Tampa Bay Storm head coach Lawrence Samuels watched incredulously as Orlando Predators quarterback Jason Boltus rallied his team for two touchdowns in the final 50 seconds -- first converting a fourth and 19 on one scoring drive then capping the comeback on a touchdown with six seconds left -- to overcome a ten-point deficit at the Tampa Bay Times Forum and defeat the Storm 56-52 in the third week of the 2014 season.
Three weeks later, Boltus tossed nine touchdowns without an interception in a 77-65 win over the Storm in Orlando.
Samuels made a mental note of the fortitude Boltus displayed in both victories. When the Storm had a chance to acquire the three-year veteran of the Arena Football League during the first few days of free agency, they pounced, inking him to the blue and gold Monday.
“Watching him play against you,” Samuels said. “That’s the type of talent that you would like to have on your team.”
Combined, Boltus threw for 702 yards, 15 touchdowns and completed 69 % of his passes in two victories over the Storm.
“I think he brings a lot of leadership, which we’re looking for in a quarterback,” Samuels said. “His knowledge of the game, he’s a winner. He beat us twice last year. He handles pressure very well. He has all the intangibles we’re looking for in the quarterback position.”
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Boltus put up 2,711 yards in 14 games (eight starts) and threw 54 touchdowns to 11 picks for intrastate rival Orlando last season.
Boltus is joined at quarterback by Luke Collis, an Occidental College (Calif.) product who had 41 career touchdown passes and threw for over 4,500 yards in two seasons at the northern Los Angeles school. Collis was assigned to the Storm on the opening day of free agency, which began Thursday.
The defensive backfield features a pair of locals with the acquisition of former Spoto High (Riverview, Fla.) standout Nick Addison, a two-time All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference free safety from Bethune-Cookman on Friday. Addison most recently tried out with the Houston Texans in 2014 as an undrafted free agent.
James Harrell, from South Tampa powerhouse Plant High, was retained on Friday after starting 17 games and registering 93 tackles in two seasons with the Storm. Harrell ranked second on the Storm with five interceptions.
Former Boca Ciega and USF star Julius Forte also returns after the Storm exercised his rookie option Friday. Forte had 1.5 tackles in two games last season.
“We try to acquire local guys, especially the talent that’s in the state of Florida,” Samuels said. “On top of that, you have two other teams in the state. You try to win the state of Florida.”
Other acquisitions from Friday’s opening day of free agency include a pair of defensive linemen, Devin Jones from Mississippi State and Xavier Melton of Troy.
The Storm are bringing back kicker Juan Bongarra for his fifth AFL season, and the team exercised rookie options on offensive lineman Byron Isom and defensive backs Rod Issac and Randall Burden on Friday.
And Samuels said the Storm hasn’t finished acquiring top talent.
“We still have some things that we’re in the process of working on, but I think the staff has done a great job in free agency up to this point,” he said. “One thing is we’re not rushing. We’re carefully analyzing and adding players slowly to our roster, so by the time we get to the end, we should have a good group of guys that will be able to compete and win Arena Football games.”