NFC West Reporter
Birmingham Stallions head coach Skip Holtz had some rare free time during the traditional football season in 2022.
“It’s the first time in 40 years that I had a fall off,” Holtz said. “So, it was amazing. I got a chance to go back to Notre Dame, where I graduated. And I went to several of their games. I saw my son coach (Trey Holtz, offensive quality control coach at UNC-Charlotte). I got a chance to play fall golf, which I never played fall golf in my whole life. I’m just used to working 18-hour days, seven days a week and all of a sudden, after 40 years it just went (snaps his finger) — okay you just have to make a couple phone calls this week. It was different, but I got a chance to spend some time with my wife and kids. It was good.”
Refreshed, Holtz said he’s ready to get back to work, as the Stallions defend the USFL title they earned with a 33-30 victory over the Philadelphia Stars in last year’s championship game.
[Everything to know about 2023 Birmingham Stallions schedule]
Holtz said he’ll return both quarterbacks from that team in J’Mar Smith and Alex McGough.
However, the Stallions will have to replace one of the best receivers and return men in the USFL last season in Victor Bolden Jr., who spent time with the Arizona Cardinals and signed a futures contract with the Denver Broncos.
“He was a difference maker for us, and he’ll be hard to replace,” Holtz said. “Obviously, he was our leading guy receiver-wise and everything. He played a huge role for us. Returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the championship game. He played a major role for us in having an opportunity to win.”
Holtz said it will be up to new faces and guys coming back to fill the void left by Bolden’s absence, with the expectation that Marlon Williams will play a bigger role in the offense. Williams finished with seven catches for 105 receiving yards and a score in the championship game.
Holtz said he will continue to look for homegrown products — like running back Bo Scarbrough — who either prepped in Alabama or played college football at University of Alabama, Auburn or University of Alabama-Birmingham, to further connect with the community.
Winner of nine straight to start the regular season, Holtz also understands the Stallions will have a target on their back as the defending champs.
“Yes, without a doubt we embrace it,” Holtz said. “We have a great nucleus coming back. We’ve added some quality free-agent signings, so we’ve got some good additions. But until we play again, we were the last ones to hoist the trophy. And I think being the champion, our team is excited. I keep hearing from them, ‘Hey coach, I’ve got to come back and defend.’ I think they are excited to have the opportunity to try and do this again.”
Holtz and the Stallions get an opportunity to start that defense during the opening week of the season on April 15, at home against the New Jersey Generals. The Stallions have three straight home games before hitting the road for the first time against the Pittsburgh Maulers in Canton, Ohio in Week 4.
The Stallions were the one team to enjoy a home-field advantage with all eight teams playing in Birmingham last season. That changes this year, with the USFL expanding to four sites — Memphis, Detroit and Canton, in addition to Birmingham.
“What’s going to be different is going to the travel, obviously,” Holtz said. “That’s going to be different. But it’s also the growth that we need. Ultimately, you want to be in eight different cities. You don’t want to get stuck in one spot. Year 1, we did what hadn’t been done since the mid-80s, we were a spring league that completed. Now, what’s next? Let’s get into a couple other cities and spread out a little more.”
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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