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Gladiators travel to Austin to open 2006 season

January 25, 2006 - Arena Football League (1987-2008) (AFL I) - Las Vegas Gladiators News Release

Las Vegas, NV - As the 2006 season is set to kickoff, the Las Vegas Gladiators look to improve on their 8-8 record last year. The Gladiators biggest change this season comes at the quarterback position where Craig Whelihan won the starting job over AFL rookie Jason Fife. Whelihan enters his fifth season in the AFL, and his second with the Gladiators. His best season came in 2001 as a member of the Orlando Predators where he threw for 3,004 yards and 60 touchdowns.

If the Gladiators are going to take the next step to make it the playoffs this year, they are going to need Marcus Nash to duplicate his last two seasons. Over the last two seasons Nash has led the AFL in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. Another target that Whelihan is going to be looking to get the ball to this season is WR/LB Coco Blalock. Blalock had a great season on the offensive side of the ball as he finished with 73 catches for 851 yards and 13 touchdowns. On the defensive side of the ball Coco had his best season finishing with 19.5 tackles and one forced fumble.

The Gladiators have a very good running game with Marlion Jackson, Rodney Filer, and Matt Kinsinger looking to take some of the pressure off of Craig Whelihan. Jackson came to Las Vegas in week ten from the Philadelphia Soul. Last season Jackson ran for 123 yards and one touchdown. Matt Kinsinger was the leading rusher for the San Jose Sabercats finishing with 74 yards. His nine touchdowns scored last season was a career high. Rodney Filer returns to the Gladiators this season for his second season. His first season was a success as he recorded his career high in rushing yards with 105 yards.

On the defensive side of the ball the Gladiators are looking forward to the return of WR/DB Dameon Porter, who missed all but six games last season. Porter is a two time first-team all -Arena player, and looks to regain that form. He last won the honor in 2002. Another player coming off an injury is WR/DB T.J. Hill. Despite playing in just six games, Hill finished with 18 total tackles as well as five pass breakups. His best season was in 2003 when he finished with 63.5 tackles as well as breaking up 17 passes.

The Gladiators have solidified the defensive line by picking up a couple of former NFL players to help get after opposing quarterbacks. Tupe Peko and Alonzo Spellman are both coming to the Gladiators without any experience in the AFL. Tupe Peko was with the Indianapolis Colts from 2002 through 2004. Alonzo Spellman spent nine seasons in the NFL playing six seasons with the Chicago Bears, two with the Dallas Cowboys, and one with the Detroit Lions.

The Gladiators are counting on a couple of other linemen to help make the transition a little easier for Spellman and Peko. Wilky Bazile and Steve Konopka are both coming off great seasons last year, and are looking to put some pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Bazile had his best season last year recording 22 tackles, of which 8.5 tackles for losses. He's also recorded three sacks, while also recording one forced fumble. Konopka was named the teams lineman of the year last season despite playing in only twelve games for the Gladiators. Konopka recorded 16.5 tackles, three sacks, and three pass break ups.

The Gladiators begin the 2006 on the road in Austin, where they will take on the Wranglers. The Wranglers will be counting on the tandem of QB John Fitzgerald and Darrin Chiaverini. Chiaverini had a breakout season for the Wranglers as he finished with 114 receptions for 951 yards and 18 touchdowns. Fitzgerald had his best season last year as he threw for 3,960 yards to go along with his 72 touchdown passes. Damon Mason comes to the Wranglers from the Orlando Predators where he was released halfway through last season.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Wranglers had added veteran DS Donvetis Franklin. Franklin finished the 2005 season with 75 tackles while scoring two defensive touchdowns. Deveron Harper joins the Austin Wranglers from the NFL where he last played for the Saints in 2004. Harper should help provide some depth in the defensive backfield. OL/DL Aaron Humphrey will enter his third season looking to improve upon his 2.5 sacks from last season.

As a new season dawns the Gladiators look to advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2003. The Gladiators have only one appearance in the playoffs since moving from New Jersey to Las Vegas. With the changes the Gladiators have made on both sides of the ball, Las Vegas looks well on it's way to breaking this playoff drought. With ArenaBowl XX once again being played at the Thomas & Mack Center, the Gladiators would like nothing better to be playing for the championship in front of their ninth man the Gladiator fans.

The Gladiators open the 2006 campaign this Friday, Jan. 27, 2006, on the road at the Austin Wranglers. Kickoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. PST and can be heard on ESPN Radio 920 in Las Vegas with Andrew Siciliano and Mike Pritchard back to handle the call.

The Gladiators first home game will be a Monday Night Football contest against the San Jose SaberCats, Feb. 6 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.

Gladiators' 2006 season seats are now on sale. Fans interested in purchasing Gladiators' season seats can do so by calling the Gladiators office at 702-731-4977 or by going online at www.UNLVtickets.com.

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