Finally, it’s about football.
After several days of phone calls, texts and tweets centered on labor issues, the Spokane Shock will open the Arena Football League season against Iowa tonight at the Arena focused on game plans and Xs and Os.
“I don’t know how close it was (to players sitting out the opener), but we were talking with other teams and guys around the league,” quarterback Erik Meyer said. “The good thing about us playing Monday is we were the last game and we could see what happened around the league.
“We’re definitely glad to be playing and throwing the ball around again.”
Spokane, which has dropped its last two season openers, wants to get off to a fast start for several reasons. The ninth-ranked Shock reside in the West Division, arguably the AFL’s toughest division with preseason No. 1 Arizona, No. 2 San Jose and No. 8 Utah. San Jose edged Arizona in overtime Saturday.
Spokane is coming off its first losing season (9-10) and a first-round playoff exit. Iowa was 5-13 last season.
“It’s my first year as head coach and we want to make a good impression,” Andy Olson said. “A win would put us on the right side of the division.”
Iowa executives told Shock majority owner Brady Nelson the Barnstormers are bringing their complete roster. Friday’s opener between Pittsburgh and Orlando had a mixture of regular players and replacements. The remainder of the weekend games featured complete rosters after a players strike was rescinded late Friday night, putting labor issues on the backburner for now.
“I’m just glad the real Shock and real Barnstormers will play on opening night,” Nelson said.
Spokane and Iowa share a similar approach, preferring players who are often Arena neophytes instead of stockpiling veterans. The Shock, though, have familiar names with Meyer, receivers Adron Tennell and Brandon Thompkins and linemen/fullback Palauni Ma Sun and Shannon Tevaga. Veteran defenders include Terrance Sanders and Travis Williams in the secondary, Micah King at linebacker and Jonathan Williams and Jeremy Geathers up front.
Newcomers who figure to make an immediate impact are receiver Justin Ore, offensive linemen Andrew Nierman and Ryan Cave, defensive linemen Louis Holmes and Brandon Sharpe, linebackers Terence Moore and Pierre Walters, defensive back Paul Stevens and kicker Kenny Spencer.
“We have a lot of hungry guys, guys that are passionate about moving up,” Geathers said.
The Barnstormers are led by quarterback J.J. Raterink and receiver Jesse Schmidt, who set franchise records with 2,171 receiving yards and 55 touchdown catches last season.
“J.J. is a guy that is hot or cold,” Olson said, “so getting pressure on him is a big deal, as it is with any good quarterback.”