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A new beginning for Porter, Wolves

by Mike Vergane
January 21, 2002 - arenafootball2 (af2)

For the expansion Mohegan Wolves and their new head coach Gary Porter, this will be a season of new beginnings.

Along with the New Haven Ninjas, the Wolves will bring the game of arena football back to the state of Connecticut while playing in the brand new Mohegan Sun Arena.

After heading up the expansion Peoria Pirates last season, Porter begins the task of building the Wolves. And while some may say that jumping to another expansion team is like going from 'out of the frying pan and into the fire,' Porter would probably say it is just going out of the frying pan.

"They wanted to make some changes in Peoria," said Porter. "Dr. Margenau, our owner, wanted to bring back Bruce Cowdrey; which was understandable given his popularity there. So to put it in layman's terms, instead of firing me they offered me this opportunity here with the Wolves."

And Porter could not be happier.

Not that coaching the Pirates was a miserable experience, but more of a case of being in the right place at the wrong time. Porter was the quarterback who led the Peoria Pirates to an IFL championship and an undefeated season in 2000. When Orlando Predators Entertainment purchased the Pirates after the 2000 season and placed them in the af2, they selected Gary Porter to replace Bruce Cowdrey.

Porter had some playing experience with the Texas Terror of the AFL as a backup quarterback, and had some coaching experience as an assistant with his alma mater at NW Oklahoma State, but his first head coaching job was to take over a team which had lost only one game in two seasons. Anything short of a champioship by some would be considered a down year. After a disastrous season opener, the Pirates slowly improved and even pulled off a huge upset by defeating unbeaten Tulsa.

Now with a year of experience to draw upon, Gary Porter can take what he has learned in Peoria and put together his team from scratch.

"It made me feel good that Dr. Margenau wanted to keep me in the company," added Porter. "I'm excited to be here. Nothing against Peoria, but this was the right move for me and my wife. We loved it up in Peoria and made some great friends, but this is right for us."

With the season opener at the Mohegan Sun Arena coming up April 5th against Northeast Division rival Albany, Porter is slowly assembling some impressive athletes. One that he is particularly excited about is former NAIA All-American, Al Hunt.

"Al is a kid that I coached in college at NW Oklahoma State," said Porter. "We were an option based team and he was our quarterback. He's probably the best athlete that I have ever been around - 5'11", 200 lbs. and runs a legitimate 4.4 40 every time he is timed. And he can throw a football 60 yards - he's just an incredible athlete.

"We thought he was going to get some NFL attention last year; not so much as a quarterback but as an athlete or a free safety. Unfortunately, it didn't pan out for him so he was looking for a place to play, and we were happy to get him."

With the signing of Hunt, Porter now has the luxury of only having to keep one quarterback on the active roster. Porter added that Hunt understands that his talents are better suited to playing the WR/DB position because the big-bodied dropback QB is traditionaly the quarterback of choice in the Arena game. To that end, Porter signed a good one in former North Carolina Tar Heel, Mike Thomas.

Thomas was a four year letterman with the Tar Heels under Mack Brown leading them to bowl wins in the 1993 Peach Bowl and the 1995 Carquest Bowl. The 6'3" Thomas also has arena experience in the 2000 camp of the Carolina Cobras. Another target at WR that Porter is excited about signing is Andy Macioni, a two-way player in college who spent last season on the Chicago Rush practice roster.

"Andy finished up his degree at Bridgewater State and joined the Rush midway through the season," said Porter. "I called Stan Davis, who is an assistant with the Rush, when I saw Andy was released. Stan said that had Andy been with the team from the beginnng from the season, he would have been playing last season. Andy could have been in the AFL this year, but with the contraction of teams the Rush couldn't afford to keep him around."

After leading Peoria to a 7-9 record last season, Porter comes to the Wolves a bit wiser and knowing what needs to be done differently.

"Last year was a productive year from a learning standpoint," added the coach. "There are some things from a player personnel standpoint that I did wrong last year that I won't do this year.

"We had a chance to sign Anthony Buich during the season last year before he went to Iowa; and I passed on him. If I have one downfall it is that I am sometimes too loyal to my players, and in that case we stuck with (Pirates QB) Sean Hoolihan longer than we should have."

The Northeast appears to be a division where any of the five teams could take the title. The Rochester Brigade returns as the only non-expansion team in the division, and of the four expansion teams, Gary Porter is the only head coach with af2 head coaching expreience outside of Albany's Ron Selesky.

The Northeast should be a division where a fast start in April will make the differnce.

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