Where Are They Now: Tom Pace
June 25, 2003
HUMAN HIGHLIGHT MAN PACE TURNING HEADS
By Randy Policar
In the 1980's, the NBA's Atlanta Hawks had Dominique Wilkins, known as the Human Highlight Film. In 2003, the Arizona Rattlers found the Arena Football League's Human Highlight Film, WR/LB Tom Pace. The former Sun Devil turned heads all season with his acrobatic touchdown catches and eye-popping returns.
'He's a playmaker for sure,' says Rattlers Head Coach and fellow Sun Devil Danny White. ' He's not down until he's down. He doesn't finish a defensive play until the whistle blows, he's just that kind of guy.'
Pace made his Arena Football League debut on February 14, 2003 when the Rattlers took on the Buffalo Destroyers in the HSBC Arena. Although the Rattlers lost that game, Rattler fans got a glimpse of the future when Pace hauled in a 31-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chris Hixson. Pace's twisting, leaping grab in the back of the end zone wasn't just your run of the mill touchdown catch. In a league where circus catches are the norm, Pace didn't disappoint the fans in his home debut two weeks later against the Dallas Desperados. Pace made two more touchdown grabs, including a spectacular play where he stayed with the pass after it bounced off a defender's shoulder. He made the difficult catch, and then outraced the Dallas secondary for the score. Against the Colorado Crush, his full extension, leaping 44-yard touchdown haul put a big smile on Coach White's face.
Proving he isn't just a one-dimensional player, Pace served up another highlight against the Detroit Fury, only this time it came on a kickoff return. Going left after playing the ball off the net, Pace appeared to be stopped when a Fury player had two handfuls of his jersey. Pace reversed his field and kept his legs churning, and somehow slipped from the grasp of the would-be tackler for a 24-yard return.
Offense was Pace's forte while in college, but in the arena game, he had to learn how to become a defensive player. Pace is a fast learner, finishing the year with 25.5 tackles, two interceptions, both of which he returned for a touchdown, and a fumble recovery he took in for a score as well.
Pace's journey to the AFL was helped along the way by a familiar face around Rattlers camp, former Rattlers Defensive Coordinator, SaberCats Head Coach and current New York Dragons Head Coach Todd Shell.
'Todd Shell really helped me to get a tryout. I knew his son (Tanner) from ASU, and he told me that Todd knew Danny White. Todd talked to Danny and got me a tryout.'
Pace is a 1995 graduate of Mesa High School, and he began his college career at the University of Idaho. He played one season for the Vandals, before leaving on a two-year mission in Brazil. Upon his return, Pace spent a year at Ricks Junior College in Rexburg, Idaho before returning to Mesa. After cleaning pools to earn money, Pace decided to walk on to Bruce Snyder's Sun Devil squad, even though the team was two games into the 2000 season. Pace made an immediate impact, leading the team in rushing with 720 yards on 180 carries. Pace also added six touchdown runs to go along with his nine catches for 192 yards and two scores. He finished his Sun Devil career with 1,174 rushing yards in 21 games, and eleven touchdowns. In his final game at ASU, Pace returned a UCLA kickoff 100 yards for the score in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
Pace has had to make many adjustments in order to adapt to the arena game. The most notable change has been from running back to wide receiver.
'I've never played arena football, or wide receiver before in my life. Being a running back in college, it's been a big change. I have to learn how to read coverages, and how to run routes. I had never run a route before until I came to the Rattlers. Sherdrick Bonner has really helped me learn the routes.'
Pace helped lead the Rattlers to a 10-6 regular season record, and a second consecutive berth in the ArenaBowl. Although the Rattlers fell one win short of the title, they feel they've secured their future with Pace in the fold. He finished the season with 32 catches for 399 yards and eight touchdowns. He also wowed opponents with his scoring ability. Pace scored a touchdown five different ways in 2003. He caught a touchdown pass, ran for a score, threw for touchdown, returned an interception for a touchdown (twice), and recovered a fumble for a touchdown. Pace also added five touchdown catches in four postseason games. He not only impressed the entire Arena Football League, but he made a lasting impression with Danny White.
'We need more guys playing like he plays. As long as he is playing like that, he's going to get a lot of action, because we need that on the field.'
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