Legendary quarterback Ashley Salerno truly one of a kind

As the New Year signifies tryouts for Legends Football League teams, the Los Angeles Temptation have found themselves facing significant change, especially at the quarterback position. Having once boasted significant depth at the position, the biggest offseason challenge is finding a signal caller that can transition into a new era, while finding a way to honor a previous era defined by three Legends Cup championships.

AshleySalernoLA

Such a road to glory was defined by legendary quarterback Ashley Salerno. While her peers included superlative talents such as Linda Brenner, Christy Bell, Anne Erler, Heather Furr, Nikki Johnson and KK Matheny, all franchise players in their own right, it was Salerno who set the gold standard. Lining up behind center, she helped establish the Temptation as the first dynasty in league history, with three championship banners to show for their dominance.

Only adding to her legend was the fact that she was not only durable, tough enough to receive the most punishing of hits, she could give them too, earning herself a feared yet respected reputation. During the 2013 season, one that signified a transition throughout the league as several teams consisted of new faces, Salerno provided Chicago Bliss rookie Alli Alberts with a “Welcome to pro football” moment.

The result was a viral video that turned both of them into online sensations, inextricably linked during that season. Quite possibly the most famous hit in the history of the league, there were 381,000 views in a time span of roughly one year. Although Alberts had contemplated retirement, she would bounce back to become one of the league’s most popular stars, capturing two Legends Cup titles in the process.

While her Legends Football League career is definitely Hall of Fame worthy, it was not Salerno’s first exposure to the gridiron. Not only were five formative years spent playing with males, she would enjoy four seasons of Jr. All-American Football with the Chino Hills Bulldogs. Of note, Chino Hills would be the sight of another milestone in her great gridiron career.

Attending Ruben Ayala High School, she would make history as the first female to start at the quarterback position. While in high school, Salerno was not just focused on football. She would compete on the hardcourt with the basketball team while also holding roster spots with the school’s golf and soccer teams, respectively.

From a sporting perspective, Salerno may have been her most proficient on the soccer pitch. Competing at the goal keeper position, she gained a scholarship to Cal Poly Pomona, even earning a spot with US Soccer Olympic Development Program in 2004. Eventually, her soccer skills would land her a spot with the Claremont Stars in the WPSL.

While at Cal Poly Pomona, Salerno’s celebrity status as a quarterback with the Los Angeles Tempation proved that talent can never be truly hidden. Specializing in international business and marketing during her time there, her accomplishments outside the classroom were the stuff of gridiron legend.

Recognized as the Legends Football League’s Rookie of the Year for the 2010-11 campaign, she would log 610 total yards from scrimmage, consisting of 421 passing yards, complemented by 189 rushing yards, respectively. Such performance revolutionized the quarterback position in LFL play, while emulating the success of her pro football hero, Steve Young, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers.

Complemented by Most Valuable Player honors during one of the Legends Cup victories, one of the most admirable aspects of her gridiron journey was the fact that it was shared with another role model, her father Chris. Originally serving with the club as a medic, he would rise to a coaching position, subsequently strengthening the bond between daughter and proud father, while providing a calming influence.

As the first superstar quarterback in Legends Football League play, part of Salerno’s legacy can be defined by the fact that she emerged as a role model for young women with their own signal calling aspirations. After the league returned from a hiatus in 2012, Salerno’s influence could be seen in the seasons that followed. Young quarterbacks such as Sindy Cummings from the Las Vegas Sin and Atlanta Steam sensation Dakota Hughes followed in her footsteps, while building on her legacy.

Heading into the 2015 campaign, Salerno seemed poised for another great season, eager to avenge a 2014 Western Conference championship game loss. With the Temptation relocating from Ontario, California, now playing their home games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, it should have signified a glorious return home for Salerno. Considering that the Temptation played there during her rookie season, she had matured into an even stronger leader since those early years.

