By Jeff Melinyshyn
This new series will run every two weeks. I will be discussing everything going on within the 21 SFL teams and have a feature story in every article. Keep in mind that some teams may not comment on certain transactions or moves. Some articles I will have a round table of different GM’s to way in as well. If teams do not offer comment, I will give my own opinion. Also, offseason moves will be talked about and possibly even some draft stuff as well, so make sure to follow me on twitter @JMelinyshyn21 or Discord.
My first feature I flew from San Francisco to meet with my good friend Crash Combs, General Manager of the Dallas Lobos. It was a busy offseason for both of us, so we found time after I traveled to San Francisco to watch the Knights in week 1.
Jeff Melinyshyn (Jeff): “Thanks for sitting down with me to do this interview. Looking back on last season especially a losing one you had 3 wins, 2 against playoff teams in Tallahassee and Las Vegas, all three were at home, what do you contribute those wins to?”
Crash Combs (Crash): “Thank you for having me. We are always expecting to win here in Dallas. We have had a couple of tough seasons after Steven Mullenex had a great run, including a championship appearance. There was a lot of turnover season 10 and as a coach last season it was a large learning experience for me. Well our first win was just a straight shootout with Vegas. It’s well known how much we threw the ball and, in that game, we just happened to get that final blow against a very good Fury team. As the season progressed I was really learning on the job as DC, so as we got deeper in the season I was trying different things out and seemed to hit a good stride against Tallahassee and New Orleans. Tallahassee is always a tough team to face and jumped out to an early lead. But our defense buckled down in the second half and offense did their thing.”
Jeff: “Yeah, that Tallahassee win was something people still talk about it. It was just an amazing performance by the defense and showed that you really had what it takes. It is sort of like that hurdle for every coach where you start thinking “Okay, I belong, and this will work, and my systems work”. From season 10 to season 11 the offseason felt like an eternity, looking back at that season compared to the start of this season how do you make sure that last season’s 3-9 record does not happen in season 12?”
Crash: “I think just building off last season. Some people may look at that 3-9 record and look at it as a failure where I look at it as a building block. We really showed out at the end of the season and kept 8 of our 12 players from last season. Then added a couple of the biggest free agents in Luyindula and Carr and had a huge draft adding Sandlin and Maverick. We are a more balanced team this season which I think will help with less of a boom or bust on the offensive side of the ball from last season. Defensively I’m looking to just keep growing and improving as a coach and putting the amazing players we have in positions to succeed.”
Jeff: “Being at London I understand, I took over midseason as GM when Matt Slinn moved to co-owner. I had some idea but learning on the fly is something I am doing right now. Luyindula was a major free agent signing along with Carr, a good friend from our days at London last season is. Most people see 3-9 and think it is a losing record but they don’t look and see what happened and how you finished and what happened in those 12 ball games. There is a difference between getting blown out in 9 losses and losing by less than a touchdown in 9 losses. Going back to the draft what was the ultimate decision in Sandlin over Streeter? I am sure you and Steven did your homework on both players as did us in London as we were picking behind you.”
Crash: “We really spent a lot of time on this. You have to when it’s a high pick, but we really went down to the wire debating who we wanted. We loved Streeter, Mercury, and Sandlin. Sandlin really won us over with a really strong desire to be in Dallas and have you looked at the man. Who wants to tackle that?”
Jeff: “Well, I know one person who won’t shy away from tackling him, he plays Strong Safety, wears number 21 haha.”
Crash: “If only we played you guys.”
Jeff: “After a tough game week 1 against St. Louis, looking ahead to your next 4 games, you have 2 home and 2 away. All four opponents missed the playoffs last season, do you feel a sense of urgency before that 6th game when you guys take on Tallahassee?
