bust through for a gain. Usually, there was no joy to be found.

Following his college career, Nick signed with the Detroit Lions as an undrafted free agent. Prior to jumping into the AAF, he played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. Though I suspect Nick was happy playing north of the border, I am almost certain he is elated be rocking an Iron uniform and playing in the “Magic City.”

Ulric Jones  – DE

Defensive end, Ulric Jones joined the Iron in week 3 to replace the injured Jacob Hagen. Jones began his collegiate football career as a Butler County Community College Grizzly, where he spent two years pummelling opposing offensive lines.

Ulric’s sheer domination at the JUCO level led to a move to the SEC where he became a University of South Carolina stalwart; spending three years (2015-2017) logging time on the turf at Williams-Brice Stadium. During this time, Ulric played in 24 games recording a respectable 71 tackles and one sack.

At 6-5, 315, the native Alabamian proved to be an unyielding presence on the Gamecock D-Line exhibiting surprising quickness and lateral movement. Ulric also possesses the critical leadership trait – an element of character so desired by Coach Lewis in his players – and a sense of commitment as evidenced by his selection to receive the University’s Community Service Award.

The Seattle Seahawks signed Ulric as an undrafted free agent and he spent time on the practice squad. Filling the void left by a popular and capable injured player is an unenviable chore but it is one Ulric Jones will likely execute with skill, intensity and the passion borne of opportunity.

Jonathan Massaquoi – LB

Originally from the West African country of Liberia, Iron LB, Jonathan Massquoi, played college ball locally at Troy University. During his two-year stint as a Trojan, he racked up almost 130 tackles and had 19.5 QB sacks.

His notable on-field performance earned him a trip to the NFL where he spent time in the Falcons, Titans and Chiefs organizations. Had shoulder surgery in 2015 before being cut by Tennessee.

As a member of the Iron’s stout corps of linebackers, Jonathan will be a fearsome presence starring down opposing QBs.

Johnny Maxey – DL

South Carolina native, Johnny Maxey, played college ball at Mars Hill University. With the Lions, he was a menacing end on the D-Line. His ferocious style of play caught the eye of NFL scouts ultimately earning him a spot on the Steelers roster. A gifted athlete with fierce determination and mad skills, Johnny should feel right at home as a member of the “Iron Curtain.”

Lawrence Okoye released February 19

As we have learned over the last few months the AAF is a league filled with interesting human-interest stories. Along those lines, meet Iron DT, Lawrence Okoye. While Lawrence is one of a few non-U.S. born players in the league, more uniquely, he is the only player on any of the eight-team roster to have never played college football; at any level.

Lawrence grew up in the United Kingdom and excelled at track and field in high school. In fact, he is the British record holder in the discus event. A prior NFL walk-on, Lawrence will now spend weekends stuffing the run as part of the Iron’s D-Line.

Joe Powell – DB

A resounding strike on the Iron anvil and a hearty Birmingham welcome to the newest addition to the team, DB, Joe Powell. Taking the position vacated by Chris Davis, Joe brings NFL experience to the Iron’s already formidable secondary.

Powell played college ball at Globe Institute of Technology (GIT) – likely the only player on any AAF roster with this claim – and as a Knight, virtually owned the strong safety position in the conference. His play was so mad, Joe found himself on the Leigh Valley Steelhawks of the Professional Indoor Football League (PIFL.) In his first year – 2015 – he was the PIFL Defensive Player of the Year, recording 53 tackles and an astounding 11 interceptions.

Those mad numbers got him into the Arena Football League with the Cleveland Gladiators, then a try-out with the Philadelphia Eagles and ultimately a spot on the New York Giants roster. Most recently with the Buffalo Bills.

Max Redfield – DB

Iron defensive back, Max Redfield, honed his skills as a member of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania football team during the 2017 season. While with the Crimson Hawks, he established himself as one of the premier DBs at the Division II level earning the nod as a First Team All-American honours.

