Mountain Lions to start new season at Raley Field

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State Hornet Staff

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It took a few weeks longer than expected, but professional football has returned to Sacramento.

The United Football League’s Sacramento Mountain Lions finalized their roster just 10 days before their first game.

This season, the Mountain Lions will feature changes that include a new field, head coach and starting quarterback.

“So far it has been very interesting,” said head coach Turk Schonert. “I got here six weeks ago and we didn’t have a stadium (and) we didn’t have a practice field so we slowly put this whole thing together.”

Schonert takes over in his first head coaching job this season after previous head coach Dennis Green left the team last year over a contract dispute. Schonert has served as quarterback coach for five different NFL teams and in 2008, he was the offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills.

So far this season, the Mountain Lions have practiced only five times and Schonert is still learning about the players on his roster.

“We just want to put a tightly knit team together for Friday night,” Schonert said. “We have to become a team quickly.”

Raley Field will convert from a baseball diamond to a full length football field for the first time in the stadium’s history.

“This seemed like an interesting opportunity for us to come to a newer stadium where the infrastructure is already here. At Sac State, we had the expense of bringing everything in,” said Mountain Lions owner Paul Pelosi.

The last two seasons, Sacramento paid Sac State a total of $300,000 to use Hornet Stadium. Athletic Director Terry Wanless said the money financed the new field that was put in two years ago.

“It exposed Hornet Field to a lot of people that wouldn’t have come to our campus,” Wanless said. “Raley Field just met their needs better.”

The Mountain Lions signed two local quarterbacks Josh Johnson and Jeff Fleming this season to run the offense.

Johnson was originally from Oakland, but attended school at the University of San Diego under now-49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Johnson was reunited with his college coach in August but was cut before the season started.

Last season he played in nine games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and threw 246 yards and a touchdown.

“After I got released, I got a phone call for an opportunity to play here,” Johnson said. “It’s good to be close to home and have familiar faces come watch you play.”

Fleming played last year for Sacramento State, throwing for 1138 yards and seven touchdowns.

After graduating, he was invited to some NFL rookie training camps, but found himself back in Sacramento when he received a call at 11:30 p.m. on a Tuesday.

“The Mountain Lions asked ‘Can you be here by 2 p.m. tomorrow?’ and I said, ‘absolutely,’” Fleming said. “It’s pretty awesome being back up here. I get to be in this town I love so much and thankfully it’s for football.”

Other returning players include running back JD Washington and full back Kai Brown.

The Mountain Lions’ season starts at Raley Field this Friday against the Omaha Nighthawks. Kickoff is at 8 p.m.

Ryan Kuhn can be reached at @rskuhn

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