BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The Baltimore Stallions are one of many football visitors here this weekend. The team arrived Friday morning, just as Southeast Conference media day was beginning. Among the many SEC personalties seen at the Stallions' hotel was local hero Gene Stallings, coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Soon after arriving, the Stallions were off to practice at Legion Field, the site of last night's game against the Birmingham Barracudas. The team got to practice a little quicker than it expected, thanks to a police escort.
"Our bus was going through red lights and everything," Baltimore linebackers coach Daryl Edralin said. "It must be that Southern hospitality."
"We're definitely in football country," added Stallions defensive end Grant Carter.
Hitting the road
Last night's game marked the start of the toughest road trip for the Stallions, who travel to play Edmonton on Wednesday, then finish the trip Sunday against undefeated Calgary, the Northern Division leader.
On top of the lengthy travel, Baltimore is up against stiff competition. Going into last night's game, the Stallions' three road foes had a combined record of 11-2.
Baltimore isn't alone. Birmingham, having beaten Hamilton and Saskatchewan to pull into a first-place tie with the Stallions before last night, is about to find out just how good its team really is.
Starting with the Baltimore game, the Barracudas will face three of the CFL's finest teams over the next four weeks. After playing the Stallions, Birmingham will play in British Columbia on Thursday, then will meet Calgary on back-to-back weekends later in August.
"This could be an overwhelming stretch for us," Birmingham coach Jack Pardee said.
Off and running
The Stallions have broken seven team records and equaled five others.
Last week against Winnipeg, punter Josh Miller broke his own records for the longest punt (80 yards), best average (51.8) and best net average (49.0). Linebacker Tracey Gravely's total of 13 defensive tackles in Week 3 against San Antonio was tops in club history. So was running back Mike Pringle's 86-yard run that night.
In Baltimore's home opener earlier this month, Chris Wright's 69-yard punt return for a touchdown marked a franchise best. The same night, kicker Carlos Huerta kicked a team-best 51-yard field goal.
Wright, an early candidate for the CFL's Most Outstanding Rookie Award, has accounted for 11 "big plays," which the team counts as plays covering 25 yards or more. Before last night, Wright was leading the league in all-purpose yards (774), total return yards (662) and punt return average (16.7).
From PR to PK?
If Barracudas kicker Franco Grilla falters, the team might want to take a look at Brad Edwards, its assistant director of media relations.
Edwards, 24, was a two-time all-state soccer player at Jackson Academy (Miss.), where he also made a quiet mark as the kicker on a bad football team as a senior. That year, he kicked six field goals in seven attempts.
He received an academic scholarship to Alabama and thought about trying to make the Crimson Tide as a walk-on. But Edwards decided against it, when he learned that he could lose his academic scholarship.
Last month, before Birmingham's exhibition against Baltimore, Edwards was barefoot and booting field goals routinely at Miami's Orange Bowl from the 30- to 40-yard range. He even hit a 46-yarder.
"I'm not exactly in kicking shape. It was the first time I've kicked in over four years, and I've lost about 10 yards in distance," Edwards said. "I think my retirement is permanent."
Birmingham quarterback Matt Dunigan has several ties with the Stallions. Baltimore quarterback Tracy Ham was Dunigan's backup on Edmonton's 1987 Grey Cup championship team. Don Matthews coached Dunigan in Toronto in 1990. And Baltimore rush end Elfrid Payton played with Dunigan at Winnipeg in 1991 and 1992.
Matthews also is quite familiar with Birmingham general manager Roy Shivers and defensive coordinator Greg Newhouse. He gave each his first job in the CFL.
When he was coach of the B.C. Lions in 1984, Matthews hired Shivers as his running backs coach and Newhouse as defensive backs coach.
Baltimore's defensive backfield includes halfback and Birmingham native Ken Watson. An all-state quarterback at Minor High, Watson played at Livingston University (now the University of West Alabama) and makes his off-season home in the Birmingham area.