Max was also voted the IUP Men’s Athlete of the Year for 2017. Max patrolling the Iron secondary will likely spell trouble for opposing quarterbacks.

Trovon Reed – DB

Trovon Reed is the third overly competent member of the Auburn DB Triumvirate on the Iron roster. That said, he is the only defender on the secondary roster who spent the first of five college playing years on the other side of the ball as a WR and punt/kickoff returner. Conventional wisdom would imply that switching positions that late in one’s career would have less than optimal results, but apparently no one shared that notion with Trovon. His senior year in the Tiger secondary was a gem, demonstrating a keen ability to defend against the pass, the swiftness to quickly make up ground and a penchant for INTs.

Following his time at Auburn, Trovon played on the active roster of the San Diego Chargers and the practice squads of several other NFL teams. Lots of experience, lots of talent and lots of heart translates to lots of good things coming from Trovon in the Iron secondary.

Shaheed Salmon – LB

Florida native, linebacker, Shaheed Salmon, is quite familiar with the “Magic City” having played college ball at Samford. Named to the First Team All-Southern Conference in 2016, he was second on the team in tackles, recording 93; 13 for a loss of yards.

In 2018, Shaheed turned a mini-camp tryout into an NFL contract with the Tampa Bay Bucs. He joins a solid core of Iron “Quarterbacks of the Defense”; no doubt excited to again be “working” on the weekend.

Casey Sayles – DT

Iron defensive tackle, Casey Sayles, is no stranger to playing at optimum tempo. He elevated his game every time he stepped onto the field during his four-year playing career as an Ohio University Bobcat. No doubt, Casey will be bringing this same level of intensity every time he suits up in IRON Black and Silver. Bad news for opposing quarterbacks; good news for Birmingham fans.

JaCorey Shepard – CB

A huge IRON re-welcome to JaCorey Shepard who finds himself back on the 52 man roster. A product of Texas, he attended the University of Kansas where he was a star both on the field, in the classroom and within the Lawrence community; a most desirable trifecta.

During his time as a Jayhawk (2011-2014), JaCorey made the successful transition from WR to DB after his freshman year after exhibiting the critical skills necessary to succeed in the secondary: quickness, vertical leap, mental toughness, ability to quickly change direction and reaction time to name a few. He mastered the new position quickly and at the end of his three year cornerback stint had compiled an impressive and enviable array of Big 12 Conference accolades and honorable mentions.

His classroom exploits were even more striking as he was a main stay on the Kansas honor roll and additionally, garnering Big 12 academic honor recognition time and again.

JaCorey also earned notable acknowledgement as a tireless and unselfish community servant and was a nominee for the Big 12 Male Sportsperson of the year. When his collegiate career ended, the Philadelphia Eagles selected JaCorey in the 6th Round of the 2015 draft. An unfortunate preseason ACL injury ended what appeared to be a promising rookie season. Released by the Eagles, JaCorey signed first with the 49ers and then the Steelers.

In 2018, he joined The Spring League and made the North Roster. Given JaCorey’s pedigree on the field and off, he is poised to make his presence felt both at “The Gray Lady on Graymont” and within the “Magic City.

Ike Spearman – LB

Ike Spearman is one of six linebackers who will suit up on game day sporting Iron colours. Earning his college football chops at Eastern Michigan University, he had a solid career as a member of the Eagles’ ‘back up line.” Though plagued by leg injuries causing him to miss most of his sophomore year (2015), Ike rebounded nicely as a junior and senior, racking up very respectable tackle numbers.

Overcoming injury is a sign of tenacity and perseverance; attributes as critical in life as on the football field. Weathering injury is also a sign of personal intensity and commitment, as opposing quarterbacks, running backs and receivers are likely to discover when they meet up with Ike on the field.

Jamar Summers – DB

Former University of Connecticut cornerback, Jamar Summers, will be trolling the Iron backfield as one of 10 DBs on the final roster. During his impressive four year stretch with the Huskies – 2014-2017 – he racked up 12 picks, ranking him third in career interceptions in the American Athletic Conference. With Jamar patrolling the secondary, coverage should be very tight.

