Avengers' Additions Bring Winning Attitude

Times Staff Writer

The Avengers' first winning season and playoff appearance have made the team more attractive to a better grade of player, and two off-season moves are representative of their new image.

First came lineman Mike Ulufale, an October free-agent signee who played last year with league champion San Jose.

Next was receiver Siaha Burley, who came in a December trade with Orlando.

The 6-foot-4, 290-pound Ulufale is considered an excellent blocker and pass rusher. Burley, who checks in 5-10 and 185 pounds, has amassed the most all-purpose yards in the league, 4,547, the last two seasons.

Both players know there are no guarantees they will be starters here, regardless of their Arena pedigrees. Many of the 35 players in the Avengers' training camp have some Arena or NFL experience, and only 24 will make the active roster.

But both newcomers see the Avengers as having a large upside.

"I know Arena football is not looked upon as being as professional as the NFL," said Burley, 25, who is negotiating a new contract with the Avengers. "But you should take any professional game seriously. And the coaches and organization here want to win.

"I was excited when I got here and saw how professionally everyone approached the game."

Said Ulufale, 29, who signed a three-year contract: "San Jose has a great organization and it was a tough decision for me to leave, but I see a future in this team. I know they struggled on the line last year with injuries. Maybe I can help out, be another piece of the puzzle. Because this team is only going to get better."

A native of Hawaii, who played at Brigham Young University after transferring from San Bernardino Valley College, Ulufale was a third-round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 1996. But his NFL career was stalled because of injuries.

He joined the San Jose SaberCats in 2000, playing offensive and defensive line, and earned Arena all-rookie honors with two interceptions, four sacks six tackles and 11 passes batted down in 10 games.

Last season, Ulufale had 4.5 sacks and forced two fumbles in 12 games, and was named to the All-Arena League second team.

"In my opinion, Mike was the No. 1 free agent out there," said Avenger Coach Ed Hodgkiss. "Mike will dramatically improve our pass rush and is a valuable player, due to his versatility."

Burley grew up in Phoenix. After two years at Mesa Community College in Arizona, he transferred to Central Florida, where he caught passes from Daunte Culpepper, now the Minnesota Vikings' quarterback.

When he left Central Florida in 1998, Burley got NFL looks from Miami, Seattle, St. Louis and Dallas, but stuck with the Arena game starting in 2000.

In 12 games last season as an offensive specialist, Burley caught 78 passes for 907 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also returned 42 kickoffs for 772 yards, and returned 11 missed field goals for 150 yards.

If he hadn't missed four games because of injuries, his 1,828 total would have been closer to the 2,719 all-purpose yards he had in his rookie season.

"Siaha gives us another big-time impact player on offense," Hodgkiss said. "In addition [to receiving], we're really excited about him being an explosive kick returner for us."

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