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Khalid Wooten, “The Hustler”

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Khalid Wooten says that the one play he remembers more than any other play throughout his long career happened on January 9, 2011. Led by the relatively unknown quarterback Colin Kaepernick, in San Francisco out of all places, a great Nevada Wolf Pack team was up 20-13 against Boston College in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, previously known as the Emerald Bowl.

With the game on the line, Nevada punted and the Eagles got the ball on their 10 yard line, with three minutes on the clock and one last chance to send the game into overtime. It took them less than a minute to advance towards midfield, before Chase Rettig sent a pass to the right. Wooten came flying in and literally took the ball away from the receiver's hands for a bowl-winning interception, the first bowl win in five years for the school and only it’s fourth ever.

While Wooten and his friends celebrated his massive play, on the other side was standing, disappointed, Thomas Claiborne. These days, the defensive back and offensive lineman share a locker room as part of the Massachusetts Pirates and Wooten admits: "A few weeks ago Thomas and I spoke about that game. I just wanted to remind him it happened. We had one of the best teams in the country that season."

Now, Wooten is part of another strong team, and the Pirates, despite a heartbreaking overtime road loss to the National Arena League leaders Jacksonville Sharks in their last game, remain in great position in the standings, third overall and ready for a postseason run.

Since the outcome was not the one Wooten wanted against the Florida team, the play he made there might not be as high in his personal ranking as that 2011 interception, but this would be a good time to stop reading this story for a minute and run to the Pirates' Twitter page, to watch the game's biggest highlight and one of the best plays this season.

Five minutes into the game, the Sharks' quarterback Jonathan Bane threw a long pass on second and 20. Wooten, again, was right there, taking the ball away from a shocked receiver and rolling out of the field and into the first row of the stands. His teammates' reaction, especially Chucky Williams', said it all. This was something special.

Wooten has been playing great for a while now. In only eight games, he has 24 solo tackles and three half-tackles and he is ranked third among Pirates players and 18 in the entire league with 3.2 tackles per game. He is also second in the team and tied for seventh best in the National Arena League in passes defended, with 1.50 per game (12 total, including a couple of interceptions).

After graduating from Nevada, Wooten was the 202 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. He was selected by the Tennessee Titans. He was released prior to his rookie season and immediately signed to the practice squad, where he waited for an opportunity. That opportunity came when the Titans placed "The Blind Side" star Michael Oher on the Injury Reserves list on December 13, 2014, effectively ending his season.

Wooten played the next day in a loss to the New York Jets and was also on the field for the final two games of the Titans' season. "I would say that the biggest difference is not physically, but mentally", he says about his time in the NFL. "The game itself is not too different from the college game, because football is football, from the youth game all the way to the present.  But you meet so many new people there and make connections. It was a wonderful experience and a privilege to be part of it."

After leaving the Titans, Wooten had stints with the Montreal Alouettes, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Toronto Argonauts from the Canadian Football League, before he went indoors for the first time and joined the Pirates for the final four regular season games and one playoff game last season, quickly leaving his mark on the team. This April he was assigned to the Atlantic City Blackjacks from the Arena Football League and after less than two months there, rejoined the Pirates.

He made his return to Worcester when the team had a 1-4 record. The Pirates won the first six games with Wooten. "We just played the best we can in those games", explains Wooten the run that changed the team's course this season. "We were able to leave all the losses behind us and connect and we understood that we can be dominant and that it starts in practices. Once we realized that, we started to win games and I hope we can play for the title this season. Personally, I just know I have to do my job and trust the guy that's next to me. I love the comradery on this team. The coaches and teammates are just great."

In his free time, whenever the California native is not trying to adjust to the Massachusetts weather, Wooten loves playing pool: "I wouldn't say I'm great, but I can definitely do the job. It's a hobby and I enjoy it, and yes, maybe there are similarities to football. You always have to plan ahead, prepare yourself with one play to the next one."

The Massachusetts Pirates are members of the National Arena League (NAL). The Pirates play all home games at the DCU Center located at 50 Franklin St. Worcester, MA. 01608. For more information on the Massachusetts Pirates please call (508) 452-MASS (6277), email contact@masspiratesfootball.com or visit www.masspiratesfootball.com. Single game tickets are available online at ticketmaster.com or the DCU Center Box Office. For group outings please call 508-452-MASS (6277). Follow the Pirates on Facebook at Facebook.com/MAPirates on Instagram @mass.pirates, as well as Twitter @mass_pirates.

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