As a high school quarterback from New Orleans, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds at the High School All-American combine. He was rated as the top athlete in the nation in high school football after his senior seasons.
Noil’s production at Karr High School in New Orleans backed that up. As a senior he passed for 2,235 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also ran the ball for 1,345 yards and 20 touchdowns.
At Texas A&M, the Aggies put his athleticism to work as a wide receiver. Noil’s freshman year in 2014 he caught 46 passes for 583 yards and 5 touchdowns. That turned out to be his best season with the Aggies. He caught 21 passes for 325 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2016 as a junior and entered the NFL draft the following spring.
Noil wasn’t picked in the NFL draft. He was signed as a free agent by the Seattle Seahawks and later spent time in the CFL.
Orion Stewart spent most of his college career as a mainstay in the defensive secondary at Baylor.
Life as a pro football player has been a lot more chaotic.
The Waco native played in 49 games at Baylor. As a senior in 2016 he started all 13 games, made six interceptions and earned All-Big 12 honors. In 2017 and 2018, Stewart has seen time with four different NFL teams – the Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins and New York Giants.
“I bounced around a little bit,” Stewart said. “This is what I want to do. I just knew when my opportunity came, this so happened to be my opportunity, I had to be ready. That’s what I made sure I did.
“This is opportunity. My dream is to play in the NFL. I had my little stint. That’s what I’m trying to get back to.”
The 6-foot, 200-pound safety is now at the San Antonio Commanders training camp and is happy to be back in pro football.
“I love to play this game of football,” Stewart said. “Every day I get up and put my cleats on, tie my shoes up, ready to go, I love it.”
Playing on a brand new franchise in the opening season of the Alliance of American Football (AAF), Stewart is trying to become part of a cohesive defense with a group of players who are in similar situations to his own. Success in the secondary not only depends on doing your part, but also in knowing where your teammates will be.
“That was the most difficult part about all of us coming together,” Stewart said. “The first few days was kind of rusty. People were trying to get their back legs under them almost but still trying to figure out. Their minds were just kind of going all these of these directions.
“Now everyone is in the film room talking to each other, feeling out all the players. We’re starting to get adjusted to how we play and what we can do.”
What started out as an ugly day got better as practice went along. The early drizzle stopped and the temperature was around 60 at the end of practice.
Roster update from Commanders daily update
The Commanders waived offensive lineman Avery Gennesy.
The Commanders added offensive lineman Dillon DeBoer (Florida Atlantic) to the active roster. San Antonio’s roster is at 75 players.
Appeared in 46 career games along the offensive line in four seasons at Florida Atlantic University … played center, both guard positions and left tackle in senior season of 2016, earning All-Conference USA and FAU’s team offensive MVP honors … undrafted in 2017 NFL Draft.
Ra’Zahn Howard brings the experience of a college career in a big conference to playing a big man’s position at the professional level.
The 315-pound nose tackle from Purdue expects the lessons he learned in the Big 10 to pay off with the San Antonio Commanders.
“It’s awesome. Every Saturday playing in the Big 10 you’re going against NFL caliber linemen – Wisconsin and Michigan State back to back” Howard said. “It kind of makes the transition a lot easier.
“The competition, you’re used to it playing against guys from different conferences and all over the world. Big 10 and SEC are notorious for producing some of the best linemen. I would say it’s definitely an advantage from that point of view.”
Howard spent three seasons at Purdue, playing in 11 games as a junior in 2015. He signed with the Houston Texans as a free agent in the summer of 2016.
He likes what he has seen so far in his defensive teammates at Commanders training camp at Central Catholic High School.
“I’ve seen a group of crazed animals, I like to describe our defense,” Howard said. “Relentless, fast to the ball, guys that are excited to be out here and excited to learn. We’re playing fast. We’ve got chemistry. We’ve got a great coaching staff, a great defensive coordinator.
“Our defensive line coach, coach Mac (Jeff McInerney) does a real good job of working with us with details. He’s always coaching details because at the end of the day we’ve all got talent and ability, but if you’re not detailed, you can’t put it together.”