Missing a significant part of an injury riddled 2015; it was Michelle Angel that would provide an admirable performance in absence of Salerno. While the Temptation managed a second place finish, winning 67% of their games, Salerno’s absence was evident as the club placed high dependency on its running game, led by All-Fantasy selection Carmen Bourseau.

Returning for the postseason, Salerno nearly brought the Temptation back to the Legends Cup, which would have been its first appearance since 2011. Losing by less than a touchdown, Salerno was relentless, continuously providing the club with a chance to win against archrival Seattle. In the aftermath, it would prove to be Seattle’s season, winning their first-ever title.

Although Salerno has never announced her retirement, rumors online have stated that she will not be returning for 2016. Taking into account that the season is still several months away, the possibility of Salerno returning cannot be discounted. Danika Brace had announced her retirement after the 2014 season, but returned in 2015, capturing Defensive Player of the Year honors, while leading the Seattle Mist to a championship. Perhaps a season spent resting will reignite Salerno’s competitive fires towards 2017.

Regardless of the final outcome, Salerno’s legacy is one without dispute. Defined by a magical time in which she was the face of the league, her humility and team-first approach only added to her likeability. From modest beginnings at a San Diego tryout to All-Fantasy Games the world over, Salerno shall always be revered as one of the most skillful signal callers, a fascinating character whose talent for the game set stimulated fan interest while setting a stirring tone for her teammates and an entire league.

#ashley-salerno, #los-angeles-temptation

Buffalo Bills part of empowering moment in NFL history with addition of Kathryn Smith to coaching staff

For the second time in franchise history, the Buffalo Bills are making a remarkable statement about the role of women in football and sport in general. Thirty years after the franchise hired Linda Bogdan, daughter of Pro Football Hall of Famer Ralph Wilson, to serve as the NFL’s first female scout, eventually becoming a vice president, an historic addition is being made to Rex Ryan’s coaching staff.

Kathryn Smith follows in the groundbreaking footsteps of Dr. Jen Welter, who enjoyed a preseason coaching apprenticeship with the linebacking corps of the Arizona Cardinals. Smith becomes the first full-time member of an NFL coaching staff, appointed to the position of special teams quality control, replacing Michael Hamlin. Of note, she shall work alongside the likes of special teams coordinator Danny Crossman and special teams assistant Eric Smith.

KathrynSmith

The last few years have seen some significant breakthroughs for women in sport. Former WNBA star Becky Hammon became an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, the first woman in NBA history to attain such a position. During the postseason, she would serve as the Spurs head coach in 2015 Summer League play. In December 2015, Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners hired Amanda Hopkins to serve as an area scout, the first female to be hired for a baseball scouting position in this decade.

Of note, she was familiar with Bills’ head coach Rex Ryan. Not only was she his administrative assistant in his final season as the head coach of the New York Jets in 2014, she followed him to his new position with the Buffalo Bills, in a similar coaching capacity. During Ryan’s inaugural season in Buffalo, Smith also served as his administrative assistant.

Having worked with the Jets as head coach from 2009-14, Ryan was obviously very confident in her abilities to contribute in this new role. Prior to making the hiring decision, Ryan did consult with Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, who had allowed Welter the opportunity to engage in the coaching internship.

The New York Jets served as the backdrop for the pro football experience that Smith attained. Over twelve years with the Bills’ AFC East rival, she occupied a wide variety of positions. From humble beginnings with a 2003 internship in game day/special events, she would enjoy a second internship in 2005, serving in college scouting.

Two years later, she would rise to the role of player personnel assistant. Other women have been influential in the Jets organization, including Dawn Aponte and Jacqueline Davidson, who was appointed director of football administration for the 2015 season. As a side note, Smith had worked as a student manager for the St. John’s University men’s basketball squad.

Adding to the momentum was the fact that Bills co-owner Kim Pegula issued a statement to The Associated Press, acknowledging her qualifications and dedication. Welter and Richie Incognito, a member of the Bills offensive line went to social media to show their support.

