A Marriage Made in St. Louis

The St. Louis Gladiators are a team entering their third season as a member of the SFL. They are a well run organization led by a duo of experienced owners, Duane Schindler (@crazyeights2000) and Colin Northrup (footballdude93). The pair joined forces during the Season 8 offseason to form the newly-commissioned Gladiators and haven’t looked back since. Northrup has experience with the SFL prior to St. Louis, playing for Santa Fe (who are now the Mexico City Aztecs) before winning his bid for an expansion team. Schindler also sought out new pastures at the start of Season 8, plying his trade with the Queen City Corsairs prior to joining up with Northrup. Both bring a wealth of experience and are widely regarded as two of the hardest-working owners in the league.

Primary owner Colin Northup will be acting as Head Coach, while Schindler will step in as the defensive coordinator. The pair has 10 seasons of SFL experience between them, half of which in a coaching or ownership capacity.  Alex Shayatovich stays on as the offensive coordinator and Aiden Friday comes back as Social Media Director and Scouting Director.  Friday is also the only remaining original team member from Season 8.

Joining the dynamic duo as Offensive Co-ordinator is first time coach and former Aztecs/Hyenas player, Aaron Arrington. Arrington will be hoping he can transfer his vast experience as a player into his new coaching role to help light the fire under an offense that struggled mightily the first two seasons.

As players, all three have racked up some decent statistics on the defensive side of the ball. Arrington has snagged 18 INT’s over his career (including a whopping 10 in Season 7), Northrup’s player, Colin Douglas, has rose to snatch 16 balls away from offenses and Schindler’s Free Safety, Freeman Peltier, has been credited with 26 passes defended and pulled in 10 INT’S.

All three have their players fit and ready for the coming season and will hope that they can have a positive impact on and off the turf.

Season 9: A Gladiator with no Killer Instinct?

Record: 3-9

PPG: 16.83 (16th)   PAPG: 31.08 (14th)

Passing Offence: 190.0 yds/g (16th) / Rushing Offence: 120.0 yds/g (12th)

Passing Defence: 246.7 yds/g (1st) / Rushing Defence: 162.1 yds/g (15th)

TO Differential: +8 (2nd)

Season 9 was a tough one for all involved with the St. Louis organization, limping to an 0-8 record before winning 3 out of their last 4. Coaching changes mid-season and an offense that was by far the least dangerous in the league painted an ugly picture of a depressing scene. However, (you all knew there was going to be a positive note) judge this book by it’s cover at your own peril. Read between the lines, dig a little deeper and you will discover that Season 9 may have been the most important in the team’s short history.

Let’s start with something that has been addressed this offseason: the passing attack. This league is a passing league. Yes, the SFL has some dominant rush artists who can take over a game (see the Championship Game as an example) but to me, it’s all about the big play and the top pass offenses live off them: and win. Having no star wide receivers and coming dead last in points per game and pass yardage kills a team. It’s an unrecoverable position, especially when you have a pretty anemic rushing threat. I’m stoked that The Gladiators’ ownership has addressed this area. Even serviceable wide receivers in Season 10 would suffice because St. Louis packs a bloody good defense.

The Gladiators D last year was second in turnover differential and lead the league against the pass. Yes, they were fifteenth against the run, but I put that down to teams running the clock out late to ice games. The Gladiators’ secondary played like their namesake in Season 9, proving to be a formidable unit even after seeing the offence go for uncountable 3-and-outs. I like the look of that defense again this season and having a more potent offence alongside it could ensure it becomes the best in the league.

To finish, let’s address the coaching changes. Season 9 started with James Richards – seen by many as one of the brightest minds in our league – as Head Coach. Unfortunately, Richards could not buy a win with the Gladiators, coming closest in a 28-20 loss to playoff contenders, Atlanta Swarm. From Week 7 onwards, Lead Scout Liam Crowter was called upon to assist in coaching duties as St. Louis’ new OC. If my sources are correct, Richards left the Gladiators via mutual consent around Week 9 and Crowter led them down the stretch. The Glads went 3-3 with Liam guiding the offense. Now most of you are probably wondering, where is he going with this? What is the positive outcome? Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you will know that both of these esteemed individuals now own at team in the SFL.

