Pettis starred for Desperados

PLANO, Texas -- The Dallas Vigilantes were fired up this week when they learned that former Desperados receiver and defensive back Will Pettis planned to join the franchise this season.

He couldn't practice Tuesday but was already coaching other players after practice, and the eight-year arena league veteran was ready to get back on the field for the first time competitively in months and change the culture of the team.

"The biggest thing I heard about the team from the guys and the coaches is that there was a pretty heavy cloud around here, and guys felt burdened to say the least," Pettis said. "What I hope to bring is life, a different, more knowledgeable approach to the game and hopefully we can just get everybody together and get on the same page."

The team had owned the rights to Pettis since the Arena Football League restructured last year, but he chose to start his own teleconferencing business before turning his attention to football. Interim head coach James Fuller, who coached as an assistant with the Desperados while Pettis was there, finally won over his former player.

"Now that somebody I trust is at the helm and the general manager [Gene Nudo] has changed to somebody that knows the game, I feel a lot better about being involved here," Pettis said.

Because of paperwork confusion with the league office, the Vigilantes learned Thursday that Pettis was not formally moved to their roster in time to be available for Saturday's home game against the Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings.

The delay could could sting. The team is battling injuries from a tough three-game stretch against some of the league's better teams. It could use help at receiver, where receiving touchdown leader Larry Brackins is hobbled, and at defensive back, where cornerback Eddie Moten has been picked on the last two weeks as he's played through bumps and bruises.

Plus, last time Pettis was on the field, he was outstanding.

"He'll just make us that much better," said Duke Pettijohn, Vigilantes defensive lineman and Pettis' teammate with the Desperados from 2004-2008. "And not just his talent, but his leadership and knowledge of the game."

Pettis was a two-time Ironman of the Year in the AFL before the league restructured. The award is given to the best two-way player in the league, and Pettis was an impact player on both sides of the ball. He has over 6,500 career receiving yards as well as 142 touchdowns on offense. Defensively he's made 223 career tackles and 21 interceptions.

The league has changed the rule that required players to play both ways except for a quarterback, a kicker, one offensive specialist and two defensive specialists. It used to allow one substitution per position per quarter but now has free substitution rules to improve overall quality of play.

Pettijohn said he and Pettis still prefer the old, ironman-friendly rules.

"Shoot, that's the way we play," Pettijohn said. "We felt slighted, we felt disappointed when they changed the rule. We like playing both ways."

Bossier-Shreveport will come into the American Airlines Center as one of few teams colder than the Vigilantes. The Battle Wings are on a six-game losing streak, and their defense is the second-worst in the league. Last week, they had to resort to third-string quarterback Gary Cooper after starter Kinsmon Lancaster left with an injury.

"We've played some teams that are doing pretty well right now, and now we're hitting that back end of the schedule where we've got to make it happen, no matter who you're playing," Fuller said. "But these next nine games favor us, compared to what we've took the first eight games."

Receiver Kenny Henderson (second in the league in all-purpose yards) recognized the importance of Pettis' arrival Tuesday after practice, before the team learned he wouldn't be available.

"That's my teammate, I'm just excited for it," Henderson said. "The first time I ever met Will, he sat me down and helped me learn some of the game after a scrimmage [in 2003, while he was trying out with the New Orleans Saints]. So I know what Will's about, I've played against Will and he's nothing but a good guy. Especially [as a Vigilante] you've got to be excited for getting a guy like that."

Their excitement will have to hold on for another few days.

Josh Davis is an ESPNDallas.com intern and a writer for TCU's student newspaper, the Daily Skiff.