Across the developmental football landscape exists many teams and leagues striving to create opportunities for their players to advance to the next level, but the newly formed Arizona Cactus Football League looks to do more.
“With the personnel we have in the front office, it allows us to make those connections for players that truly want to move to the next level,” AZCFL Commissioner Matt Archer told Developmental Football USA. “With the Arizona JUCOs shutting down, it is going to require us to give these players a professional league versus just a semi-pro, play-for-fun style league.
“We understand that not everyone that plays in the AZCFL wants to continue on to college, arena, or overseas, but that does not mean that we hold back the ones that do. The AZCFL will offer all the tools we have for a player to market themselves for whatever level.”
As a former coach for the Arizona Spartans, Archer has seen firsthand that major doors can open for players at this level to advance their playing careers as it did with Daniel Smith last year.
“He went to a local junior college and played wide receiver,” Archer said. “He was an excellent athlete and a natural leader. He wanted to continue football while finishing his schooling. The thing was, he wanted to do it as a quarterback. After various conversations with different schools, the consensus was he needed film, stats, and a place to sharpen his skills to compete against other quarterbacks.”
Smith decided to play at this level for two years and led the Arizona Spartans to the Arizona Gridiron Football League Championship Game in Spring of 2018. He didn’t know it at the time, but that wasn’t the only championship he would play in last year.
“Within those two years, Daniel was able to get the experience, exposure, film and stats needed to get noticed by colleges,” Archer said. “He signed a full ride to Miles College, a D-II school in Alabama, and then led them to the 2018 Championship Game. The trophy now sits in the school display case for everyone to see.”
While next level opportunities are great, they are not all the AZCFL offers.
“Along with athletics and their goals, other things the AZCFL is focusing on is mentoring players that need guidance in not just sports, but life altogether,” Archer said. “All they need to do is ask. Every team has one or more persons that take great pride in helping their players and seeing them reach goals, hence why we trying to change the landscape from semi-pro to developmental. We owe it to the younger generation to guide them, not just watch them.”
Oftentimes growing as a person and next level opportunities go hand-in-hand and Archer believes another former Spartan, wide receiver Martwon Weaver could be the next in line to advance his career.
“Martwon is a very special person,” Archer said. “I not only got to coach him, but also get to know him personally. One thing that Martwon has that a lot of players lack is the mindset of commitment. When he decides to commit himself to something, he is all in. Whether sink or swim, he goes after it. Twon, as I call him, needed someone to see him as a person, not just as a stellar athlete.”
For Weaver, who has committed to playing this season for last year’s AGFL Champion the Southwest Stampede, playing in the AZCFL was a no-brainer.
“They have legit film and a very wide range of people who have played at higher levels themselves and have the power to send your tape to different coaches and colleges,” Weaver told Developmental Football USA.
Like Daniel, Weaver played JUCO ball, but he wasn’t ready to call it a career once he exhausted his eligibility.
“I ended up playing this level of football after years of just missing the game,” Weaver said. “The AZCFL gave me a way to get off the couch and continue to play the game I love. Growing up, football was my getaway. It kept me away from drugs and off the streets. It has taught many life lessons that I will take with me forever.”
Now with the AZCFL paving roads for players to move on, Weaver has his sights set on something more than just a league championship.
“My football goals this season are to win a ring and go undefeated,” Weaver said. “A personal goal of mine is to beat every record at wide receiver. The long term goal is to get an opportunity to play arena level or higher football.”
Weaver not only displays great hands, the ability to adjust to balls and a strong football IQ, but he’s also the type of player to lift up the spirits of an entire team.
“He is a team player,” Archer said. “Alongside being the class clown or funny man of the team, he knows when it’s time to work and has no issues getting in the trenches and grinding it out. He wants the team to win, not just himself. He says, ‘I can score 100 touchdowns in a game, but without the win, they were all for nothing.
“Being a team player and natural captain is a hard trait to find in this level. Most people that possess those traits are past playing age, or already moved on to the next step in football and life. I can’t tell you what the future holds for Twon and other players of the AZCFL, but I can promise this, the AZCFL will be there for any player that truly wants to work hard towards something, football or life.”
With Weaver now in the fold, can any of the other AZCFL teams stop the Stampede from another title?
“I feel the biggest threat to the Stampede is the Stampede,” Weaver said. “I feel like the only way we’ll lose is if we beat ourselves, but I do believe the Lions, Rebels and Spartans all have great teams.”
Last season, Weaver said defensive backs Cam Gaddis and Ronnie Sellers gave him the most work, but those two have moved on from this level.
“The best DBs in my eyes this year are Karl Evans Jr., Tamarin Jones and Martin Tew,” Weaver said. “They all have the best ball skills and intelligence at the corner position, plus most of them can hit.”