SAGINAW, MI -- CJ Tarver is regularly the smallest player on the football field, but he also regularly makes the biggest impact.
A 5-foot-8, 160-pound wide receiver, Tarver has been starring at indoor football for four years with the Saginaw Sting, and his performance has come at a level that has Canadian Football League scouts looking past his size at his immense production.
Since joining the organization in 2012, Tarver has scored a touchdown receiving, rushing, passing, off an interception return and kickoff return earning Special Team Player of the Year and league Most Valuable Player.
"He's a very smart football player," Sting coach Stuart Schweigert said. "He's not only very athletic, but he knows the game. He knows situations, and he's a guy who wants to make the play."
He knows the game despite a lack of football background after an injury prevented him from playing collegiately. However, that hasn't prevented him making an impact with the Sting.
Tarver returned the opening kickoff of the 2015 season back for a touchdown finishing with nine receptions for 87 yards and another touchdown in a loss to Reading before adding a touchdown reception and taking snaps against York. In Saginaw's first win of the season against Cleveland, he had two receptions for two touchdowns and recorded three interceptions on defense, returning one for a touchdown and another on a 2-point conversion.
"He's like a water bug out there," Schweigert said. "He can make a lot of people miss in a small area."
It's easy to see why Tarver stands out. He's a small man playing among giants, and he's a star among stud athletes. That pales in comparison to the dedication he's shown just to play the game.
An Albany, New York native and resident, Tarver makes the flight to Saginaw two times a week for practice and a third time for Sting games before catching the red eye back home. As a worker for Delta Airlines, he can deadhead on flights wherever the airline flies.
"I love it," Tarver said of the travel he undertakes to play for the Sting. "I have a passion for the game."
Last season, Tarver was one of a handful of Saginaw players who caught the eye of Winnipeg Blue Bombers scout Drew Morris running a 4.37-second 40-yard dash, which earned an invitation to camp with the CFL club. Tarver wowed the coaching staff earning a contract, but a coaching change left him on the outside looking in once more.
He hasn't given up on his dream though taking another shot Saturday, April 18 before Saginaw's non-conference game against Huntsville.
"He's working out with Edmonton in Tampa in the morning, then he's catching a flight from Tampa to Alabama, and we're going to pick him up for the game," Schweigert said. "We have guys commuting from Detroit, but he commutes from New York."
SAGINAW, MI -- There's nothing like a game against the last-place team to soothe a battered ego.
Saginaw struggled to a pair of disappointing losses to open the American Indoor Football League season, resulting in a mid-week coaching change, but the Sting responded Saturday, April 11 when lowly Cleveland came to town jumping out to an early lead and rolling to a 74-6 win.
The Sting improve to 1-2 on the season, while the Saints fall to 0-4.
It was the first game as head coach for former Saginaw native and former NFL safety Stuart Schweigert.
Saginaw wasn't exactly playing the Super Bowl champs, but it was the Sting's most consistent performance of the season. Defense and special teams did enough to carry the team, but its offense also showed signs of life.
Joshua McIntosh kicked two field goals, and the Sting defense recorded a safety for an 8-0 lead in the first quarter, but Saginaw's offense got involved in the second quarter thanks to former all-league signal caller A.J. McKenna.
McKenna was signed by the Sting late in the week as an injury replacement for starter Brady Attaway who missed the game with a concussion, and while McKenna missed on a few early throws, he connected on two that mattered in the second quarter on touchdown passes to C.J. Tarver and Daryl Gooden to build a 22-0 lead.
Tarver was a three-way act for the Sting on Saturday returning kicks, catching touchdowns and interceptions.
The wide receiver played defensive back and picked off a pass early in the second quarter before adding an interception late in the first half that he returned for a touchdown to make it 29-0 Saginaw.
McKenna threw a short screen pass to DeShawn Hayes in the third quarter that the former Saginaw Heritage standout took in for a score, and former Saginaw Arthur Hill standout LaTreze Mushatt recorded a sack safety for a 38-0 Sting lead.
McKenna threw his fourth touchdown pass of the evening to Tarver in the third before former Bay City Western star Austin Pichiotino came on in relief.
Pichiotino ran for two touchdowns and threw for another, and Terrence Blevins Jr. added a late rushing touchdown.
Cleveland scored a touchdown with 45.7 seconds left to spoil the shutout bid.
Saginaw won the turnover battle convincingly 5-1. Tarver had two interceptions on defense, while LaTreze Mushatt, Virgil Williams and Bert White also had interceptions. The only Sting turnover was a deep pass by McKenna as time expired on the first half.
The Sting defense performed better than asked. A good game in arena is holding the opposition to 30 points, but Saginaw held Cleveland to a late touchdown thanks to a dominating pass rush and ball hawking defensive backs. In addition to picking off five passes, they also recorded two safeties.
