Daryl Johnston was sitting by himself Friday afternoon in a hotel conference room filled with helmets, shoulder pads and piles of paperwork.
The San Antonio Commanders general manager was working his cellphone as players and members of the media filtered in and out until head coach Mike Riley showed up.
Then Johnston and Riley stopped their preparations to talk about training camp workouts, which kick off tomorrow.
“Each step of the way it’s become a little clearer of getting started and having a real team and a brand new league,” said Riley, who leads the Commanders into their first season of the Alliance of American Football (AAF).
“All that stuff from the very beginning to getting the chance to go to mini-camp and now getting ready to start practicing with this group tomorrow,” Riley said. “It’s all become clearer and real and we’re excited.”
Johnston’s part of the equation is to put together the Commanders’ roster.
AAF teams can have 75 players on their training camp roster. That number has to cut down to 52 by Sunday, Feb. 3 – six days before the Commanders’ opener at the Alamodome against the San Diego Fleet.
As Johnston was waiting for Friday afternoon’s news gathering to start, he was still looking for players. The Commanders announced both additions and subtractions to the roster on Friday.
“We’ll definitely continue to look,” Johnston said. “I’m actually getting ready to get one more right now. We unfortunately had a couple of guys with injuries that won’t be able to join us. So up until the last minute. We did the same thing in mini-camp.”
Johnston got a first-hand look at the level of talent it takes to reach the NFL during 11 seasons as a fullback for the Dallas Cowboys. He was part of three Super Bowl championship teams and made a name for himself as a smart, hard-nosed blocking back.
“There’s a lot of talented guys out there. But the one thing is you have to love the game of football,” Johnston said. “This is not an easy game. So it’s going to get difficult here in the next couple of days. We want guys who love the grind and embrace the challenge. That part of the football player, the desire and passion for the game, is just as important as the skills.
“If we’re doing our job right, we’re going to have a little bit of roster turnover. Hopefully some of our guys are going to have an opportunity to go to the NFL… That’s what we’re looking to do. We’re looking to provide them the opportunity.”
League notes: With all eight AAF franchises holding training camp in San Antonio, some of the teams will be looking to getting together with other teams in practice. The Commanders are planning to practice or scrimmage against the Atlanta Legends.
Johnston said teams can make trades within the league and some teams already have. His example was if a team had a player with talent, but who didn’t fit into that team’s system but might be a good fit with another AAF team.