By Kevin Hogencamp
The 2010 test run is done; it’s time for the Albany Panthers to make a complete Southern Indoor Football League championship run, says Albany Panthers General Manager Will Carter.
With most of last year’s division championship team intact, and a full off-season to prepare for the team’s second season, Carter is optimistic that the Panthers will have another winning team – on the field and in the stands.
The Panthers open the season at home at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Albany Civic Center versus the Louisiana Swashbucklers, which ended the Panthers season in the first year of the playoffs last year. Albany finished its inaugural year 8-3. The SIFL now has 16 teams – 11 more than last year.
“Last year we had two months to prepare, putting a new team together. This year we think we’re ready for some great things to happen,” he said. “We’ve had all year to prepare and I think we’re ready.”
Head coach Lucious Davis, who is back for a second season in Albany after leading arena teams in Ohio, Nevada, Texas and Oklahoma, says the Panthers’ are multi-talented – but young.
“My biggest concerns are starting a (first-year) quarterback and that I lost a couple of defensive players,” he said. “Right now we’re trying to get everyone on the same page. We’re bringing them along slowly.”
Former Albany State University star quarterback A.J. McKenna is learning the fast-paced arena game with the assistance of Davis and veteran backup quarterback Cecil Lester, a former Fort Valley State standout.
“Cecil is helping (McKenna) understand some of the ins and outs. He can show him some things that I can’t, so that’s a good thing,” Davis said.
Particularly, arena quarterbacks have to read defenses faster, release the ball quicker, and throw the balls at sharper angles.
“There are a lot of adjustments to make. He’ll get it. It just takes awhile,” Davis said.
The other players on the Panthers roster are wide receivers Antwone Savage (Oklahoma), Antwontis Cutts (Ft. Valley), John Harris (N.W. Mississippi CC) and Clyde Washington (Charleston Southern); fullback Derrick Wimbush (Ft. Valley); offensive linemen Brandon Bishop (Texas College), Terrance Smith (Hampton), Demetrice Jackson (Miles) and Aaron Wheeler (Alabama State); kicker Wes Virgilio (Victor Valley JC); linebackers Jonathan Armstrong (Albany State), Terrance Hawk (Albany State) and Larry Edwards (North Carolina); defensive linemen Munir Muwwakkil (Western Kentucky) and Derrick Battle (Albany State); and defensive backs Demetrie McCray (Albany State), Corey Rue (Concordia) and Levance Richmond (Southern Mississippi).
Carter, meanwhile, says that Panthers fans will be provided a special experience this season, between on-field promotions and concessions from Papa John’s Pizza, Popeye’s Chicken, Ole Times Buffet, and Nana’s Ice Cream. Concession lines should be shorter, food quality will be better, and Panthers souvenirs will be offered this year.
“Last year, we didn’t have time to do a lot of things, including Panthers souvenirs. We’ve got just about everything you’d expect, now,” he said. “And all six concession stands will be open this year, which will help a lot.”
Among the on-field promotions that Davis says he is excited about is a takeoff on the popular TV game show Minute to Win It, and imitation sumo wrestling.
Fans will be able to purchase regulation Panthers jerseys along with T-shirts, game balls and other memorabilia.
Also, Christopher Pike and Charlie Martin have put together another marching band for the team, and the Panthers are teaming up with the United Way once again to provide tickets and concessions for high-performing middle school students in a program called “Cats for Kids.”
The Panthers also have formed a new partnership with the Albany Recreation and Parks Department to create a youth indoor football league that will play its games from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Panthers game days. Youth 6 to 12 years old are participating on 12 teams.
This year’s game sponsors are Coca-Cola, the City of Albany, MillerCoors, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, Toyota of Albany, and Clear Channel.