If there was ever a year for a city to believe in all of their teams, 2017 is the year for Cleveland. Four of the five professional teams that call Cleveland home have a legitimate shot at winning a title. The only team truly struggling season after season is the Browns (we still love them). Outdoor football in Cleveland has not been great lately, that’s all the more reason to go inside the arena (no pun intended.)
In 2014 the Cleveland Gladiators won 19 games, winning their conference and earning the right to host Arena Bowl XXVII and playing in front of over 18,410 fans at the Quicken Loans Arena. Last season, they won a playoff game on the road despite it being their eighth straight road trip on the season. This team is better than the 2014 team.
Cleveland is led on offense by wide receiver Collin Taylor, 30, who is going into his fourth season with the Glads and saw his streak of games with at least one touchdown reach 32 straight. He is now joined by a man who scored 45 times on his own just last season. 29-year old Brandon Thompkins, who played the last two seasons for the Orlando Predators, was named AFL Player of the Year last season. Out of his 45 touchdowns, six were on kickoff/missed field goal returns. In case you are new to arena ball, yes there are missed kicks the players can return and it really happens often.
There was a training camp surprise, however, when Cleveland native and Jack Linebacker turned quarterbck, Arvell Nelson was placed on recallable reassignment. It was quite a shock, but Nelson did have trouble hitting receivers in late game situations. A lot of the fans will point to this as new head coach Ron Selesky’s first major move.
Selesky is in his first season as the Glads’ head coach, but he’s entering his seventh overall in Cleveland. Selesky was named as the 2014 Assistant Coach of the Year during their 19 win season. Taking Nelson’s place at quarterback is 34 year-old Shane Boyd, who had spent the last two seasons as a backup for the Arizona Rattlers, the class of the Arena Football League the last several years.
When Boyd did get playing time he went 50/92 passing (52.5 percent) with 13 touchdowns to only two interceptions. Coach Selesky (8-14 as a head coach 2003-04) stepped up early in the season last year when couch Steve Thonn (90 wins all time, eighth best in AFL) started to have trouble breathing before a game at the Q vs the Tampa Bay Storm. Thonn finished the season and most believe the move to step down was just a health decision. Selesky is a defensive leader who last year helped develop AFL rookie Joe Powell five interceptions, three taken back for scores), who is now a member of the Buffalo Bills.
Selesky should be able to make this team really dangerous with such great talent on the offensive side as well. The major addition this offseason on defense for Cleveland has to be Euclid, Ohio native and local college product out of Walsh, Rayshaun Kizer. Kizer, 32, helped anchor a solid Los Angeles KISS team the last two seasons. In those two seasons he grabbed sven picks and took three back to the house. Kizer is entering his eighth AFL season and should quickly become a new fan favorite.
The Gladiators enter 2017 with a great deal of talent on both sides of the ball and they rank #1 among returning teams in average attendance at just over 11,000 a game. The Q really sounds like a great place for Arena Bowl XXX.