Ring ceremony brings Seattle Mist’s championship journey full circle

As the arrival of 2016 brings with it open tryouts for all clubs in Legends Football League, one events allowed for an opportunity to revisit 2015 one last glorious time. The privilege of that event was bestowed upon the remarkable women of the Seattle Mist, who delivered the first championship in franchise history, and the first major championship in the city of Seattle since the Washington Huskies captured the 1991 college football national title.

Rewarded for their historic season with championship rings, it has assured all of them a special place in club lore. A silver-colored ring, that harkens memories of the Raiders Super Bowl rings (the first to abandon the traditional gold colored ring and adopt a silver color instead), the Mist logo is prominent in the mounting, surrounded by gems and emblazoned by the wording “national champions”.

Seattle Mist championship ring (Image obtained from Facebook)

Seattle Mist championship ring (Image obtained from Facebook)

All members of the Mist, including coaching staff were given rings. Beaming with pride, head coach Chris Michaelson, one of the longest serving coaches in league history, displayed his ring on social media, a long overdue achievement in his accomplished career.

Such an amazing and accomplished team was a blend of established talent and free agent acquisitions, resulting in an ideal amalgam that delivered on all accounts. Among the free agent talent available due to the realignment of the league, a remarkable trinity of acquisitions helps set the tone.

Arriving from the now defunct Jacksonville Breeze, quarterback KK Matheny and wide receiver Bryn Renda were nothing short of
dominant, complementing RB Stevi Schnoor, who was the heartbeat of the Mist offense in 2014. Having also played at the flag football level in college, the rapport not only led into offensive synergy, it provided Matheny with a prime receiving target, one that saw Renda frequently deliver in the clutch.

Seattle Mist championship ring ceremony (Image obtained from Facebook)

Seattle Mist championship ring ceremony (Image obtained from Facebook)

Danika Brace enjoyed a heroic welcome to Seattle, capturing the hearts and minds of its loyal fans with one of the greatest defensive performances in league history. It was the prodigal daughter returning home after seasons of exile in Las Vegas, contemplating retirement in the aftermath of a winless 2014 season. Throughout 2015, she worked tirelessly in the defensive trenches helping to inspire confidence.

Avenging their heartbreaking 2014 playoff loss to their eternal rivals LA Temptation, the Mist defeated the two-time champion Chicago Bliss in front of a jubilant hometown crowd at ShoWare Centre. It capped off a remarkable season that also saw the Mist capture the regular season Western Conference crown. Adding to such elation was the fact that Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll congratulated them in the aftermath of their championship.

With due deference, the Mist could be seen as an underdog champion, having never played for a title before in franchise history. Despite the obstacles presented, no one could deny them their greatness. Refusing to believe the doubters, instead the Mist believed in themselves. These sensational Seattle Mist competitors definitely earned so much respect among their peers in the league following their championship win; it was enhanced by the selection of seven competitors named as competitors in the
All-Fantasy Game in Guatemala City.

Of all the players who now have their fingers adorned with a stylish ring, the feel-good story belongs to Jessica Hopkins. A charter member of the franchise, its fan base saw Hopkins evolve into more than a leader, but a living legend. Her friendship, graciousness and stoic dedication are all a remarkable source of admiration, gaining new fans every season. Along with Stevi Schnoor, one of the most durable and consistently dependable running backs in the league, they became the first women in LFL history to have won championships in both Canada and the US, having captured a title in 2012 with the BC Angels.

Although some players were not available for the ring ceremony, there is no denying that they held a special place in the hearts of those who attended. The ring signifies the arrival into a gratifying immortality, where a long journey consisted of sweat and sacrifice overcame any struggles, emerging in a victorious vindication, an important symbol of respect.

Photo credit: Richard Deflin Photography

#bryn-renda, #danika-brace, #jessica-hopkins, #kk-matheny, #seattle-mist, #stevi-schnoor