TCU alum Cole Hunt was an interesting name to watch for the San Antonio Commanders of the AAF in 2019. Unfortunately nagging injuries slowed his playing time. He saw action in a few games, logging 2 catches for 13 yards.
At 6’6″, 254 Cole provides nice size and blocking skills that most teams look for out of a tight end. Never logging more than 10 catches in a season, he finished with 25 receptions for 242 yards and 2 TDs, while splitting time between Rice (2014-2015) and TCU (2016-2017). After being cut by the Chargers in 2018, he’d join the Commanders for the ‘abbreviated’ Alliance football season, and quickly find a home with the Carolina Panthers in late April of 2019.
Cole did not make the roster of the Carolina Panthers, and later signed with the St. Louis Battlehawks of the XFL 2020, but was placed on IR early in the season.
Card: Topps AAF Now 2019, Panini Prism 2015, Crown Royale 2015, Sage 2015, Score 2015, Topps XFL 2019, Acquired: IP 2019, SA Commanders Team Signing Dick’s Sporting Goods at The Rim. Ebay, 2020 TTM 2020, C/o Home Sent: 7/13 Received: 7/24 (11 days) Failure: TTM 2019, C/o The Minnesota Vikings
An all-star at Fresno State, Derron was named first team All WAC three times while playing for the Bulldogs. He pulled down 7 interceptions and 4 sacks in 2013, and 7 pass breakups and 80 tackles in 2014. Derron’s 15 career interceptions tied him for 5th on the school charts. A perfect storm emerged however with a hernia injury, (that caused Derron to miss the Senior Bowl and the combine,) and a bad pro day, which caused his draft day stock to drop. Scouts however, loved his ability to keep his eyes focused on the ball and the action in front of him, as well as his man cover skills.
Derron was selected in the 6th round in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. He’d spend the next two seasons there, eventually landing on their practice squad in 2017, where he was signed off the Bengals by the Cleveland Browns. Over that period he got some game time experience posting 16 total tackles, a fumble recovery, and a pass deflection. Cut by the Browns in 2018, Derron kept in football shape, prepping for his next shot.
“He’s quiet in the DB room, but he’s the one guy that the guys look to. He’s kind of the calming factor in a very raucous bunch of defensive backs on our team.”
– Commanders GM Daryl Johnston
Derron made a lot of noise near the end of camp, and actually didn’t even start until Week 3 of the 2019 AAF season against the Iron. From there on however, he was lights out.
Derron in Week 4 earned AAF Defensive Player of the Week Honors, when he single-handedly demolished the Arizona Hotshots. He’d pick off a John Wolford pass and race 66 yards the other direction for a TD to open up the scoring. Then later in the game, he’d pick off Wolford again as the Hotshots tried to claw their way back into the contest. The following week against the Legends, he stepped in front of an errant Aaron Murray pass late in the game, and took that pass 87 yards to paydirt.
On the season Derron finished with 22 solo stops, 11 combined tackles, 8 pass deflections, and 3 interceptions for 153 yards and 2 TDs. Although the league ceased operations after 8 contests, Smith was posthumously named the AAF Defensive Player of the Year by Pro Football Focus for his outstanding play.
“On 309 snaps in coverage, Smith led the league at any position on defense with his 93.2 coverage grade as he intercepted three passes and broke up another five. He stuck his head in on 37 total tackles and missed just three while his eight defensive stops were a top-10 figure among safeties. His prowess in the secondary for the Commanders make him a legitimate candidate to potentially land a spot in the NFL this next season.”
-Pro Football Focus (on naming Smith the AAF Defender of the Year)
Derron was snatched up by the XFL later that year, after spending training camp with the Minnesota Vikings. He’d be the first defender taken off the board by his former GM Daryl Johnston, who was now working with the Dallas Renegades.
In 5 games with Dallas, Derron had 15 tackles, and an interception before the XFL 2020 folded due to COVID concerns.
I had a giant stack of cards of Derron I wanted to get signed and with his amazing game against the Hotshots and Legends, he zoomed near the top of my favorite Commanders defensive players. I got most of these autographs in person at an event at The Rim, before Week 7. Annoyingly the Topps AAF Now card arrived the next week in the mail so I had the stress of firing out this $10.00 card out into the wind and hoping it came back.
So you’re probably wondering, “How’d you track down Derron?” Easy. I cross referenced his bio to Twitter and found where he was at attached to his profile. From there I used Advanced Background Checks- and he popped right up.
Derron replied in about 10 days, signing both his XFL and AAF Now cards and wrote me a nice note, thanking me for being a fan. I was pumped.
ACQUIRED: IP 2019, Dick’s Sporting Goods Signing at The Rim, San Antonio, Tx
I absolutely knew that this was going to be my best shot to get as many players as I could from the Commanders that season. I did not realize this would be my only chance to do so. I arranged to go to the event on a Wednesday- taking the day off and hanging out with my brother and we got there super early to ensure our spot in line.
We were the second or third people in line. There were no rules about the autographs. Players were not limited to signing swag specifically from Dicks, and they allowed us to go through line multiple times if we desired. This was a great trade off for me, as I ended up getting all the cards I had on me signed as well as this promotional card. (It was the same week that the AAF cards from Topps were coming out, so I had hoped that there would be a stack of player cards there, but unfortunately I was out of luck.)
Dick’s Sporting Goods came out in big support for the AAF, carrying team goods at many of their host stores that were around AAF host cities. The store at The Rim in San Antonio was no different, and they carried a whole bunch of things from chairs and coolers, to lego figurines and jerseys.
