Anyone who follows the American Arena League knows that there are three teams that look ready to win the inaugural AAL title before the league even plays a down – the Richmond Roughriders, Florida Tarpons and Atlanta Havoc.
Richmond spiked up their defense when they signed former NFL veteran defensive Greg Hardy. They’re also expected to start former Canadian Football League (CFL) quarterback Rakeem Cato.
Florida has 18-year veteran quarterback Chris Wallace leading the way with superstar receiver Joe Hills to throw to. They also have veteran fullback Jonathen Lugo in their backfield. He can be one of the most impressive backs in the league in 2018.
Atlanta looks to be top dog. They have signed several amazing players such as former such as wide receivers Ryan McDaniel, Malachi Jones and Thyron Lewis.
We know who is expected to be great in the AAL’s first season. What about the teams no one expects anything from? Or the teams no one are talking about? These four teams are sleepers in the AAL for year one.
The Flight joined the AAL after originally joining the National Arena League. After a close look at both their schedule and their roster, this team could make some noise in the AAL.
They only play a select few league teams, such as the Upstate Dragons and Rochester Kings. However, these teams are also considered lesser teams in this new league. These games, along with games against teams such as the EIF’s Maryland Warriors, could have the Flight finishing with just two losses – both that would come to Richmond.
Not only that, but this could be a very talented offense. They will be led by veteran quarterback Stephen Panasuk and have a head coach in Jake Grande that knows how to create a great defense. He was responsible for one of the best defenses in Arena Football League history in the 2011 Jacksonville Sharks.
One of two teams out of northern New York has a big roster, according to their website, that includes four quarterbacks. None of them look more impressive than Harry Rascoe, however. Last season, in the Northeastern Football Alliance, he threw for 19 touchdowns in five games, including a 396 yard and five touchdown performance last July. These numbers would impress anyone.
They also have a multitude of wide receivers that could back Rascoe up. The Kings also have other talent at all positions on their team that will be looking to prove their worth during camp, which is coming up in the coming weeks.
Like Jersey, their schedule works in their favor. They don’t play any big-name teams such as Triangle, Richmond or Atlanta. Rochester could easily see themselves in a playoff game come mid-June.
Teams all across the football world have a knack for amazing comeback stories, and being the underdog. Could we see this come to the Upstate Dragons?
The possibility of this team lies in the coaching staff, front office, and players. All across the board, there are interesting names and veteran players.
The head coach of the Dragons is Kent Merideth. In 2009, he began coaching and has since then been an offensive coordinator, head coach, and assistant general manager.
He’s a guy that’s been coaching here a long time, and he’s played a majority of these teams, coaches, and players. There isn’t an offensive coordinator listed or found anywhere, so it’s safe to assume Merideth will be calling the offensive plays, seeing as he has a history at it.
At defensive coordinator, they’ll have Anthony Galloway. He’s been coaching for 24 years, on the high school, college, and professional level. Galloway coached the quarterbacks and receivers with the af2’s Carolina Rhinos. Before that, be coached on the high school level, as well as being the assistant head coach for a minor league team, the South Carolina Seminoles.
He was also an offensive coordinator for the Aschaffenburg Stallions of the Global Football League in 2007. This guy has coached in the af2, IFL, CIFL, IIFA, and AIFA. Experience is key.
Doug Collins will serve as the assistant defensive coordinator. Collins has 29 years experience coaching high school football, and has been a member of the South Carolina Coaches Association since 1989. He has helped lead four high school football teams to state championships, coached three future NFL players, and currently serves as the defensive coordinator for the Crescent Tigers high school football team.
Finally, they have Nicholas Wideman serving as the defensive backs coach. Wideman was a standout defensive back in college.
Upstate has three quarterbacks on their roster – quarterback Marcus Littlejohn, and two arena rookies in Lorenz Stefan and Shane Martinez. Littlejohn has much experience, and that’s his edge in this competition.
He played semi professional football for the Greenville Seminoles from 2008-2016. He started for the Dragons in the 2017 season.
Stefan, a former Team America quarterback, played semi-pro football in the Arizona Gridiron Football League, where he was the 2017 Offensive Player of the Year for the Arizona Spartans. Martinez played JV football at Reedley College, then two semi pro seasons for Sanger Renegades and one for the Clovis Titans.
