Alan Dell

Palmetto’s Joe Hills first Amercan drafted in new China Football League

You can’t keep Joe Hills out of the history books.

The Palmetto High product made history for the second time in several weeks when he was the first American drafted into the inaugural China Football Arena League last Friday night.

Hills, who has 61 straight Arena Football League games with at least one touchdown reception, was selected by the Dalian Dragon Kings. All six of the league teams have at least 10 Chinese players on their roster, and most of the linemen are Chinese nationals.

This could be the opportunity of a lifetime for Hills. There is a big move in China to go global in sports, and American football is said to be near the top of the list of sports the country wants to promote. This is China’s first American-style football league.

Hills, who is a record-setting receiver for the Jacksonville Sharks, said he didn’t want to leave Florida unless it was for the NFL. But he could change his mind over this. He set a franchise record with eight touchdown receptions recently for club.

“The money is really good, about $2,000 to $5,000 a game, and being the number one or two pick, there could be more. We get about $1,000 per game in the AFL. I need to look into this,” Hills said. “I didn’t try out for the league, but all the teams kept telling me I would be drafted first or second. Being the first American picked (second overall), it really hasn’t hit me yet.”

Marty Judge, co-owner of the Arena League’s Philadelphia Soul, is among those partnering with former NFL MVP and current ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski and Super Bowl-winning coach Dick Vermeil to get this league going. Initial franchise owners will put up $10 million per team and will receive a piece of TV-licensing rights.

The Chinese government awarded AFL Global (formed by Judge) the rights to bring an arena league to China. Its first exhibition game was played before 6,000 fans in the fall of 2013.

The first player selected was Chinese natonal David Wang, an offensive lineman who played at Virginia Tech. The league plans to start playing Oct. 1.

Bucs look for cooler practices

When it comes to practice times, current Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter doesn’t share the same philosophy of the four coaches who preceded him. Most of them, including the last three — Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith — thought the best way to take advantage of the Florida heat was to practice in it.

They believed those teams coming in from the north would be at a disadvantage. But it turns out it was the Bucs who faded badly at the end of seasons. OK, we know the talent level wasn’t exactly the best, but the late-season nosedives make you wonder if those players were simply worn out from practicing in the hottest part of the days, particularly in the summer.

The federal Centers for Disease Control says high school football players are the most vulnerable to the heat, and they don’t practice nearly as much as the Bucs do in the blazing sun.

The CDC reports that the highest rate of time-loss heat illness is among football players, who suffer such injuries at a rate 10 times higher than the average for most other sports and that time-loss heat illnesses occur most frequently in August (66.3 percent) while practicing and playing football.

The CDC results are consistent with previous studies reporting that football accounted for 5.3 percent of all nonfatal heat-related visits to emergency rooms and that 88 percent of football heat illnesses occurred in August.

Schiano and Smith stubbornly stood by the philosophy that teams who play in the heat should practice in the heat. But apparently they didn’t allow for how bad the heat can be in Florida during August and its subsequent long term effects.

Koetter is taking a different approach and is scheduling a lot of practices in the morning. The Bucs’ first 10 open practices begin at 8:45 a.m. and end around 10:50 a.m.

“The last 10 years I’ve been coaching in the South, I really do believe there is a cumulative effect over the course of the season, from August until the end of the year, when you’re out here, even if it’s for walk-through at 12, 1, 2 (p.m.) and it’s 95 degrees, and the sun is beating on you,” Koetter said. “I just think there’s a cumulative effect. We are going to do everything we can to try to chip away at that. There’s some things we can’t get away from, but we’re going to do what we can.”

Rays dedicate game to Orlando victims

Kudos the Tampa Bay Rays for dedicating this Friday’s annual Pride Night to the victims in the Orlando Mass Shooting.

All open seats for Friday’s Rays-San Francisco Giants 7:10 p.m. game at Tropicana Field will be available for $5 with all the proceeds going to the Pulse Victims Fund created for the families of the victims. The tickets can be purchased online at

Everyone in attendance will receive a “We Are Orlando” T-shirt, and blood drives will be held along with other things to help the victims. The Rays and Giants will observe a moment of silence while the names of the Orlando shooting victims are scrolled on the video board.

A pre-recorded video by Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred will be shown, and MLB vice president of social responsibility and inclusion Billy Bean will throw the ceremonial first pitch.

Parking will be $5 in the Rays-controlled parking lots.