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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Vipers lineman Fifita anxious to rejuvenate career

By Reggie Benson
Times Sports Staff

Steve Fifita had almost given up on playing football again.

After a star-studded career at the University of Utah, Fifita spent two years with the Miami Dolphins and went to training camp with the New England Patriots in 2008.

The 6-0, 300-pound defensive lineman was out of football last year, but signed with the Alabama Vipers last month in an attempt to rejuvenate his career.

"I'm here trying to knock the rust off," Fifita said Monday night after practice. "I played with (Vipers quarterback) Kevin Eakin in NFL Europe and his wife and my wife kept in contact. I felt like it was God's plan for me to come here and be with them."

Fifita has made a good impression through the first week of training camp.

While he has played nose guard his entire life, Fifita has also shown he can play tackle, end and linebacker.

"He can play a little bit of everywhere," Vipers coach Dean Cokinos said. "He's an interesting player. He's progressing. He's very flexible and smart. Right now, we've got him playing multiple positions."

Despite having played defensive line throughout his career, Fifita has fallen in love with playing linebacker.

"It's pretty much a defensive line spot," he said. "We're just rushing from a stand-up position. That's pretty natural for me. I've always been undersized, but I'm pretty athletic so I fit in pretty well doing that. At linebacker, you get to see what unfolds ahead of you before you put your head in there."

While Fifita prefers to play linebacker, he says he'll play wherever the Vipers put him to resume his career.

"I think I can excel wherever they put me," he said. "I think it's working to my advantage that I can play four spots. I can back up any spot. I can start at any spot. Hopefully, that works out for me."

Hansen, Coen still vying for backup role

While Eakin appears to be clearly entrenched as the starter, Casey Hansen, a former backup with Spokane, and Liam Coen, who led Massachusetts to a Division I-AA national championship while setting a slew of records, are competing for the backup job.

"They both have to learn the game," Cokinos said. "All three are talented. Kevin has two years playing experience so he's ahead right now."

Vipers strong at wide receiver position

One of the strongest positions for the Vipers appears to be wide receiver.

Four players, Jeremy Grier, Larry Shipp, Michael Johnson and Travis Blanchard are back from last year's team, while Cokinos also signed former Arena Football League standouts C.J. Johnson and Jason Geathers.

"It's been very competitive through this stage of camp," Cokinos said.

While Cokinos remains high on the Vipers' holdovers, he is excited to have C.J. Johnson and Geathers in camp.

C.J. Johnson played for the Nashville Kats when Cokinos was an assistant coach there and also played for Columbus and Chicago in the AFL. Meanwhile, Geathers, who also plays outside linebacker, is a two-time All-Iron Man selection with the San Jose.

"C.J. is a great player," Cokinos said. "Not only is he a great receiver, but he's a fantastic kick returner. C.J. and Jason make us extremely strong. We're going to need all of these guys. It's a long year and it's a physical game. We'll need four, five or six in our stable to compete. It's a healthy competition."

The position could be strengthened next week if former UAB standout Willie Quinnie reports for practice.

Injury updates

The Vipers lost offensive/defensive lineman Steve Sene to a season-ending knee injury last week, Cokinos said.

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