Another noticeable thing about this team’s roster is that this running and receiving game will be strong. Davon “He-Man” Gardner and Bobby Kinnebrew will control the running game, while receivers in Wyatt Rogers, stud Jaron Moorer, and interesting prospect in Nick Darras will back up the quarterback.
Upstate’s offensive line is very sizeable, and beefy. The quarterbacks and running backs will be okay when it comes to being protected.
The defense has a few hidden stars, on the other hand. Sedric Jefferson, a defensive back, looks like one of the next biggest things in arena football.
Quan Bristol was also quite the weapon for this team last year, and don’t be surprised to see him make more than a few plays. Anthoine Lagroone and Bobby Kinnebrew will probably wreak havoc on runners, and possibly the quarterback because this defense line has a lot of size, and some destructive force. One of them specifically being Nagei Lee.
Looking at their schedule, this team could easily finish the 2018 season 7-3. They have a fairly easy schedule, but they also face very talented teams like the l Havoc, Tarpons and Georgia Doom. Never count out the underdogs, however.
Take heed, arena football: The Georgia Doom can win it all in the inaugural AAL season.
Some may say it’s far fetched. Some say it’s crazy. But look at this team. Do your research. You’d be surprised.
On the coaching staff, there is have head coach Derek Stingley. He began his coaching career with the Macon Knights as the defensive coordinator, where he was promoted to head coach midway through the season, turning the team around from 2-4 to 8-8, and making the playoffs.
In 2006, he got to 8-8 again but missed the playoffs. In 2007, he joined the South Georgia Wildcats as the head coach, where he finished with a 10-6 record, and losing in the second round of the playoffs. 2008 was a huge year for him, where with the Wildcats, he finished the season with a 12-4 record, being honored as the Coach of the Year, finishing first in the league’s South Division, and was Top-10 in statistical categories such as scoring defense, rushing defense, and interceptions.
In 2010 and 2011, he spent time with the New Orleans Voodoo as their defensive coordinator and head coach. In 2013, he was named the head coach of the Pittsburgh Power, where his defense averaged a league low in yards allowed per game and ranked first in the AFL in pass rush.
In 2016, he was named the head coach of the Shanghai Skywalkers of the China Arena Football League. Now, he’s in Georgia with the Doom. Their offensive coordinator is equally, if not more impressive.
Gerald Dockery began coaching 2007 with the Katy Ruff Riders, where he was the defensive coordinator. In 2008, he was named the Ruff Riders head coach, and he gave them their first winning record.
In 2009, he led the Ruff Riders to their first playoff appearance. In 2011, he was named the head coach of the Houston Stallions, where the team finished 12-0, losing in the divisional round of the playoffs. Dockery would go on to be named Coach of the Year.
In 2012 with the Stallions, they started 7-0, but folded due to financial reasons. He had a 20-1 record overall with the Stallions.
In 2016, he was named the offensive coordinator, assistant head coach and Director of Player Personnel for the Corpus Christi Fury.
This team may have the best receiving corp in the AAL, if not most in all of arena and indoor football. Some key players are receivers Larry Beavers, LJ Castile, Vaughn Cornelia, Demarcus Sweat, offensive lineman Jarrad Hernandez, defensive back Derek Patterson, defensive lineman Dominie Pitman, and quarterback Marcus Brooks.
Beavers brings a lot of experience from pros. Castile, Cornelia, and Sweat will make huge impacts fit this team, as Castile brings experience.
Cornelia brings a huge frame, and Sweat brings huge potential and athleticism. Brooks at quarterback should be good for this team, as he’s a local quarterback that has a reputation for winning.
They have their offense line anchored with a veteran leader in Hernandez. On defense, they have Derek Patterson and Dominie Pitman, who should be the leaders here. They have other guys with good size and intangibles that could make this defense as good as Stingley’s Pittsburgh Power defense.
For a rough prediction, this team could finish the season with a 6-4, possibly 7-3 record. They’ll have some very close games. 6-4 is likely how it goes, with a possible playoff berth.
This team has the possibility to be really, really good. In the arena leagues, skill matters, and the Doom have a lot of it. We can only hope the AAL is ready for Doomsday.