The best overall player in the league might just play for the Sting in diminutive wide receiver C.J. Tarver. Small in stature, he possesses elite quickness, speed and athleticism. Listed as a wide receiver, Tarver also played defensive back against the Saints and recorded a pass break-up and two interceptions, one that he took to the house. He also caught two touchdown receptions. He also
McKenna was brought in just for one game until Attaway is cleared to play, but he shook off a few cobwebs in the first half to throw four touchdown passes.
Saginaw struggles at times with costly penalties. The Sting had a couple defensive penalties that extended drives for Cleveland, while an offensive pass interference and unsportsmanlike penalties negated a touchdown.
The Sting were dominant, but against a poor team. Was it a fluke? Saginaw's only way to quell the doubters it an encore next week.
SAGINAW, MI -- With two disappointing losses, it hasn't exactly been the start the Saginaw Sting were hoping for in their inaugural American Indoor Football League season.
Their most recent setback, a 46-33 loss to York, resulted in Sting ownership letting go Greg Wasmer and the majority of his coaching staff.
"I want to say I appreciate the opportunity," said Wasmer, who also said he wasn't surprised by the change. "I appreciate what the coaches and players have done up to this point. ... I fully expect for them to win the rest of their games during the year."
Saginaw co-owner and former NFL safety Stuart Schweigert is taking over as interim head coach for the remainder of the 2015 season, which includes seven more regular season games starting with a 7:30 p.m. game Saturday, April 11 against Cleveland at The Dow Event Center.
"I want to simplify everything," Schweigert said. "Defensively, I felt like we've been playing pretty well. ... We've created turnovers, but the thing I want to eliminate is the big play. We've given up too many big plays.
"Offensively, you're going to see more consistency from our offense. We want to sustain some drives. A big goal for us is, we want to win first down and that's getting 3-yards plus."
Schweigert is still looking to fill out his coaching staff, but John Kennelly is joining him to work with the offensive and defensive lines and running backs, while Brandon Cork is staying on the staff to serve as defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.
Schweigert will serve as offensive coordinator and special teams coach as he fills out the staff.
He's helped coach Sting positions since joining the organization in 2011. A former All-American safety at Purdue and starter for the Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions, he also was an assistant defensive backs coach while playing for the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League.
He's coaches and trains individual athletes and has helped out at Saginaw Heritage from time to time, in addition to his responsibilities as Director of Football Operations which have brought back a familiar face into the fold.
Sting quarterback Brady Attaway suffered a concussion in Saginaw's last game against York and hasn't been cleared to play, so Saginaw is bringing in former all-league performer A.J. McKenna to take the snaps Saturday against the Saints.
"Our goal as an ownership group is to do whatever it takes for our players to move on to the next level to become better football players and people," Schweigert said. "To make the Great Lakes Bay Region better and to win a championship, those are our goals before every season. They're our goals during the season, and they're the same goals we have right now."
The Sting have fallen short of that championship goal in recent seasons.
Saginaw, which won three championships from 2008-2012, lost in the championship in 2013 before getting bounced from the playoffs in the first round last year.
The Sting brought in James Perry as interim head coach for the playoffs last year following Fred Townsend's resignation after a 9-1 regular season, and Wasmer was brought on at the beginning of 2015.
Schweigert will be the team's fourth head coach in five games dating back to last season.
"I want to give these guys every tool I can to make them better football players," he said. "If they become better individually, we'll become better collectively. If we're better collectively, we'll win games. If we win games, we'll win championships."
SAGINAW, MI -- It took ownership two lackluster performances for Saginaw Sting ownership to decide they needed a change.
Head coach Greg Wasmer and the majority of his staff was let go Tuesday, April 7 after the team struggled to an 0-2 start.
"When I make a decision, it's for the best of the Saginaw Sting football family," Sting co-owner Jim O'Brien said. "That's the fans, the players, the media, the sponsors. ... Our fans have become used to a certain level of performance, and we haven't given them that."
Co-owner and former NFL player Stuart Schweigert will take over as head coach for the rest of the season. Assistant Brandon Cork is expected to stay on with the franchise.
They'll be in charge Saturday, April 11 when the Sting host Cleveland at The Dow Event Center.
The Sting have struggled mightily in the first two weeks of the season suffering losses at home to Reading ASI and York with a poor offense and a defense that has surrendered big plays.
Saginaw has faced a lot of change over the last year. It opened the season 9-0 last year before dropping the regular season finale and facing a coaching change for a first-round playoff exit. Now the Sting have their fourth different head coach in five games.
"He's the best athlete I've ever seen," O'Brien said of Schweigert. "He understands what it takes to go in football; he understands what it takes to get there."