Crash: “I wouldn’t say a sense of urgency. STL was a tough game for us because they made some large changes across the board with their build and coaching structure, so it was a little bit of a surprise to what they were running. They also got some great performances out of their rookie class. I think just getting back to what we did at the end of last season we will be just fine. Steven is such a genius on the offensive of side of the ball that our guys are always in a good position to succeed. I do expect Tallahassee to want some payback from last season.”
Jeff: “if you had to give an educated guess on a record or realistic record what would it be? If you can’t give a record, what are a couple things you’d like to see happen this season?”
Crash: “Record is always a difficult thing to try and predict. I would absolutely love to be 11-1 going into the playoffs but every week the teams will give you their all. I would love to see us be a consistent force all season that makes some noise in the playoffs. I would also love to see our players be massively represented in end of the awards and pro bowl nods. We have an amazing locker room and just some really good guys on our team who deserve it.”
Jeff: “Are you predicting a playoff appearance? lol can I put that on the record?”
Crash: “I believe if you don’t think you have a shot at the playoffs then why are you playing that season? You must have confidence in your team and your own abilities to get their every year. Yeah it doesn’t always work out the way you want it to, but you have to have those goals to succeed.”
Jeff: “One last question, what was your reaction your schedule release?”
Crash: “I was happy to see some of the teams on their I’ve been wanting to play like Denver, MXC and Carolina. But I will miss having a division to build rivalries up with. I feel like we had a good one starting with New Orleans and the hope now is to run into them in the playoffs. We did keep guys like OKC, Tulsa and TAL in there though.”
Jeff: “I appreciate your time Crash and thanks for sitting down with me. I wish you nothing but the best this season.”
Crash: “Thanks for having me. Good luck to you and London this season.”
Transactions: **For insight on transactions I asked a rival executive look at these new signings to see how they will fit in on their new teams**
Houston Hyenas released Cornerback Paul Ruebens and signed Cornerback JD Nelson. Houston Owner D.R. Sim gave Inside the Front Office this quote “JD is coming along great he’s a great addition to our secondary. Although he’s an un-drafted free agent he sure doesn’t act like one. Nelson will play as the number 2 CB. I’m pretty sure that our veterans back there will help him out a lot. Eddie Gauge has taken JD under his wing & these two have been watching film & doing a lot of studying together.” Regarding the release of Paul Ruebens D.R. said “We tried to help Paul because no one would sign him & he seemed like a pretty good guy. I love giving people second chances but when you do not follow the team & league rules, well mostly the league rules. I had no choice but to release him.” General Manager B.J. Loveless was not made available for comment.
Rival executive- “Taking a chance on a rookie CB to replace a volatile off the field personality in HOU seems like the right move here. Reubens had the talent, but didn’t seem like the right “culture” guy for the Hyenas.”
Denver Nightwings released Inside Linebacker Echo Love and signed Inside Linebacker Mike Sawchuk. I was able to get a question in to Owner Jeremy Vega on how Sawchuk will do this season “I think he started slow in his first game but really turned it on late and finished his 1st game with 10 tackles. We got 10 more games to evaluate him but based off his 1st game and practice habits he seems to have great talent that we can’t wait to see how it unfolds on the field all season long.” I was also able to get a quick response from Nightwings General Manager B.J. Armstrong “Jeremy came to me about Mike. He said he found this hidden gem of an undrafted rookie linebacker that slipped through the scouting reports of the other 20 teams. Unfortunately Echo Love decided to enter the 2019 SFL draft, so we had to part ways. But Mike has already proved to be an upgrade. He had 10 tackles just yesterday against London’s dominant offense, including Reggie Streeter. He was a major part in our win. Missing the first game, he’s already on pace for 100 tackles for the season. He’ll be key in stopping the run game while offering some great coverage on the slant routes. And who knows, maybe Jeremy Vega has some hidden blitz plays he’ll throw in. Mike will be a difference maker on this team, one that’ll turn a 3-9 team last season into playoff contenders.”
Rival executive- “Trading out defensive QB’s may turn out favorable for Jeremy and Co. here, as lots of the top-flight teams target the middle of the field to get their offenses into a solid rhythm. Disrupting that can create opportunities, and opportunities are necessary to win games.”
