The National Arena League will enter their second season with a total of four expansion teams joining returning members from the past season. The 2018 expansion teams include the Jersey Flight, Massachusetts Pirates, Carolina Cobras, and the Maine Mammoths. Each of the expansion franchises have shown signs of strength with coaching announcements and signings, as they prepare to begin playing.
The Jersey Flight are coached by Jake Grande. Grande served as the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Sharks from 2010-2013. He also served as defensive coordinator and and defensive backs coach at Jacksonville University from 2011-2015. Grande most recently coached as the special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach at Valdosta State University.
The Flight have began to “take flight”. The team has already made a good bit of signings of rookie arena football players, along with the addition of veteran arena quarterback Stephen Panasuk. Panasuk will enter his fifth season of professional arena football, as he will “fly the Flight” to success.
Panasuk began his professional career in 2013, and has since then played in numerous leagues such as the AFL, CIF, NAL, IFL, PIFL, and the CIFL. Most recently, Panasuk was the quarterback for the majority of the season for the High Country Grizzlies in 2017.
In eight games, he threw for 1,318 yards and 31 touchdowns during the 2017 season. The Flight have also signed former Rutgers University wide receiver Shamar Graves. During Graves’ four-year career with the Scarlet Knights, Graves played tight end, totaling 33 receptions for 407 yards and five touchdowns.
The team has so far shown that they will give opportunities to local players and rookies who are new to the game. For all players looking to begin a career in arena football, the Flight could be the perfect team with plentiful roster spot opportunities.
The Massachusetts Pirates are coached by Ameer Ismail. Ismail had quite a decorated college career playing at Western Michigan University. He was a DI All-American, Conference Defensive Player of the year, and two- time first team ALL MAC selection. He led the nation in sacks with 17 and tackles for loss with 26 and is the school and conference single-season sack record holder in both categories.
Ismail also holds the NCAA record with six sacks during a 41-27 win over Ball State University. During his playing career, Ismail spent some time in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars. Ismail spent time in the AFL with the Jacksonville Sharks, and the Milwaukee Mustangs. He then began to make his name known in the Indoor Football League.
He played three seasons in the IFL, earning two First Team All-IFL honors. He was also the 2012 IFL Defensive Player of the Year with a record 167 tackles in a season in only 12 games.
Overall, Ismail recorded 357 tackles, 14 sacks, six interceptions, five fumbles, and eight blocked kicks. Ismail is currently a canidate for the Indoor Football League Hall of Fame.
He began coaching in 2014 with Cedar Rapids Titans, as he was hired as the defensive coordinator under Coach Mark Stoute. Most recently, he coached Bloomington Edge in his first head coaching job. The Edge finished 7-5, making the Champions Indoor Football playoffs.
The Pirates have began to make very bold moves this off-season. The Pirates signed a several former NFL players, and highly experienced indoor football players, such as Thomas Claiborne, Nick Hagg, Shawn, Loiseau, John Hardy Tuliau, Jam-es Logan, and Troy Sanders. Also, the Pirates have brought on veteran wide receiver London Crawford. Crawford most recently played for the NAL’s Monterrey Steel in 2017.
The team has for sure shown that they will be big competitors this 2018 season, but the big signings are only getting started. They will continue making strong additions this off-season for the betterment of the franchise. They ar for sure going to be potential playoff competitors for sure, with the strong leadership of London Crawford and head coach Ameer Ismail.
The Carolina Cobras are coached by Billy Back. Back, the 2016 Indoor Football League coach of the Year, will make a huge impact to the Cobras. Back’s resume includes several championship seasons and an impressive overall record of 82-27 (.752 winning percentage) as a head coach. Back has coached for the Wichita Falls Nighthawks, Texas Revolution, Cincinnati Commandos, and the Nashville Venom.
He has turned around several arena football programs and has won a total of three championships, all three being in Cincinnati. He also lead the teams he has coached for to the playoffs and several other other championship appearances.
Back took a coaching job with the IFL Cedar Rapids Titans, but decided to leave the coaching job to become the Cobras head coach. Besides coaching, Back spent a total of six seasons playing in the Indoor Football League. In 2006, he led the NIFL in All-Purpose Yards, and was named the Player of the Week on three separate occasions.
Back announced the signing of a total of nine players, during the press conference. So far, two players have been announced, and more are to follow. Back is known for bringing several players along with him to new teams. The Cobras have so far signed the 2016 and 2017 IFL MVP Quarterback Charles McCullum and wide reciever Jordan Jolly.
McCullum spent the last two seasons with the Wichita Falls Nighthawks, recording 6,008 passing yards for 87 touchdowns, 408 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. He was named IFL’s MVP for both the 2016 and 2017 seasons. He also spent two seasons with the Nashville Venom and led the Venom to back to back playoff appearances and to the league championship game in 2015.
Before playing with the Venom, McCullum played for the Cedar Rapid Titans from 2012 to 2013, as he helped Cedar Rapids to a 2013 United Conference Championship. Before the championship game, he had a total of 30 touchdowns and completing 109 of 190 passes in 10 games. McCullum began his first few seasons with the Kent Predators and Seattle Timberwolves.
Alone, the addition of Back, Jolly, and McCullum have much to say about the strength of the Cobras. The Cobras, like the Pirates, will also be very strong competitors for the upcoming season, as more of Back’s squad is expected to join the team soon.
The Maine Mammoths are coached by James Fuller. Fuller is a 17 year coaching veteran, as he has coached for several teams in the arena/indoor football community. Last season, Fuller was the Offensive Coordinator for the Bismarck Bucks of the CIF. He was hired as the Offensive Coordinator for the AAL’s High Country Grizzlies for 2018, but instead took a head coaching position for the Mammoths.
Fuller spent a total of five seasons with the the Richmond Raiders (2011-2015) of the Professional Indoor Football League. The Raiders achieved a 10-2 record in 2012, along with their first playoff berth and their first PIFL Championship appearance under the strong leadership of Fuller. Fuller has also coached in numerous roles in the AFL fot the Dallas Vigilantes, Dallas Desperados Philadelphia Soul, Bakersfield Blitz and the Oklahoma Wranglers.
Coming along with Fuller is veteran quarterback Jonathan Bane. Bane goes wherever Fuller goes, just like Billy Back’s quarterback Charles McCullum. Bane was originally set to play with the High Country Grizzlies of the AAL for 2018, but made the move to the Mammoths and NAL when Fuller took the head coaching job.
Bane played seven games with the CIF Bismark Bucks last season. He was placed on injured reserve later in the season. Before playing with the Bucks, he played for the Tampa Bay Storm and Colorado Crush during the 2016 season.
In 2015, Bane signed with the Bloomington Edge of the CIF, and then was selected to the Major League Football Draft. Bane began his professional career in 2014 with the Richmond Raiders. He earned PIFL Offensive Player of the Year as a Rookie for the Richmond Raiders.
Not much is known about how strong the Mammoths will really be this season, but the leadership of head coach Fuller and veteran quarterback in Bane will help set the tone as for team strength and professionalism.