Fans were very split online about supporting this event. I ended up defending not only Dick’s, but the Commanders, as fans who were up in arms still about the second amendment, were ‘boycotting’ Dick’s because the store had recently decided not to sell guns or ammo. Their argument was pretty lame. Many of the fans who were ‘boycotting’ had never even stepped inside a Dick’s before so- it’s not like they felt the loss of their business. It was pretty weak and it really emphasized the problem the league had with bush fans who were politicizing the game over social media.
It was a good event overall. A solid lineup of players from the Commanders attended and I got to meet one of my favorite sports people, Tiff, (although I frowned at the fact I did not win any of the special raffle drawings). She ran a very tight show for the Commanders promotional team and kept things on track. (After the team folded, she moved on to work for the XFL Renegades. Unfortunately the Wuhan virus did that league in as well.)
Scott Daly LS #49- Daly is a rare breed of career long snappers in football. He played his college ball for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, from 2012-2015 and over that period never missed on a snap. In 2017, he signed with the Cowboys but did not make the squad. He joined the AAF Commanders in 2018, and then played for the New York Guardians of the XFL in 2020.
“I was very lucky to be with the organization in San Antonio. We had a great coaching staff, great team, and it was just an awesome experience.”
– Scott Daly
Cam Clear TE #85- Cam was one of the more local products hailing from nearby Texas A&M. He was the largest receiving target on the team clocking in at 6’5″, 278. As the Commanders offense was a TE rich scheme, Cam saw a decent amount of action, most notably against Atlanta, where he caught 5 passes for 45 yards. He finished the season with 10 catches for 72 yards, and joined his former head coach Mike Riley with the Seattle Dragons of the XFL in 2020.
“He’s found his little niche in the offense of how to get open in the intermediate game,”
-QB Logan Woodside
Winston Craig DE #96– Craig played his college ball at Richmond. There for the Spiders he made a name for himself posting 166 total tackles, 13.5 sacks, and 2 interceptions for the Spiders. Going undrafted, he’d sign with the Eagles, and was on and off their practice squad from 2017 to 2018. He joined the Commanders later that year and started 7 games logging 14 total tackles, and 2.5 sacks. After the AAF folded, he signed with the Steelers but couldn’t crack their squad. He subsequently played for the by the Dallas Renegades of the XFL in 2020- only a short drive up I-35 from SA, posting 4 tackles.
Joel Lanning LB #57– Joel was a quarterback who converted to middle linebacker, starting at some points at both positions over his college career at Iowa State. Going undrafted, he saw some time in the preseason with the Dallas Cowboys in 2018, but did not make the squad. Later that year he signed with the Commanders and finished the 2019 season with 28 total tackles.
“I love the guys that play multiple positions because they have a versatility sense to them. For a quarterback to move over to linebacker, it’s unique. We’re really glad to have him.”
-Head Coach Mike Riley
Zack Sanchez CB #33– A rangy defensive back with good closing speed, Zack played collegially for Oklahoma. He started 37 contests for the Sooners, recording 15 interceptions (3 TDs) and 134 tackles. He was selected by the Carolina Panthers in the 2015 NFL Draft, and spent time on and off the team’s practice squad and injured reserve through 2018. He saw action in 5 games (1 start) and recorded 9 tackles. Eager to prove himself after he was cut by the Panthers, Zack joined the Commanders for the 2019 season, and helped solidify an already burgeoning secondary. He played a key part in SA’s victory over San Diego in the first week, and finished the season with 3 interceptions. As of 2020 he’s a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL.
Mekale McKay WR #82– Mekale was one of the chosen poster boys of the Commanders squad. After splitting time at both Arkansas and Cincinnati, Mekale was not drafted in 2016. He spent time on and off the practice squads and preseason rosters of the Colts, Jaguars, Broncos, Titans, Bears, and Cowboys. In early 2019, Mekale joined the Commanders, and in 7 starts had 22 catches for 375 yards and 4 TDs as a long bomb threat. After the Alliance folded, Mekale signed with the New York Guardians of the XFL. He caught 12 passes for 184 yards and a TD.
Kenneth Farrow II RB #20– Farrow quickly came in and established himself as the lead back in San Antonio. The powerback finished as the AAFs 5th leading rusher (372 yards and 4 TDs), and holds the league record for most yards rushing in a game with 142. After the league, Kenneth like much of the AAF talent joined the XFL. He played for the Seattle Dragons, rushing 38 times for 156 yards and a TD.
Cyril Richardson G #73– Cyril was a well regarded big man out of Baylor who was selected in the 5th round by the Buffalo Bills in 2014. He then played for the Bears in 2016 and 2017. After a year’s hiatus Cyril caught on with the Commanders, and then joined the XFL Dragons in 2020.
Derron Smith S #32- Smith went on to become the Defensive Player of the Year for the shortlived AAF. Rarely out of position, he recorded 3 interceptions (1 TD), 21 tackles, and 8 pass deflections. Derron was the first player selected in the free portion of the XFL Draft by the Dallas Renegades. He finished the 5 game schedule with 16 tackles, an interception and 2 pass deflections.
Shaan Washington LB #54- Big Hit Shaan was the guy who blasted Mike Bercovici in the first game of the season and helped put the league on the map. He finished with 13 total tackles, a forced fumble, and 5 sacks.
Celebrating the game, the players, the cards, and the autographs for over 25 years.