Why is this good for St. Louis? To me, it’s obvious. This illustrates that Duane and Colin are excellent owners, good at nursing coaching talent and, with the right build, can make things happen in this league. Season 9 was the best thing that’s happened to St. Louis yet, and Season 10 is going to be GLADITORIAL.

Season 10: The Roster

QB: Ethan Alexander/alex90 (2nd Season) – Value: 84.23

RB: Denzel Diaz/elmachonacho (Rookie) – Value: 92.38

WR: Cody Scott/codyscott (2nd Season; 1st with St. Louis)  – Value: 82.27

WR: Tristan Jones/JoneseySTL (Rookie) – Value: 77.98

TE: Elijah Swaim/ESwaim2 (4th Season; 3RD with St. Louis) – Value: 77.85

DE: Scott Leroux /Scott (Rookie) – Value: 62.51

DT: Manny Icenhower/MrIntervention (Rookie) – Value: 62.54

ILB: Aidan Friday/FridayInDaHouse3269 (2nd Season) – Value: 69.65

CB: Aaron Arrington/AaronArrington24 (5th Season; 1st with St. Louis) – Value: 68.48

CB: Colin Douglas/footballdude93 (4th Season; 3rd with St. Louis) – Value: 66.76

SS: Nick Daggs/starlorox – (Rookie) – Value: 60.58

FS: Freeman Peltier/CrazyEights2000 (4th Season; 3rd with St. Louis) – Value: 64.77

It’s All About Balance…

The two seasons St. Louis have plied their trade in the SFL have seen them roll with alternative team builds that buck the trends of the league. For the owners and coaches, it has never been a focus to follow what’s worked in the past in the hope that it will work for them…until now. Duane and Colin appear to have chosen a new direction after gaining rather limited success in seasons 8 and 9. The offense is retooled with a new coach in Aaron Arrington; one of the highest value halfbacks in the league and a receiving corps that QB Ethan Alexander could only dream of last year. The defense is set up to combat the run and the pass in equal measure, with 3 stars on the front seven and 4 star players spread across the secondary. Yes, there are no special teams, but judging on team builds around the league, most owners aren’t as convinced as I am that having a star special teamer helps a team more than hinders it.

It’s an Exciting Time to be a Gladiator

When comparing the Gladiators roster to other teams in the Central Conference, I think it matches up well.  It’s probably the most balanced team in the Central when you look at star positions and how value has been spread across them. In my humble opinion, it’s the second best starting roster in the conference, behind Tulsa (mainly because I like taking a kicker rather than that extra player on defense). Something that’s interesting about The Central is the fact that only two of the teams (Sioux Falls and Tulsa) have given a max contract to a player – QB, Julian Tyree and strong safety, Charles Ball. Value is spread across The Central really smartly, and come the end of the season, it is going to be stacked with elite players tearing up the league.

An Offense with New Weapons

Season 10 sees St. Louis running a more traditional SFL offense, sporting a star quarterback, running back, two star Receivers, and a star tight end. This offensive look points to a balanced playbook that will keep defenses guessing and allow play callers to be versatile depending on how the game is going. Does the game require a swift passing attack to claw back some points? St. Louis can do that. Maybe you’re up late in the fourth and need to run out the clock: The Glads have the running game to do so. I see balance. I see versatility. I see a huge smile on Aaron Arrington’s face. I see an offense that packs much more of a punch than Season 9’s effort, but who is going to carry St. Louis to more points per game, and more wins?

Well, one man who stands out for me immediately is tight end, Elijah Swaim. Mark my words; this man is going to be an early season BEAST in the passing game. The 6’7″, 250lbs pass catcher is an elite athlete at his position. Scratch that; he’s an elite athlete full stop (that means ‘period’ in jolly old England). Swaim’s speed, agility, and strength is light years ahead of any other tight end in the SFL. I’d go as far to say he’d give LeBron a run for his money athletically. Is that it though for Elijah Swaim? Is it all brawn and no brain? Heck no! On tape, he is a very good route runner, elite catcher, and due to his strength can be useful as a blocker in the run game too. He exhibits good ability to run after the catch and is so consistent week to week, you’ll rarely catch him on a bad day. You just aren’t going to stop this man from getting his, and when he develops and learns an animation or two…It’s too scary to even finish that sentence.

