In the past year, Brett Dietz has gone from the practice squad to the first string, from being an unknown commodity to the Arena Football League's co-rookie of the year, from anonymity to a player who has become the face of an organization and recently signed a three-year deal with the team.
Despite all this, the Storm quarterback insists, "I don't think I've changed."
Well, that's not entirely true. As a person, Dietz is still the humble, aw-shucks guy he was a year ago. But for him as a player, the 2007 season has done wonders for his confidence.
"I'm much more confident," said Dietz, 26. "I feel like I know what's going on."
He paused, then continued.
"I," Dietz said, "feel like I can definitely lead this team to the ArenaBowl."
On the surface, that might sound like big talk from someone with only a season of
experience, but after what Dietz accomplished last year, one can certainly understand why he feels this way.
Dietz led the Storm, who opens its season today at Kansas City, to eight victories in nine regular-season starts, good enough to get Tampa Bay into the playoffs. In doing so, he passed for 2,395 yards, 47 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Dietz's 119.3 passer rating set a franchise record.
Now, let's go a step further.
When asked to pinpoint what Dietz struggled with as a rookie, coach Tim Marcum, rarely at a loss for words, couldn't think of anything.
"Brett turned in a wonderful performance," Marcum said.
What made Dietz's rise more remarkable was that it pretty much came from nowhere. A 2004 graduate of Division III Hanover College, he began his professional career that year with the Turku Trojans in the Finnish professional league (yes, such a league exists).
Two years later, Dietz was signed to the Storm's practice squad. He impressed Marcum with his ability to run the scout team, but the coach didn't think he was ready to play. Feeling he needed snaps, Dietz left midseason to play for Louisville in the af2 league.
The next year, he signed with the AFL's Chicago Rush.
The Rush cut Dietz, who then tried out with the Buffalo Bills of the NFL. When he wasn't signed there, he landed back in the AFL with Kansas City.
To the Storm, Dietz might have been out of sight. But he wasn't out of mind. "We kept track of him the whole time," Marcum said.
After Storm starter Stoney Case sustained a season-ending injury last season, the Storm signed Dietz in Week 8 to back up John Kaleo. But the next week, Kaleo went down, paving the way for Dietz to, at long last, play in an AFL game.
You know the rest.
"Last year, the coaching staff and the players gained a lot of confidence in Brett," veteran receiver Lawrence Samuels said. "He's proven now. He's a veteran."
Can he keep it up? Or even play better?
And is the ArenaBowl a realistic possibility?
"Expectations," Dietz said, "are definitely high."