Bradley Sylve – DB

There are many things I like about the AAF. Affiliations with local universities being one. This is particularly important in Birmingham and the surrounding communities; chock full of passionate and informed college football fans. The opportunity to cheer former student athletes now playing on a professional stage is steeped in goodness.   

Iron defensive back, Bradley Sylve, is one such athlete. A four-year player on the Alabama Crimson Tide (2012-2015), Bradley was an adept cog in Coach Saban’s vaunted secondary. Gifted with ideal DB traits like blazing speed, foot quickness and agility, Bradley’s level of play earned him a spot on the Buffalo Bills practice squad and ultimately a call from Sean Payton and the Saints. Bradley looks to be one of the Iron’s premier “air defenders.”

Devin Taylor – DE

As a defensive lineman at the University of South Carolina (2009-2012), Devin Taylor put up some mad numbers. He was constantly among the conference leaders in tackles for loss, sacks and passes defended within the SEC. To say Devin was an adequate defender on the Gamecock squad would be akin to implying Bear Bryant was a modestly successful college coach. Pure blasphemy!!

By any measure, Devin was an immensely physical driving force; elevating the game of those around him; crushing the run and pressuring quarterback. These attributes landed him in the NFL with the Lions and Giants. Devin no doubt brought this same elevated level of play and exceptional talent to the Iron practice field, hence his spot on the “Final 52.” When Devin and the rest of the DL take the field, who needs “Steel” when you have an “Iron Curtain.”

Jack Tocho – DB

First generation American, – his parents immigrated to the U.S. from Kenya – Jack Tocho, is poised to be a dominant force in the Iron secondary. As a member of the North Carolina State Wolfpack, he was an on-field leader among the DBs, patrolling the downfield with artful intensity.

Jack ranks 14th all time in the Atlantic Coast Conference in passes defended; an admirable ranking given the overall quality of DBs that have passed through that conference. Bringing his ample skill set and sheer athleticism to bear on game day, opposing quarterbacks are unlikely to look, much less throw, in his direction.

Jaleel Wadood

Former UCLA defensive back, Jaleel Wadood, is one of two Iron players coming to the Magic City from California. During his four years as a Bruin (2014-2017), he had outstanding success in the secondary; earning a reputation as a heavy hitter and sound tackler. A fact best evidenced by placing #6 All-Time PAC 12 in solo tackles and forced fumbles.

Jaleel was also on the prestigious Jim Thorpe watch list recognizing the Best Defensive Back in College Football. With Jaleel roaming the IRON secondary listen for solid contact and look for tight coverage.

Waived February 19.

Matthew Wells – LB

Former Mississippi State Bulldog, Matthew Wells, fits perfectly into this experienced and talented group of six. Blessed with quickness and an uncanny ability to read the play, Matthew was among the Bulldogs leaders in tackles and sacks during his four years at Davis Wade Stadium (2012-2015.) He also played in all but one game during this time-span; a mark of physical endurance, mental toughness and Iron-like determination.

Matthew signed with the Patriots in 2015 and also spent time with the Bears, Rams and Falcons. In 2016, he played for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football League. From the Great White North to the Magic City and not a moment too soon!

Ryan White – DB

Ryan White is one of three former Auburn secondary specialists owning a spot on the Iron’s DB roster. He saw action all four seasons he spent as a Tiger (2010-2013), demonstrating quickness and an intuitive ability to harass downfield receivers. In 2010, Ryan was an integral part of Auburn’s National Championship team.

Though undrafted in 2014, he signed with the Green Bay Packers and played in a few preseason match-ups. In 2016, Ryan inked a deal with the Atlanta Falcons and landed on their practice squad. Blessed with obvious talent and more importantly, a unflagging desire to succeed, Ryan epitomizes the AAF credo as this author sees it: “Opportunity for Some; Redemption for Others

All these bios were kindly produced by George Reynolds so we thank him for his hard work.

Rickey Hatley photo courtesy @aafiron