Swaim is ably joined on the outside by two solid, big-body receivers. Cody Scott (6’5″, 225lbs) and Tristan Jones (6’4″, 215lbs) are both fairly athletic (with Scott displaying excellent speed) and not bad at catching the ball. Neither of them are going to set the league alight early, but with good progression and with defenses clamping down on Elijah Swaim, they should find some success throughout the winter.

As I said earlier, I’m of the opinion that the SFL this year will be all about the big passing play. That responsibility falls on the shoulders of second season quarterback, Ethan Alexander. I like Alexander. He had a tough rookie season and came out the other side with sharper weapons at his disposal. Yes, last year he only threw 9 TD’s to 20 INT’S, but look what he had to work with. As long as the defense shut down Elijah Swaim, there was nobody else worth throwing to.

The 5’11″, 185-pounder is a small-body QB with a serviceable arm that is slightly more accurate than it is powerful. Alexander can make all the throws needed to run an offense, however at this point, his arm could (and will) be improved. It will be up to OC Aaron Arrington to devise a playbook that will maximize Alexander’s potential. The young QB’s greatest asset is his ability to read coverage, which should limit turnovers and keep the Gladiator’s offence rolling. If I was asked to summarize Ethan Alexander, it would be to call him a game manager, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You work with the tools you have available. He could yet prove me wrong, but without an elite arm and athleticism, I don’t see it happening. Fortunately for him, he has athletes all around him to throw to.

A Defense with a Shield of Experience

Season 10 should be a big one for St. Louis’s defense. They have retained a vastly experienced secondary (apart from rookie, Nick Daggs) and have beefed up their run stopping ability with big bodies in the front seven. Four of the seven defensive stars for St. Louis have more than one season under their belt and three of them have played for more than once team.

In the secondary, the Gladiators have retained cornerback, Colin Douglas and free safety, Freeman Peltier and have added talented cornerback Aaron Arrington to the mix. Arrington and Douglas possess good size, 6’1″, 200lbs and 6’3″, 215lbs respectively, and are both decent athletes who should be able to run with most receivers in the SFL. They both bring a consistent work ethic to their play and are more than capable in coverage; Arrington is especially aggressive.

Should one of those two get beat deep, the receiver in question has to watch out for the super-athletic Freeman Peltier. Peltier is the quintessential free safety. Despite not being a great tackler, he has excellent speed and agility and is one of the top cover guys in the league. Look for him to shut down his side of the field and come in with an interception or two given his above average hands for the free safety position. One thing is for certain, throwing on the Gladiators won’t be a walk on the beach this year.

Now, we take a look at the bulls who run the trenches; the big men who seem to have a penchant for contact. This season, the Gladiators have three stars amongst them. St. Louis are rolling with rookie, Scott Leroux at defensive end, ‘Mammoth’ Manny Icenhower plugging up the middle and second year man, Aidan Friday at Inside Linebacker. Whilst they may start the season slowly, I can see this young group transforming into a formidable group come Week 12, and I think St. Louis’ run defense numbers will reflect that.

Leroux (6’6″, 297lbs) and Icenhower (6’4″, 313lbs) are both good tacklers who are more geared up with stopping the run than rushing the passer. ‘Mammoth’ Manny is actually starting this year as the strongest defensive tackle in the league and also as the best tackler at his position. Look for him to shut down the inside running game, forcing the opposition to go to the outside. This is where Aidan Friday needs to step up. In order for St. Louis avoid a vulnerability to the outside run, Friday needs to play sideline-to-sideline relentlessly. The Gladiators will need him to use his next-level stamina and elite tackling ability to stop dangerous backs from getting to the second level. If a player like Chicago’s J. Calvin Kim gets into St. Louis’ secondary, he will be able to taste the 6 points on the tip of his tongue.

