The preseason is over, and the 2021 NFL season will officially kick off Thursday, Sept. 9, with a match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and the reigning Super Bowl Champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Florida at Raymond James Stadium. This season marks the debut of an enhanced playing structure featuring a 17-game schedule. Every team will play 17 games with one bye week, hosting 10 games and as a result, Super Bowl LVI will take place Feb. 13, 2022 – a week later than normal – at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.
With the start of the season, local fans will get to cheer on some of their favorite alumni from the area who have grinded their way onto the rosters of NFL teams. Some have made the 53-man rosters, while others have been placed on the practice squads, which is nothing to scoff at. Life on the practice squad is generally pretty good. If you’re there, it means, generally, the team likes you enough to keep you around and develop you as a player so that you can eventually contribute to the team.
Here is a look at the local players donning NFL jerseys this year:
Demetric Felton, a 2016 Great Oak graduate who played at UCLA after high school, was picked up by the Cleveland Browns in Round 6 of the 2021 draft. Felton made the 53-man roster for Browns as a hybrid talent who displayed his ability to play receiver and running back during the preseason. Based on how he was positioned and played in the preseason games, it looks like the Browns are still trying to figure out the best way to utilize him. Conceivably, he could be WR6 on the depth chart with a lot of motion possibilities for him because he could be playing either receiver or running back.
Felton joins Sione Takitaki, a former Heritage High School standout who also played and graduated from Brigham Young University. Takitaki was idle during the preseason since he suffered a hamstring injury Aug. 19 in a camp practice. Takitaki, who will return on the 53-man roster, recorded 41 solo tackles and 26 assists for a combined 67 tackles and returned one interception for a touchdown last year.
Former Paloma Valley High School football standout Matt Orzech was claimed by the Los Angeles Rams earlier this summer off waivers from the Tennessee Titans and made the 53-man roster. The 2013 Paloma Valley graduate, who also played baseball, was a long snapper with Azusa Pacific University. In 2019, Orzech became the first Paloma Valley graduate ever to join an NFL team, signing as a free agent with the Baltimore Ravens that year but was cut and then signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars before the start of the season, playing in 136 snaps in 16 games. Orzech spent most of the 2020 season on the practice squads of the Miami Dolphins and the Titans and did not appear in any NFL games last year.
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Vista Murrieta High School graduate, Javelin Guidry, who played for the University of Utah, signed with the New York Jets in 2020 and has now worked his way into the role as one of their top cornerbacks. Guidry played in 11 games for New York in 2020 and had 19 total tackles.
The Atlanta Falcons, who originally signed San Diego State defensive back, and former Vista Murrieta standout, Dwayne Johnson Jr. as an undrafted free agent, placed him on the practice squad to start the 2021 season.
Other NFL practice squad players include:
Curtis Bolton, a 2014 graduate of Vista Murrieta, who previously spent time with the Houston Texans (2020) and Green Bay Packers (2019-20) but did not see game action. Bolton, now playing for the Indianapolis Colts, originally signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent May 3, 2019.
Lorenzo Burns, who played at Linfield Christian (2016 graduate), was recruited to play at the University of Arizona after high school. Burns played defense, earning MVP his senior year, and was picked up by the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted free agent. The Jaguars added Burns off the waiver wire after he spent the offseason and part of training camp with Arizona.
Another name dealing with the Arizona Cardinals involved former Heritage High School standout, Aleva Hifo, who was signed on Aug. 6 but recorded no stats in Arizona’s week one preseason game. Hifo was cut on Aug. 18. Hifo, a 2016 Heritage graduate, originally entered the NFL in 2020 with Kansas City as an undrafted rookie free agent from BYU and spent training camp with the Chiefs last year.
While there are certainly more players in the NFL with ties to the local area, these are just some of the reports coming in. With the kick-off of the 2021-22 NFL season starting this week, between the Dallas Cowboys and the reigning Super Bowl Champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, fans are gearing up for another interesting year of football.
JP Raineri can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.