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Multiple former Pitt players impacted by collapse of AAF

AAF: Atlanta Legends at Arizona Hotshots Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Alliance of American Football suspended operations on Tuesday, bringing an abrupt end to the league's progress just eight weeks into its existence and with two weeks remaining in its regular season. As a result of the league's downfall, six former Pitt players now find themselves in search of new opportunities. Those players include Dontez Ford, Brandon Hodges, Jaryd Jones-Smith, Scott Orndoff, Shakir Soto and Ryan Winslow.

The AAF had been plagued by financial issues for much of its run, as Tom Dundon, the owner of the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes, took control of the league after its first week with a $250 million investment due to a payroll issue. Financial issues persisted and reportedly reached the point that AAF players, who each earned $70,000 in 2019, will not be provided severance or compensation to travel home, according to Darren Rovell of the Action Network and Robert Klemko of Sports Illustrated, respectively.

Shortly after the AAF's suspension of operations was revealed, two former Panthers issued statements on the development.

Orndoff, who played at Pitt from 2013 to 2016 and served as a tight end for the AAF’s Orlando Apollos in 2019, shared a message of gratitude on Instagram.

”It’s a shame that things had to end this way, but I have so much to be thankful for,” he said. “For the first time in years, football was actually fun. I was able to play meaningful ball and made friends that I will know will last a lifetime. I want to thank the Orlando Apollos and their front office for giving me another chance to play the game I love.”

The Apollos were far and away the most successful team in the AAF, as they went 7-1 and outscored opponents by 100 points. Orndoff came up with seven catches for 130 yards and a touchdown in Orlando.

Ford, who played at Pitt from 2013 to 2016 and served as a wide receiver for the AAF’s San Diego Fleet in 2019, also looked at the bright side of the news, pointing out that he was the permanent owner of an AAF record on Twitter.

”Well, I guess I forever hold the AAF yards per catch record,” he said.

During his time with the Fleet, which was also the team of Soto, Hodges and Winslow at one point, Ford amassed 435 yards on 15 receptions for an average of 29 yards per catch. He also reeled in one pass for a touchdown and came up with a number of clutch plays for his team. However, he suffered a season-ending ankle injury and was placed on the Fleet’s injured reserve list.

Soto distinguished himself in the AAF as well, as he racked up 13 tackles, including four sacks and five tackles for losses. The defensive tackle also had six quarterback hits in eight games and was named to Pro Football Focus’ AAF Team of the Week for Week 8 just hours before Tuesday’s announcement.

It’s unclear what the future holds for the Pitt alums, but Ford, Orndoff and Soto appear to have boosted their stock through their participation in the league. As a result, they could find themselves in the mix for NFL roster spots in a matter of months.