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Well-traveled QB Rowly returns for Spokane’s AFL debut

Kyle Rowley set an af2 single-season record for Arkansas last year by passing for 4,693 yards. (Dan Pelle)

There have been stops in Charleston, Columbus, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Manchester, Spokane, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Grand Rapids and Arkansas.

And now Kyle Rowley is back in Spokane. That might sound like ground he’s already covered, but there’s a twist this time.

The veteran quarterback has done just about everything possible in arena football. He led Spokane to an arenafootball2 championship in the franchise’s inaugural season in 2006. He’s won starting jobs from incumbent quarterbacks. He’s sat on the bench. He’s been traded. He’s been af2 offensive player of the year. He’s broken af2 passing records.

He’s been on Arena Football League rosters, but the few snaps he took in AFL games were as a holder. That changes tonight when Rowley pilots the offense in Spokane’s AFL debut against Milwaukee at the Arena.

“You could call it a milestone in my career, but I’m looking at it as just another game,” Rowley said. “I’ve been playing this game for a long time. If you’re telling my story, it would be a milestone, but it’s the same game, same great players around me, same defenses that I’m going to be looking at.”

Scratching his AFL itch is a more of a bonus than a career obsession. There is a pragmatic side to Rowley that has served him well through stints at numerous af2 and AFL outposts. It’s helped him ride out the sport’s unending roster churn.

“There is no job security in pro sports, that’s the reality of it,” said Rowley, a Brown University product. “What you need to do is have lofty goals. If you’re focused on winning championships, you tend not to focus on what might creep up from behind.”

And that’s why he’s wearing Shock jersey No. 3 again.

“My focus has always been championships and I figure this is the best place to get that done again,” he said. “Honestly, I’d like to play a good amount longer, win more championships. That’s the goal, the only goal. I have to get to two before I can get to three.”

With six years of arena experience on his resume, the conclusion seems clear: Rowley and indoor football is an ideal match.

“My success is due to the fact my tools fit the game,” the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Rowley said. “I’ve always had a quick release. I’ve always been able to throw from different arm angles. I’ve always thrown on time. They stress that on the big field, but you can get away without doing it.”

Rowley’s af2 career numbers were impressive. He passed for 347 career touchdowns and 16,696 yards. His 4,693 passing yards last year set an af2 single-season record and helped Arkansas qualify for the playoffs.

Still, he came to Shock training camp with no guarantees. Spokane, after four years of dominating af2, has moved up to the new AFL, which features former af2 franchises and AFL holdovers. The Shock signed ex-Eastern Washington University star Erik Meyer, 2009 Shock backup Casey Hansen and Chris Crane, who stood in line behind Peyton Manning at the Colts training camp.

Hansen was cut and Crane was traded early in camp. Rowley was named the starter earlier this week, but he knows nothing is etched in stone, particularly with arena newcomer Meyer learning the nuances of the game. Both quarterbacks are absorbing offensive coordinator Matt Sauk’s system, which has some variation from his former boss, ex-Shock coach Adam Shackleford.

“I think I’m a little more aggressive play-caller, Sauk said. “The offense is built around the quarterback and you’re going to drop back and by the time you hit five (steps), the ball should be out, either deep medium or short. I’m always going to have that option for a quarterback.

“Kyle’s played six years. The more years you have, the more you understand angles, the throws and you can make up stuff, change how you throw the ball, sidearm or up above. The more throws you have, the better you’re going to be able to make a throw in a small area.”

Sauk is a former arena quarterback and a current quarterbacks coach. That means he’s a stickler for details – footwork, proper reads, timing.

“He’s keeping me on my toes,” Rowley said.

Meanwhile, Rowley’s feet are firmly grounded.

“I’m not looking to go to any other league,” he said. “I consider myself an arena quarterback and hopefully I can be one of the best that’s played the game.”