Vancouver legion released Strong Safety Trey Lawson and signed Strong Safety Gus Shultz. I asked Legion owner Andy Hamilton regarding Shultz fitting in and what led to the signing “Gus is a great guy. We saw his value by joining the Broadcast team and knew that he would be a very valuable asset to the league as a player and person. When he expressed interest to us in being a player, we jumped at the opportunity to give Gus a role that fit his value to the league. Trey Lawson was a great safety for us, but it was time to move on. We can’t wait for our future with Gus.”
Rival executive- “Gus Schultz seems like a dedicated roster addition, and I don’t see Trey Lawson leaving particularly big shoes to fill in the locker room over in Vancouver. Gus is sure to energize a Secondary that’s always been dangerous if disrespected.”
Alaska Storm released Kicker A-Aron D’Hude and signed Kicker Disco Fudd. Storm owner Max Paul gave Inside the Front Office the following quote “Our former kicker hung up his cleats after providing us with 2 great seasons of service, count it off with a 5-field goal performance in the title game vs Tallahassee. So, heading into the off season we knew that was a void we needed filled. There weren’t any free agents that peaked our interests and lacking a draft pick, we decided to invest in an owner player. A place holder until a willing and fitting user emerged. In comes Disco. We’ve been posting our opening since before the season started. We’ve had a few here and there inquire but none were serious. Disco came in and declared himself the kicker. I love that confidence. The rest is history!” GM Ryan Davidson told ITFO “We can’t be more excited to introduce Disco Fudd to the team. I know he’s a rookie but we’ve heard wonders about his college days. Hopefully Disco lives up to our expectations, he’s been working his ass off and most importantly, he’s a great guy and he deserves every bit of it.”
Rival executive- “Disco seems to have impressed all the right people to win the starting nod over D’Hude. I don’t think that this was a case of D’Hude not having the right stuff, but more of Fudd’s drive seeming more valuable to ownership in the long term. Alaska always has an eye on Special Teams, and Fudd should be a mainstay of this Storm unit for seasons to come.”
Indianapolis Spitfire released Free Safety Zach Andrews and signed Free Safety Peyton Ellison. I was able to get a quick comment from Spitfire owner James Richards “Zach Andrews joined us as a replacement in season 11. He was motivated and did all his progressions. At some point, he must of fell out of love with the SFL and just decided to quit without telling anyone. Peyton Ellison is a guy we are really excited about. From day one he showed great enthusiasm and excitement. So far he’s been a great addition to the locker room.” General manager Tanner Hendrix was not made available.
Rival executive- “James is once again stuck fighting the roster woes that have plagued the Indianapolis Spitfire from their inaugural season through to the present. However, I think Peyton Ellison will turn out to be the right choice here, and should do wonders to solidify a secondary that worried every other team in the SFL when they first showed up, but seemed to have lost some of their teeth do to instability in the season’s since.”
Houston Hyenas released Cornerback JD Nelson and signed Cornerback Mana Kanaka. The move was surprising because JD was signed just last week. I touched based with Owner D.R. Sim “We didn’t have an issue with JD & he didn’t have an issue with us. There are situations which comes into our lives & we have no control over them. He reached out to me & stated that over the past week a lot of things just haven’t been going his way & that he’s unable to continue with the commitment which he made to the team & he wanted the team to release him & finish the season strong. We’ll stay in touch with JD. As for Kanaka, he is going to be an outstanding CB for us. He’s a tall CB at 6’3″ which we like in Houston. I’m like Kris Richard when it comes to the secondary I believe that tall DB’s has a better opportunity to cover a lot of the taller WR’s in this league. Look at our team every Defensive Back is over 6’0″ tall. Trystan Hatley might be the only who is not I could be wrong.” GM B.J. Loveless told ITFO “We acquired Mana Kanaka at the CB position which has seemed to be a revolving door in Houston since the departure of Ryan Michaels. It’s a process of finding the right fit for your team. Sometimes the process might take a week, maybe it’ll take up to the roster lock deadline at midseason to find a guy who fits the mold. In sitting down and talking with Mana, his mind for the game of football is like a Swiss Army knife he knows a lot about just about every facet of the game. When I realized the depth of his knowledge and his hunger to be involved and he has a chip on his shoulder the size of Texas after stating, “I gotta satisfy this chip on my shoulder after being passed on a few times!” I love the fire and I can’t wait to hear the commentary say Mana Kanaka!!!”