The Alliance of American Football (AAF), which includes the Commanders, has been looked at as a place for pro football players to get a second chance – and sometimes a last chance.
“I feel like you got a bunch of guys out here with nothing to lose,” Howard said. “They say a man with nothing to lose is dangerous. You’ve got guys flying around on both sides of the ball. It’s excitement. You can feel the tension and energy every day you come out here. It’s a blessing, definitely.”
For the first time since the Commanders started training workouts on Jan. 5, it felt more like winter in San Antonio. The players hit the field under clowdy skies and temperatures in the low 40s. It inched up a few degrees by the time practice ended about 1:15.”
“It’s Texas in January. It’s 70 and then 40. We just deal with it,” said Commanders coach Mike Riley, who spent time as a college head coach at Oregon State and Nebraska. “It really doesn’t feel any different for me getting started. It feels like training camp and the start of the season.
The players wore helmets but no pads – making it a day bodies could heal. Coaches could focus on teaching and there was less competing for positions. The players generally had hoodies on under their jerseys.
“Totally teaching,” Riley said. “I’ve done this for a long time and had to make a lot of fall camp practice schedules in my life. I’m just using that experience to see what’s happened with some guys.
“After three of four days in a row, a day to slow down is not bad. Then three or four more days then have a day off. I think there is a rotation in there somewhere to give them a day off physically rather than go six straight days full speed real hard. You’re at some point going to get diminishing returns.”
The San Antonio Commanders went through Sunday’s training camp practice in pads. That gave them the chance to do some hitting.
Linebackers went through some drills where they took on blocks from running backs and tight ends.
Here are the 12 linebackers currently on the training camp roster:
58 Arthur Brown, Kansas State
98 Jayrone Elliott, Toledo
56 Danny Ezechukwu, Purdue
50 Kennan Gilchrist, Appalachian State
43 Joe Lanning, Iowa State
53 Austin Larkin, Purdue
51 Robert Myers, Minnesota State-Mankato
59 Aamir Petrose, Wesley
52 Ed Shockley, Villanova
55 Nick Temple, Cincinnati
54 Shaan Washington, Texas A&M
40 Jaboree Williams, Wake Forest
Note: The Commanders announced today that Kennan Gilchrist changed numbers from 47 to 50.
Way back at San Antonio Commanders mini-camp in December, defensive backs spent most of their time going through drills on one part of the field while receivers went through their own drills on another part of the drill.
With training camp now in its second week, players from the two positions have gone head to head more often. When practices progressed from helmets only, to helmets and shoulder pads, and then full pads, the competition and trash talk has heated up.
Training camp report
Sunday’s practiced started later that usual, kicking off at 1:45 p.m. instead of the usual 11:30 a.m. Players hit the field under sunny skies and about 60 degrees. Late in the practice session, clouds moved in the the temperature dropped into the high 50s.
On a new team in a new league, Demarcus Ayers finds himself in the role of a veteran.
The wide receiver from the University of Houston spent time with three NFL teams and is one of the most experienced players in the San Antonio Commanders’ training camp.
He saw action in two regular-season games and two playoff games for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2016 season. He was signed to the New England Patriots practice squad in 2017 and Chicago Bears practice squad in 2018.
Ayers can see the Commanders coming together in the week and a half since the players reported to camp.
“The grind of camp right now, we’re like eight days in,” Ayers said. “Guys are starting to get the details down. I think the offense as much as we’ve been trying to put stuff in, the strengths and stuff like that, I think we’ve been doing a good job overall as a staff and as professional athletes.”
While with the Steelers, Ayers caught six passes for 53 yards and one touchdown in the regular season. He had three catches for 27 yards in two playoff games.
He entered the NFL draft after his junior season at Houston. In his final college season, he led the American Conference with 98 receptions. He had 1,222 receiving yards in 14 games.
Ayers was a star quarterback in high school. His senior year he led Lancaster (just south of Dallas) to the state title game. He rushed for 1,337 yards and 16 touchdowns and passed for 1,823 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Now a 5-foot-9, 182-pound receiver, Ayers believes his quarterbacking experience continues to benefit him on the field.
