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Eyes on the prize

Shock keep focus on Arena Bowl as AFL awards approach

Spokane Shock players and coaches have performed at a high level while compiling a 14-4 record, second best in the Arena Football League.

They’re not quite as accomplished as pitchmen for AFL awards.

Spokane has numerous candidates for the league’s top awards but with the playoffs looming self promotion and individual honors take a backseat to preparation.

“The voting comes from coaches and the front office so it’s pretty much up in the air,” said Andy Olson, who figures to be in the discussion for coach of the year. “We have a handful of guys that deserve things but if not our ultimate goal is to win a championship and everyone is on board with that.”

Olson mentioned quarterback Erik Meyer, receiver Adron Tennell, defensive backs Paul Stephens and Terrance Sanders, defensive lineman James Ruffin, Mac linebacker Beau Bell and offensive lineman Ryan Cave as players that could be up for awards. In some instances, teammates, such as Meyer and Tennell, could be under consideration for the same award (offensive MVP).

Meyer led the AFL in pass efficiency (123.6), completion percentage (68.2) and touchdown passes (112). His 11 interceptions are the fewest among the league’s top quarterbacks who played full time. Tennell led the AFL in receptions (156) and touchdown catches (49) and was fourth in receiving yardage (1,792).

“We all had great years, but unfortunately they’re not going to vote for the whole team for all the awards,” said Sanders, who set an AFL single-season record with 2,265 kick-return yards. “I don’t really play the game for personal records. I’m concerned about team records and wins and getting to the championship, but it’s a great testament to me as individual and my team for allowing me to do those things.”

Bell led the defense with 12 quarterback hurries, 10.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Ruffin posted eight sacks, seven quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. Stephens had 12 interceptions in 14 games. Sanders finished with 101 tackles, second in the AFL, seven interceptions and broke up 18 passes.

Spokane’s defense forced 22 turnovers during a five-game winning streak to close the regular season.

“I don’t care, just as long as we win,” said Bell, when asked if defense is overlooked in arena football. “Personally it doesn’t matter. What it comes down to is Ws and Ls and we’re trying to have a lot more Ws than Ls.”

Despite Spokane’s successful three-year run since the return of the AFL in 2010, the only player or coach to win an individual award was Kenny Spencer, kicker of the year in 2012.

Playoff push

The schedule says Chicago but the mind naturally wanders to Arizona. The potential looms for a second-round showdown between Spokane and Arizona, widely considered the AFL’s top two teams, but both have difficult first-round assignments.

Spokane entertains Chicago (10-8), who blasted Arizona 63-42 two weeks ago to clinch a playoff berth, on Thursday at the Arena. The Rattlers (15-3) face San Jose (13-5). Those teams traded blowout wins during the regular season.

“We’re not worried about anything past the Chicago game,” Bell said. “We’re playing a good Chicago team and we know we have to bring our ‘A’ game.”

Olson said he’s not worried about his players’ focus.

“We haven’t talked about another team beside Chicago,” he said.

“We know what they’re capable of doing. We know we have to take care of business at home before we can talk about the conference championship.”