Rival executive- “This one hurts for HOU, who had to have thought there was no way they’d have to be re-addressing this issue so quickly. JD Nelson ended up being an unreliable choice to replace Reubens with in the first place, and now, instead of answering a question mark for them in the secondary is creating another one. Luckily, Mana Kanaka seems poised to answer the challenge. Expect Kanaka to be what HOU was hoping Nelson would turn out to be by the end of this season.”
Oklahoma City Outlaws released star Wide Receiver Shea Carroll and signed Wide Receiver Jafleeshious D’Angelo. Oklahoma City Owner Michael Irvine told ITFO “My Scout (J.W. Doyle) found Mr. D’Angelo and we reached out to him for a try out. He was very impressive and super-fast. We knew we had to get him signed. Look for him to make an impact in week 3 at home against Dallas.” When asked if Jafleeshious is someone who will stay and contribute to the long-term success of OKC Michael Irvine said “Yes”.
Rival executive- “We knew this was coming from Week 1, and we know why it happened. Sometimes Coach/Player relationships sour, and that’s true for the SFL as much as anywhere else. Shea’s been a consistent producer for the Renegades, but in this case, off-field business trumped on-field business. The result is a coin flip for OKC, as they’re getting the chance to add a new WR who’s only looking for receptions and TDs this season. With their running game in place, OKC could come roaring out of the basement once the chemistry gets balanced in the locker.”
London Knights released long time Sioux Falls Safety turned Cornerback Chris Dodd and signed Evan Arthur. Co-Owner Liam Crowter told ITFO “We have had Evan on the practice squad for some time and he has made an impression on Gerald. We are disappointed to be losing Chris but his lack of effort on the practice field was setting a bad example. We need to bring our A-Game 24/7 and we firmly believe Evan will be doing that.” Fellow co-owner Matt Slinn gave ITFO this quote “It could be perceived as a step back to lose a player like Chris Dodd so early in the season. His aptitude for interceptions will be missed. However, I see this as a step forward for London. We’ve taken on an active, keen member of the community who has already got solid ties with the team. We know Evan Arthur will be able to fill the void and more, starting with this week’s game against St. Louis.”
Rival executive- “Speculation about Dodd’s dedication to the game turned out to be well founded in LON, and that instability led to a headline grabbing, but not altogether surprising announcement from across the pond. LON is going in a new direction, favoring youth over experience in acquiring Evan Arthur as Dodd’s replacement. This is another moving piece in an already complicated LON defense, but I’m confident Slinn’s leadership will minimize the blow. Chris Dodd’s fate is unknown, but with 4 INTs already this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if another team with a need reached out to him in the coming weeks to take a chance on him.”
Vancouver Legion released star cornerback Maajor Key and signed Cornerback Jimmie Ligon. Multiple attempts to try to contact Vancouver have gone unanswered.
Rival executive- “I’ve got to admit that this one really surprised me. Maajor Key has been a mainstay in the VAN secondary for multiple seasons, and I’m not sure what a VAN defense without him is going to look like moving forward. Andy made a good first move in picking up Jimmie Ligon to attempt to fill that hole, but I’m skeptical that anyone would be able to pull off a seamless transition when it comes to moving on from Key. I wish him the best of luck, because every offense from here on out is going to test his side of the field until he earns the same respect that Key did out there.”