John Nies was a punter for the Arizona Wildcats in 1989. He had a unique one step approach to punts that allowed him to down 15 of them inside the 20 to lead the nation. He only logged one season as a starter for Arizona, but had 58 punts for 2406 yards and a 41.6 yard average. In 1987 and 1988, he saw action primarily on the kickoff team, booming 88 kicks, of which only 29 were returned by opposing teams. He was selected in the 6th round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills, and punted 5 times for 174 yards in 4 games.
In 1991, Nies would be the 4th special teams player off the board in the World League of American Football positional draft, selected by the Sacramento Surge. He then saw time at both kicker and punter, splitting time with Kendall John Trainor. John finished 11 of 12 on extra points and 4 of 7 on field goals. He punted 23 times for 902 yards including a 53 yard long.
He’d return to the franchise for the 1992 season, and although he’d see an uptick in his kicking stats, Nies was relied upon much more as a punter again as Cary Blanchard quickly established himself as the much more consistent kicker.
Since retiring from football, Nies has been a fitness ambassador with Lululemon, a fashion model, actor, and ESPN host. Currently he teaches East meets West health and wellness philosophies at his group fitness and wellness center, The Power Center, in Red Bank, NJ.
I really had high hopes for Christian Hackenberg that he’d resurrect his career with the AAF in 2019. He’s been through a lot as a professional and has really put his best foot forward. He even worked with renowned quarterback coaches trying to fix a hole in his throwing motion.
In college at Penn State, he was tutored by future head coach Bill O’Brien. Hackenberg put together some solid numbers playing for the Nittany Lions throwing for 8,457 yards and 48 TDs to 31 interceptions over 3 years. After his junior season in 2015, he’d declare for the 2016 NFL draft, and while rumors swirled that he’d be selected possibly by his former coach Bill O’Brien and the Texans, the Jets ultimately chose him with the 51st pick of the second round where they planned to groom him as the franchise’s quarterback of the future. He rode the bench for the season, and then battled it out in camp during the 2017 season against Bryce Petty and Josh McCown. He had a decent preseason, but again saw no playing time.
Hackenberg then in 2018 was traded to the Raiders, but the trade was cancelled the next day, so he was released outright. A few months later he signed with the Eagles for the preseason, where he saw limited playing time. He’d be released before the regular season, and join the Bengals practice squad for a few months.
He’d opt to join the upstart Alliance of American Football in November of 2018, and was selected by the Memphis Express in the second round of the League’s quarterback Pick or Protect Draft. Hackenberg beat out first round pick Troy Cook, Brandon Silvers, and Zack Mettenberger in camp to nab the starting gig.
Hack then ran into a buzzsaw against the defensive minded Birmingham Iron his first week throwing for 87 yards and an interception on 10 of 23 passing. Memphis was shut out 26-0. Although the Express’ fares improved very slowly over the next two games, Christian wasn’t able to put the rock in the endzone through the air. He’d be benched in favor of Zack Mettenberger, then later passed up for Brandon Silvers, and ultimately in the end by Johnny Manziel. On the season, Hack finished 32 of 62 for 277 yards and 3 interceptions, while rushing for 47 yards on 9 carries- scoring one TD.
Christian was high on my list to get an autograph from, as he had a great selection of cards to choose from. He had these great AAF cards, and also some Panini cards I was itching to get signed at the next game, but before I could do so, the league folded.
My friend Mark, from Markssigningbonus.com came through for me on this collaboration passing this address forward to me so that I could give Hack another shot. He signed all 3 of my cards with his nice, loopy signature. I find it interesting that he abbreviates his first name to just ‘C.’. Also the C has a strong upper loop in it, and leans heavily to the right.
As the market collapsed on the AAF certified’s later in 2019, I was able to pick up his autograph. It’s a nice looking card of him and I hope he continues his football journey in whatever manner it may continue.
A JuCo star in 1987 at DuPage, Mike Bellamy played wide receiver for the Fightin’ Illini from 1988 to 1989. There he’d be one of the primary targets of overall number one pick Jeff George. He’d post 59 catches for 927 yards and 8 touchdowns in 1989, and finish his overall college career with 90 catches for 1,404 yards and 10 TDs. He also flashed skills on special teams as a kick returner. His finest moment came when he caught 10 passes for 189 yards , as the Illini beat the Cavaliers in the 1990 Citrus Bowl.
Mike parlayed his impressive performance and pro day into a second round selection. He’d be drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, a team notorious for their abuse of their wide receiver corps under head coach Buddy Ryan. Mike had a hard time getting onto the field because of injury, and only saw limited time on the field on punt returns, in a quickly bustling wide receiver corps behind fellow rookies Calvin Williams and Fred Barnett. Only after a season on the Eagles, Mike was released.
From 1992 to 1995 Mike spent time on and off the rosters of the Indianapolis Colts, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Chicago Bears, and Oakland Raiders. During his stint in the CFL in ’93, Bellamy played slotback for the Blue Bombers, catching 12 passes for 104 yards.
In 1995, Mike joined the Frankfurt Galaxy of the newly reformed World League. He’d have his finest moment since his college days catching 30 passes for 479 yards and 7 TDs. Mike returned to play for the Galaxy again in 1996, adding another 22 catches for 313 yards.
After returning stateside, Mike turned his eye towards coaching. He’s seen positional stops as a receivers coach, quality control coach, relations, and as an assistant coach, with Mississippi State, with his Alma Mater, the Fightin’ Illini, and most recently with the Toledo Rockets. Mike was also honored by the JUCO HOF in 2009.
Celebrating the game, the players, the cards, and the autographs for over 25 years.