Arena football • Utah earns playoff berth behind Grady's record touchdown numbers.
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The record-setting play was simple, with Jeremy Kelley running a go route into zone coverage. Finding a soft spot in the defense, all he had to do was jump up, extend and reel in the ball. Easy.
That was touchdown No. 118 for Utah Blaze quarterback Tommy Grady, who in the three weeks since has extended his AFL single-season record to 125.
The Blaze (11-5) now head into Friday's 6 p.m. kickoff against the Cleveland Gladiators (7-9) at EnergySolutions Arena riding a five-game win streak and taking aim at a division title. With a playoff berth already in tow and Grady playing at an elite level, everything feels easy.
"We're cocky to the point where we know we're good, but we're not going to come out lax," Kelley said. "When you're moving like that, like a well-oiled machine, it's hard to stop."
Grady who totaled six touchdowns passes and six interceptions playing collegiately at Oklahoma and Utah has been a prime catalyst. The numbers: tops in the AFL in average passing yards (330.5 per game) and fourth in pass efficiency (120.7). The praise, courtesy of Kelley: "I know he's the best quarterback in the league right now. He might be the best that ever played in the AFL."
Some teammate bias may be present. When Kurt Warner is brought up, the wideout tempers his enthusiasm slightly, but sticks to his argument that Grady could one day end up in the NFL. For now, he's the man head coach Ron James said Utah will need to carry the Blaze through the playoffs.
After upsetting Arizona last week, Utah hangs one game behind the Rattlers in the National Conference West with two games left on the schedule. Grady is quick to credit the success to his teammates and the offensive system, and there's truth to that. His receiver corps has stabilized, and a midseason defensive coordinator switch has dropped average points allowed by 17.5.
But the 6-foot-7 quarterback still holds the keys to the league's top passing offense. He's no longer frustrated with his lackluster college career; after all, both Jason White and Brian Johnson Grady's depth-chart obstacles as a Sooner and a Ute are no longer playing ball at any level. The Huntington Beach, Calif., native says his confidence is at an all-time high, and he's having the most fun playing football since he took Edison High to the state championship as a junior.
"Honestly, I love playing arena football," Grady said. "Financially, if it were like the NFL, it'd be better, but I love playing this game. I don't know if I'd choose arena football, but I haven't played outdoor football in a long time. To me, arena football's easier."
At 27, Grady's shot at the NFL grows slimmer by the day. He's gotten recent calls from the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers, but turning a workout into a paycheck is far from a guarantee. For now, he'll live his life a year at a time. If he stays with the Blaze for a few more years, he'll be perfectly happy. If he finds another opportunity, that's great too.
"You're only young once," said Grady, whose recent entry into fatherhood may have already marked off youth. "After I play this year, I'll see what the best opportunity is for me. Hopefully, I'll keep playing. … Right now, I'm having fun and it's taking care of my family."
Utah vs. Cleveland
P At EnergySolutions Arena
Kickoff • 6 p.m.
Records • Gladiators 7-9; Blaze 11-5
TV • NFL Network
Radio • 97.5 FM
• QB Tommy Grady has cemented AFL stardom with a single-season record 125 touchdown passes.
• The Blaze clinched a playoff berth and sit one game behind Arizona for division lead.
• Friday's game will be televised live on NFL Network, the team's first season appearance on national TV.