NIFL Pacific North Season Preview
March 15, 2006 - National Indoor Football League (NIFL) News Release
For Head Football Coach Dan Whitsett of theTri-Cities Fever, the numbers tell the story...The Fever finished with a 9-5 overall record, went 5-2 at home, 4-3 on the road and finished an even-up 4-4 in division play. But when it counted most, his team was a perfect 4-0 in the 2005 NIFL playoffs, and Whitsett, who took the reins after the team's third game last season, saw his upstart expansion team walk away with the ultimate prize in 2005, a hard earned 47-31 victory over the Rome Renegades in Indoor Bowl V.
They are the champions!!
"Last year's team was a special group of guys," said Whitsett last week during a phone interview, " they may not have been the most talented team of the field, but they played with heart and intensity. It paid off when it counted most."
And having a taste of victory in 2005 has Whitsett and his Fever squad poised for more of the same as the National Indoor Football League begins it's sixth season of play. "It sounds cliché but winning IS contagious," said Whitsett, "you get into that kind of groove and you want more, the fans want more and the owners want to add a second trophy to the one already in the case. This team, this year, will have as much focus as the one leaving the field at the end of that last game in July."
Winning also translates into losing, as Whitsett bid goodbye to several players who jumped to the Arena League. "Winning draws attention to you, and players get taken up to the next level. The o ther side of that is, you win, and players suddenly want to seek you out and play on your team, so it works out well."
Speed is the name of the game for the Tri-Cities Fever in 2006..... at cornerback, Antar Brame...swift....Emery Beckles, from the CFL....fast.....Elton Seals....speedy and exciting!! Whitsett says his team this year is fast...and smart!
"We're blazing at the corners and at safety, and I'm really high on Jarvis Dunn, our returning leading rusher and second leading receiver. And the new guy, Quincy Jackson has had success at all levels of play (NFL, XFL, CFL and AFL). Throw in team leader Ron Childs at linebacker, who has played NFL with Kansas City and New Orleans, and I'd say we're ready to guard that title trophy like a dog with a bone."
The first test comes on Friday, March 24 th when Billings heads to the Three Rivers Coliseum to take on the Tri-Cities Fever, NIFL Champions in 2005...and back for more in 2006!
Former NFL cornerback Heron O'Neal says his Billings team is a solid group of athletes, three-fourths of whom have seen previous experience in the NIFL. O'Neal, who played for the Chicago Bears and the Jacksonville Jaguars, brings an NFL style of coaching to a team that fell on hard times last season, finishing 5-9 on the year, 2-5 at home, 3-4 on the road, and 4-5 in the division. The former assistant head coach of the Wyoming Cavalry in 2005, O'Heron says his team has the drive and determination...and the skill...to turn that around this season.
"There's talent on this roster," he claimed last week as this interview found him reviewing practice film from last week and game film from last season, "and I'm determined to bring it out to translate that talent into victories this season. Part of the problem, I feel, was focus. It was a bit fuzzy in 2005, guys missing assignments, penalties, things along those lines. All these things, certainly, are detrimental to a team's success, but wrongs that can be righted with concentration and good coaching."
Ready to step up for Billings this year is cornerback Joey Longoria, a second year back who played for O'Heron at Wyoming last season and led the NIFL in interceptions. The offense gets a huge boost this year as quarterback Khris Dixon, a backup last season, has looked impressive and according to O'Heron, is ready to move up. "Khris started four games last season, so the experience is there, but he's really come on this pre-season. True, the tale of the tape will be in the games, but if it's anything like I've seen thus far, I'd say we've got us a quarterback."
He'll unload behind an O-Line anchored by NFL and NIFL veteran Artavious Williams, who at 6'4" and 350lbs, has gained favor with O'Heron by actually losing weight over the off-season. "That's a big plus, because now Artavious can stay on the field longer and be more effective," says O'Heron, "it's not like before when he might play five downs, then rest for two or three. His weight loss will help him go whistle to whistle."
Finally, BJ Charlton, who caught the winning TD pass in last years NIFL All-Star game, is back to put up some big numbers as the premier wide receiver. All in all, it's a Billings team that O'Heron says will be "much improved over last year. Most coaches would look at a 5-9 record from a year ago and offer up a .500 season. I say we're ready and determined to do much better than that in 2006."
Billings will play its home games at the Metrapark Arena in 2006.
For Owner, Head Coach and Director of Player Personnel Eric Sellers of theBig Sky Thunder, 2006 will be a football education for his team, his coaches and the fans of the Thunder in Bozeman, Montana. And you'd best believe he is ready to embrace the challenge!
"This is something I've wanted for a long time, owning and coaching a team in a league with credibility," said Sellars last week from his office, "and the work and long hours involved are a labour of love for myself and the entire staff. It's been interesting, both on and off the field. As an expansion team, especially in an area like this, you can be under a microscope, so I've tried hard to make sure we've done everything by the book, so to speak, in terms of fan appreciation and players and media. The initial thrust of ticket sales were initially slow, but have picked up in the past month. Sponsors are watching to see how we conduct ourselves in the community, but the tide has been swinging in our favor in that respect as well. I think the people of Bozeman are really in the team's corner, and as head coach, I plan to send out a team week after week that's competitive, and ready to leave nothing on the field at the end of the game."
In a league geared to offensive production, Sellars can look to a couple of NIFL veterans to help make some thunder like explosion in 2006. Wide receiver Chris Swift is no stranger to success in the National Indoor Football League. From 2003-2005 while a member of the Wyoming Cavalry, Swift hauled in 139 receptions, good for 1,396 yards, and 44 touchdowns. On the o ther side, the Thunder will employ Shawn Couch a 5'10" 180lb speedster, who Sellars says, "will add the deep threat to our team this year."
Five year NIFL vet Anthony Parker will anchor both the offensive and defensive line when called upon.
Sellars says it's simple. "We're a new team in the league. We've got a lot of work to do, but we have two big advantages as we go into the season. No one has seen us play, so that's somewhat of an advantage, and our strong point, I'd say, is speed. We'll be fast!"
Fans of the Thunder hope that means...from the get-go!!
The Big Sky Thunder will play all 2006 home games at the Valley Ice Garden in Bozeman, Montana.
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National Indoor Football League Stories from March 15, 2006
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