Overall, I like St. Louis’s defense a lot. They should remain excellent against the pass and seem to have beefed up the front seven with young talent. They seem confident that Season 10 is THE SEASON, and this was confirmed when I spoke to rookie Defensive End, Scott Leroux:

   “We’re excited and (we) just can’t wait to get on the field and prove ourselves. We’re completely rebuilt and retooled on offense and defense and we can’t wait to show the Central division and the league what the new look Gladiators are all about. Our training camp has been excellent, man. Hard, but excellent. We just been out there grindin’, puttin in our work so that come Week 1 we’re ready for a tough conference game against Chicago. It’s going to be a long hard season, but we’re ready and up for the challenge.”

This sentiment is echoed by Running Back, Denzel Diaz, who briefly stated:

“I think we are a really solid squad both offensively and defensively, and I know we’re all hungry. Tell the league to watch out, that’s all I can say…”

The enthusiasm doesn’t stop there as Offensive Coordinator Aaron Arrington had this to say:

“The offense will be more explosive than it has been in the past. We will be the hammer, not the nail this season. I feel the schedule is favorable to us and I’m looking forward to those big match ups against the SFL powerhouses that will allow us to make a statement. I expect us to make the playoffs this season because we got something cooking in St Louis!”

Duane Schindler also had these comments about his approach to Season 10:

“We usually start slow and finish strong, but in our third season we hope to build upon our momentum and take things to the next level. St. Louis has been hungry for success on the gridiron for quite some time and we think the changes we have made this off-season in players and staff can take us there and improve on our 7-17 overall record. As Colin says ‘we have nowhere to go but up.’ As an organization, we have embraced our underdog, unsung hero moniker. Some people doubt us and judge us on the missteps of the past, wiser heads will tell you they do so at their own peril.”

The Schedule/My Takes

St. Louis will be duking it out with other teams from the Central Conference this season alongside two battles with Western Conference foes. The Central will be fascinating to follow, containing the beaten Season 9 Championship Game runners up, a perennial playoff team that under-performed last season, a squad that is chomping at the bit to make the playoffs for the first time in too long and (The Central) has the honour of being the only conference with two expansion teams.

CENTRAL CONFERENCE

Chicago Wildcats

Sioux Falls Sparrows

Oklahoma City Renegades

St. Louis Gladiators

Indianapolis Red Devils

San Francisco Sharks

St. Louis opens the season with as tough a matchup as you could possibly get in the SFL. On the road against the fired-up Chicago Wildcats. I mean, talk about a baptism of fire for the new players. The odds are against St. Louis. Chicago have retooled and retooled well and you could say are favorites to take The Central. If the Gladiators can come away with a win in Chicago, then they will be in primary position to claim a playoff spot. I’m calling it right here, right now. Even if St. Louis split the series with Chicago, whom they play again Week 4 at home, one win against a top team like the Wildcats spells to me that they are legitimate contenders.

Bisecting the two games against the Wildcats are two games that are (In my slightly blind eyes) exceedingly winnable. Week 2 sees a trip to Indy to meet their old coach, James Richards. You’d better believe that the Glads defense will be sharpening their swords ready to get after Indy’s much praised offense. Following that ‘grudge match’ of sorts is a home game against OKC, a team St. Louis also face in the closing week.  Who knows? Maybe that Week 12 battle in the Robber’s Cave has potential to be a playoff deciding fixture.

Glancing at the remaining seven weeks, you have to say that the schedule has been rather kind to St. Louis. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they’re going to walk through these match ups like water, but if there was ever a chance for the Gladiators to make it to the playoffs, this is it. Yes, they play Sioux Falls twice. Yes, we don’t know what Indianapolis and Tulsa’s early season form will be like (I also like Tulsa’s roster…A LOT), and yes, they do have to play against Houston – a perennial playoff team- but I’ve gotta say, I think they will surprise a lot of people. I can see St. Louis sneaking a playoff spot with a late push or at the very least fighting tooth and nail for one.

Before I sign off and start penning my preview for The London Knights, I want to summarise why I think the Gladiators will have a winning season using three points (and only six words).

Winnable Schedule.

Actual Weapons.

Knowledgeable Owners.

 

Until next time…

A quick note from me. I was tasked with writing this piece at very short notice due to unforseen circumstances. I want to thank Scott Leroux and Denzel Diaz for giving me awesome content on such short notice and I also must thank Andrew Rastelli for using his extensive knowledge of the league to assist with certain details. This was a tough one, but we got through it. I hope you enjoy the finished product guys.