This SFL off-season has been fast-paced, exciting, and, most of all, loud. All of the signings are done, new sponsors are on board, and the pre-season games have wrapped up. It’s now only a few days until Season 10 kicks off proper and we can all go back to spending weekends ignoring the attention of loved ones while they look at us disapprovingly. To bridge the gap between now and January 4, I thought I would share my thoughts on what stood out to me during pre-season; a player or position group that i noticed for all the right reasons or all the wrong reasons. Season 10 is just around the corner, and these are my takes on who to focus on going forward. This article will also play precursor to the weekly article that I will co-writing with Mahmoud Aljouni, whose players to look out for is at the end of this article.
Alaska Storm – Yasin Clifton, Tight End
I love when players surprise me and one man that came out of nowhere for the Storm was tight end, Yasin Clifton. Alaska is stacked at receiver, boasting two of the top 5 valued receivers in the SFL, yet it was the lower tier tight end that came out and put on a show. Clifton showed insane body control and athleticism for his size, making a turnaround, one-handed touchdown grab late in the 3rd quarter. He also looks like he could act as a safety valve for unpredictable quarterback, Ron Cockren, racking up over 100 yards receiving on the night. I have the Storm winning it all this year, so please, Yasin, keep surprising me!
Vancouver Legion – Mahmoud Ajlouni, Free Safety
Looking at the evidence from Wednesday’s game, the Legion will be ecstatic with the capture of Ajlouni from the Atlanta Swarm during the off-season. The free safety was everywhere, leading the team in tackles, breaking up passes in the endzone, and seemingly being the only defender capable of stopping Carolina running back AJ Francis when he was at full speed. Ajlouni’s impact is going to be massive this season for the Vancouver Legion.
Houston Hyenas- D.R Sim, Wide Receiver
D.R Sim is not the player he once was. Athletically he’s lost a step or two, however the all-timer has something that none of the new rookies have in this league: experience. That experience is going to be key if Houston want a to move the ball effectively. Sim will need to use all his guile to help out rookie quarterback, Ahmed Cheema, who threw 4 interceptions against Tulsa. We saw glimpses of the Doctor’s route running ability during the loss to the Desperados and the hands are still secure. If the Hyenas are going to make a return to the playoffs, Sim needs to put the team on his back.
Dallas Ruffnecks – Linebackers
The Ruffnecks’ linebackers ate up the running game all day as well as chipping in with some key pass deflections. They will need to keep this up throughout the season if Dallas is going to have any chance of reaching the playoffs. Despite falling to OKC late, I see Dallas having one of the best rush defenses in the SFL come season’s end.
San Antonio Vaqueros – Jared Olsen, Free Safety
‘Jared Olsen is going to be one to watch this season’. That’s what I said in the chat during the live game between the Vaqueros and Queen City, one second before Olsen proceeded to fumble a punt return, leading to 3 points for the Corsairs. Commentator’s Curse some could say…
Olsen then proceeded to make the pick in the endzone to ice the game, giving The Vaqueros a shock win. Talk about a zero to hero story. More to the point, like I said, Olsen is going to be one to watch this season.
San Francisco Sharks – Gabriel Manning, Wide Receiver
Gabriel Manning needs to have a massive season if San Francisco want to make some noise in the SFL. He is currently the second highest valued receiver in the league and he needs to play like it. Quarterback Jacques Luyindula is going to look for his big man on the outside on nearly every play, so Manning had better be ready for a hefty workload. I fully expect Manning to be a big play machine for The Sharks and potentially in the race for the offensive player of the year.
Chicago Wildcats – E.T King, Quarterback
Thursday night saw the best and worst of E.T King. The veteran quarterback was pretty abysmal all night, yet he kept his team in the game and led a game-winning touchdown drive when it mattered most. King is the key to a successful Wildcats season. He plays well; Chicago make it to the playoffs. He plays poorly; they’re not gonna make the cut. E.T needs to throw home.
Sioux Falls – Christopher Dodd, Free Safety
Sioux Falls was impressive against Mexico City and no player impressed me more than free safety Christopher Dodd. Any time Matt Willson dared to go deep on Dodd, the ball was batted down and intercepted. Dodd’s closing speed when the ball was in the air was excellent and he used his 6’3″ frame to great effect whilst marshaling the Aztecs’ receivers. Central Conference quarterbacks had better think twice when throwing deep on Sioux Falls.
Oklahoma City Renegades – Donk Bonkers, Halfback
Bonkers had a torrid first game as a Renegade. The ‘scat back’ was a victim of a generic playbook, being pounded up the middle time and time again. Clearly the man needs to get to the outside to be effective. I expect Bonkers to do well this year. As soon as we see him running as part of a human led offense, Bonkers has the skill set to shine.
St. Louis Gladiators – Denzel Diaz, Halfback
The numbers weren’t particularly pretty for Diaz on Saturday night’s pre-season closer, but it’s pre-season: nobody looks at numbers. What I did see during Diaz’s debut, were skills and potential. ‘Double D’ showed good strength for his size and seems to be especially dangerous once he gets into the open field. If Aaron Arrington can figure out a way to bring the best out of Diaz, the Central Conference may be home to a giant-killing running back.
Tulsa Desperados – Gus Jones/Charles Ball, Linebacker/Strong Safety
Before I start waxing lyrical about Charles Ball, I want to pay tribute to generic linebacker, Gus Jones. During Friday’s game against Houston, Jones snagged an interception and also had a sack. The man may never have a game like it again, so I thought I would bring him into the spotlight while I can.
