By RJ Young
FOX Sports Writer
It didn’t matter that the Breakers had put up more than 500 yards of offense, or that quarterback Kyle Sloter had thrown for nearly 400, or that wide receiver Jay Adams had come up huge all day. What mattered was the next play on a drive that looked like it would leave the Breakers with just two more plays to seal a victory in a tie ballgame.
Sloter couldn’t know what might happen next, but he was sure of one thing: He wanted the ball, to be The Guy, their guy.
Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone had made the mistake of being indecisive on the playcall before, leading Sloter to use the team’s final timeout to save the Breakers from a five-yard penalty that would’ve made a long kick even longer with a new kicker.
Breakers head coach Larry Fedora decided to take no chances on Sloter or the offense mishearing Mazzone’s playcall from the booth.
"Give me the play right here," Fedora told Mazzone.
"We’re gonna go dual right, 62 viper, OTB," Mazzone said, "but this has got to be complete. Look for Jay."
"Hey, Jay!" Sloter said.
"I’m right here, bro," Adams said.
"Do not throw it underneath," Fedora told Sloter.
"I’m throwing it to f------, Jay!" Sloter told Fedora. Then he turned to Adams. "Jay, I’m throwing it to you."
"Throw it to the end zone," Adams said.
"Throw it to Jay for a touchdown or throw it away," Mazzone told Sloter through his headset.
Sloter stood behind center and uttered his cadence. "White 80, white 80, set, hut!"
Sloter told me exactly why he had no doubts, as the clock wound down, that if he gave Adams a chance, his receiver was going to win the game for them.
"For me," Sloter said, "Jay Adams is probably the best jump-ball guy I've ever been around. That goes for the NFL and college. The guy is very, very gifted athletically. He’s a guy that I knew if I get a one-on-one opportunity that I want to give him a chance in the end zone."
This is a topic on which Sloter is well-versed, not just because he’s a quarterback, but because he was also a wide receiver in college. He began his career at Southern Miss, where he’d signed his national letter of intent on the promise from USM coach Ellis Johnson that he’d get a shot to compete for the starting quarterback job.
But after Sloter’s redshirt season, Johnson was fired and Todd Monken was selected to be head man in Hattiesburg, Miss. That was fine with Sloter until Monken told him he didn’t think he had what it took to be a quarterback, but that he thought Sloter could help USM at receiver.
At 6-foot-4 and about 200 pounds with legitimate 4.6-second, 40-yard dash speed, Sloter decided to give receiver a go.
"So, I did that to try to help the team, and did that for three years," Sloter said, "and ended up starting some games."
But he was still low on the depth chart. By his count, Sloter started no more than seven games in three years, playing no more than 10 snaps a game.
"So not a whole heck of a lot," he said.
Then he received news that devastated him.
"Going into my redshirt junior year," Sloter said, "Todd Monken brings me in [to his office] and tells me I'm not good enough to play for him anymore and takes away my scholarship."
As Sloter saw it then, he had two options: With just three credit hours left to earn his degree from USM, he could graduate and get a regular job or could bet on himself at a time when there is no transfer portal to help him, no immediate eligibility waiver to grant him permission to play and no real tape to show schools that he was an outstanding wide receiver — let alone quarterback.
Sloter, who grew up in Georgia, still held onto his dream of not just being a pro athlete but being somebody’s franchise player — The Guy, their guy.
"My childhood dream was always to be a professional athlete at different times. It was different sports, but I always knew that like from the time I could dream anything," he said. "I was like, ‘I want to be that guy. I want to be Chipper Jones for the Braves or Michael Vick for the Falcons.’"
He looked at the path that might lead to an opportunity to continue his college football career, and even though it might not lead to a worthwhile resolution, he took it anyway. That’s how he ended up in Greeley, Colorado, making up nearly two years of college because his credits from USM didn’t transfer, to play at FCS Northern Colorado.
His career at UNC didn't start well either, though.
"As soon as I get there," Sloter said, "they made me a receiver, so they told me I was gonna play quarterback for my junior season and then stepped foot on the field. So, I went from playing seven-eight snaps at USM to going down to level (FCS) to Northern Colorado where I didn't play a single snap.
"And I was so torn up that after that final game, I was like, ‘Man, I just wasted a whole year.' I was sitting in my car and cried."
He thought about quitting again. He thought about turning in his shoulder pads. But having one season of football left, he came back with the promise of being the backup quarterback.
Still, Sloter prepared himself to let this be the end of his journey when the starting quarterback at UNC went down in the first game of the season. Sloter walked in off the bench and played one of the best games of his life throwing for 408 yards and seven touchdowns against Rocky Mountain College.
He didn’t give the starting job back, and more to the point, he found himself in an element he could flourish in — The Guy, their guy. He hasn’t let that feeling go, even when he bounced around the NFL as an All-Pro Practice Player.
When the United States Football League came calling, he knew, even at 28, he still wanted to be The Guy, their guy. Given a shot, he could be a franchise player.
In the final seconds of the game against the Gamblers, Sloter took the snap from center and threw a jump-ball to the best jump-ball receiver he’s ever played with.
He watched the ball spinning toward the end zone. And he watched Adams come down with the ball for six and the win.
"I really live for those moments, whether it's basketball or football growing up, I really want to, I've always wanted to be the guy with the ball in my hands on the last play," he said. "And I don't know if that's something that you're just born with or something that you grow and develop with. But I, for whatever reason, I just love, I'd rather have the pressure on me, than leaving it up to somebody else."
Kyle Sloter wanted the ball because he is the guy, their guy.
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast "The No. 1 Ranked Show with RJ Young." Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young, and subscribe to "The RJ Young Show" on YouTube. He is not on a StepMill.