“Just the knowledge, the whole understanding of football,” Ayers said. “You have to know everything in every situation with the protections, how to get open, the timing from the quarterbacks, the blocking, the running backs’ paths and how to be be on the right shoulder to know he pops off a big run.
“It’s a very unique thing and it takes a lot of poise and a lot of knowlege playing the quarterback position so when you’re in other positions it makes the game a lot smoother for you.”
After a day off from practice Friday, the team returned to the field at Central Catholic High School under clear blue skies and temperatures in the 60s.
It looks like Dustin Vaughan is the leader in the four-way quarterback competition. Riley said not so fast. There is no depth chart yet and nobody has publicly been named the starter or first quarterback.
“At this point we’ve got a group of players, it’s a first-year team, a beautiful thing to see take place,” Riley said of the competition in training camp. “I just want to leave the door open so that all of these guys can think of it as an opportunity. The real depth chart doesn’t have to take place for a while.”
Faces on the sidelines
Alliance of American Football (AAF) co-founder Charlie Ebersol and former Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Rams head coach Jeff Fisher visited Commanders training camp on Saturday.
Two new players
The Commanders have added offensive lineman Mason Gentry from SMU and wide receiver Greg Ward Jr. from Houston to the roster. The Commanders also terminated the rights of defensive back Tre Dickerson.
From the Commanders daily news release:
Appeared in 45 career games at Southern Methodist University along the defensive line … transitioned to
offensive line after college … made 107 tackles in college, including 8.0 for loss, 4.5 sacks and four passes
defended … undrafted in 2018 NFL Draft.
Greg Ward Jr.
Played in 49 career games at the University of Houston … played wide receiver and quarterback as a freshman
before switching to quarterback full time as a sophomore … amassed 11,080 yards and 93 total touchdowns at
Houston … 2015 Earl Campbell Award winner … ranked third in total yards, fourth in passing yards and 10 in
rushing yards at Houston … member of the Super Bowl LII champion Eagles’ practice squad in 2017 …
undrafted in 2017 NFL Draft.
Carl Whitley is a firm believer San Antonio is ready for a pro football team.
He hears the talk since the Alliance of American Football announced it was coming to town.
“They love it. When you walk around now, everybody talks about it,” Whitley said last week. “They can’t wait to see the team.”
The former Roosevelt High School wide receiver is part of the building process of the new San Antonio Commanders, as he tries to continue his football career.
“That’s why I’m happy I’m on the team and I’m from here,” Whitley said. “I’ve got a community behind me. Family and friends. They just want to see this team. We’ve been waiting for a team for the longest. Now we’ve got one. Whole San Antonio is ready to rise. Everybody sees how we are with the Spurs. It’s going to be great.”
Whitley has been with the Commanders through mini-camp in December and now training camp, which just completed its first week.
“One thing I gained is I’m familiar with the playbook now,” Whitley said of the carry-over from mini-camp to training camp. “We got started early. I feel like I’ve got a little edge on. I’m ready to get in. I’m a little ahead of my time.
“When you go into certain camps you’re not really ready. This camp we’re ready. We’ve got plays together.”
After Roosevelt, Whitley played two seasons of junior college football at Cisco College.
Whitley spent three years at Abilene Christian. He sat out the 2016 season after suffering a knee injury late in the 2015 season. In 2015, he played in 10 games and had 10 catches for 374 yards with two touchdowns. In 2017, he played in 11 games and made 31 catches for 307 yards with five touchdowns.
Even in high school, Whitley never played in the Alamodome. He got to spend some time on the field there last week in a team meet-and-greet event for season ticket holders.
“I’ve never played in the Alamodome in all my time playing here,” Whitley said. “It’s been good walking down on that field. Actually being able to play on that field is crazy to me.”
Photo note: Photos of Whitley are from the first six days of training camp. Whitley was limited in practice on Saturday do to what a team official called a toe issue.