Now, back to Troy Losh- I mean, Charles Ball. Ball can ball right?! The 6’1″, 210 pound strong safety was a thorn in Houston’s side all night, pilfering 2 deep balls and also making 3 tackles for a loss. Ball can clearly do it all as a strong safety and some are already making the flattering comparison to the legend over in Dallas. Come season end, Ball could be in the shout for defensive MVP: he’s that good.
Indianapolis Red Devils – Vetack Brothers, Cornerback
The Red Devils’ secondary looked solid during Friday night’s victory and a large part of that was down to the play of cornerbacks, Michael and Steve Vetack. Both brothers locked down the Tallahassee receivers all night with the latter of the two coming up with an excellent interception and return. If Indianapolis can keep their tandem on the outside playing well, they might surprise a few people this season (including me).
Mexico City Aztecs – Matt Willson, Quarterback
Let’s face it, other than a long TD strike to K.L Barrett, Matt Willson played awfully on Thursday night, which is why the Aztecs struggled. Yes, Ray Bentley has lost a step or two, and the defense struggled late, but this just emphasizes the point that Willson is the man that needs to step up for Mexico City to be successful. If the Aztecs are going to repeat, Willson needs to inspire them to victory. He needs to shake off the shackles of ‘The Bronze Bomber’ and become a top tier quarterback in this league.
Queen City Corsairs – Koa Kaleo, Defensive End
Queen City’s defensive line looked scary, with Koa Kaleo standing out in particular. The 6’5″, 300lb defensive end laid the wood on Joey Langdon early, causing the fleet footed quarterback to almost look terrified to run. Expect Kaleo to take some names and be among the leading sack masters in the SFL this year.
Tallahassee Pride – Defensive Line
The Pride never really looked like winning their pre-season game with the Red Devils. For me, the main reason for that was their defensive line being outplayed by the opposition. Having four star big men on defense means that the line needs to beat up on the opponent every week. Once you get past that first level, Tallahassee are pretty thin, and Matthew Mitchell (Indy’s running back) showed that on Friday. It’s plain and simple really. If Tallahassee want to go back to the post-season, that line needs to be the best in the SFL.
Atlanta Swarm – Andrew Hawkins, Defensive Tackle
The Atlanta Swarm had a rough day against San Francisco on Saturday. They looked stunted on offense and the much praised defense allowed too many big runs to a non-star running back. One man who rose above adversity, was 325 lb defensive tackle, Andrew Hawkins. The 6’6″ sack master displayed excellent penetration and got into the backfield time and time again, stuffing the run and hurrying the quarterback. Hawkins is a juggernaut on the inside and Altlanta will need him to be because they look thin once teams get into the second level.
Carolina Skyhawks – AJ Francis, Halfback
A new star is on the rise in Carolina. The prototype every-down back exploded onto viewers’ screens, rushing for 148 yards and a touchdown. Francis showed good speed and strength, breaking weak arm-tackles with ease. The Eastern Conference has discovered yet another ‘strong ass’ running back. Oh yeah, and he played the second half with an injury that should’ve kept him out for a week. Good toughness young man.
London Knights – Eyal Rushinek, Defensive End
The first ever SFL game played on European soil took place on Saturday night/Sunday morning and it was won by the London Knights after a dogged defensive display. One player who particularly stood out to me and typified this defensive attitude was defensive end, Eyal Rushinek. The white-sleeved defender was a stone in the shoe of the St. Louis offense all game, causing disruption on almost every play. Rushinek won’t be flashy and he may not put up pretty numbers, but he will be a nuisance and he will be consistent. Expect Rushinek to be the Knights’ unsung hero this season, doing the dirty work so the skill players can make plays.
I don’t know about you, but I had a blast watching pre-season. The games were competitive, the commentary was hilarious and the viewing figures were impressive. I can’t wait for the regular season to start.
MAHMOUD ALJOUNI’S TOP 5 PLAYERS
Top 5: QB
- ET King- Chicago
- Macc Wavy Jr.- Dallas
- Matt Willson- Mexico City
- Christian Christiansen- Tallahassee
- Mark Biddix- Carolina
Top 5: RB
- Ray Bentley- Mexico City
- Ash Odom- Queen City
- Dion Hawkins- Tulsa
- J.Calvin Kim- Chicago
- BDG Hollewood- Atlanta
Top 5: WR
- Prince Escobar- Dallas
- D.R. Sim- Houston
- Boo Chisholm- Atlanta
- Daley Holder- San Antonio
- Shaun Harrelson- Sioux Falls
Top 5: TE
- Tybeerious Bovine- Oklahoma City
- Shann Varner- Chicago
- Elijah Swaim- St. Louis
- George Calderon- San Francisco
- Aaron Miller- San Antonio
Top 5: CB & S
- Eddie Gauge- Houston
- A.J Levye- Sioux Falls
- Troy Loshaw- Dallas
- Pablo Zamora- Mexico City
- A.J Barnes- Chicago
Top 5: LB
- Andrew Francis- Alaska
- Shane Hornish- San Antonio
- Frank Champion- Vancouver
- Avry King- Queen City
- Bobby Law- Dallas
Top 5: DL
- Alex Dominguez- Alaska
- Koa Kaleo- Queen City
- Maxx Blitz- Dallas
- John Osiris- San Francisco
- Tee Cabell- Dallas