By Matthew Slinn

“Knerrves? What Knerrves?”

You know how it is before the first game of the season. The anticipation. The sleepless nights. The butterflies trying to burst out of your stomach. 

The tension that only elite sport can bring. 

Now, imagine that feeling, multiply it by ten, and you’ll be experiencing what the SFL’s latest class of rookies were before the weekend’s action. Fifty-four hearts, nervously pumping blood around fifty-four bodies hoping to get through 60 minutes of action unscathed. Nails worn down to the skin, they suited up in their team’s colours for the very first time. All the effort…all the sacrifice…to get to this point. Each rookie has been on a journey to make it to the SFL – some have taken a far longer path than others. They all feel the same pressure. The need to live up to the SFL’s slogan, ‘Make an Impact’. 

Many will have to wait for the coming weeks to fully show what they’re made of. For a select few, Week 1 provided the perfect opportunity.

The Trials and Tribulations of an SFL Quarterback

General opinion sways towards quarterback being the hardest position to play in football. If you watched Denver and Queen City’s young passers perform at the weekend, I doubt you’d have seen much to dissuade you from that assumption. Gene Struthers and John Lakeman had very different outings in Week 1, but both felt the cold sting of the SFL.

Struthers, taking the reigns in Denver, had a torrid time trying to dissect the Motor City secondary. From the moment he mistakenly found a lurking David Leathers on a short pass, to the late end zone interception by King Rashid, the game seemed to move too quickly for the rook. A scoring drive in the 4th quarter, where Struthers found Riley Quintero with a top-class endzone pass, showed promise, but whenever he uncorked a deep ball, the power wasn’t there. A road trip to a ravenous Motor City defense is as tough as it gets. Hopefully, Struthers can employ some ‘professional amnesia’ and focus on Week 2.

Speaking of the need for short term memory loss, Lakeman won’t enjoy going over the last few minutes of tape against the Las Vegas Fury. Leading the game by four, with less than a minute left on the clock, Queen City opted to pass their way out of a 3rd down and long, rather than taking the safe option by running it and trusting the defence. Lakeman’s pass fell into the clutch of Justin Reside, who ran the ball back for a heart-breaking touchdown. Until that point, the former Ottawa man had been playing well, outperforming his opposite man with accurate, long passes. His first drive in the SFL was a thing of beauty, culminating in an early touchdown strike to Deezer Powell. Lakeman is clearly a gunslinger, and the rookie found out that gunslinging is a dangerous game.

Tales of the Top 10

The ‘Top 10’ picks of any draft carry with them a burden of performance. Coaches and fans alike expect to see them slot into the team and make an immediate impact. Now, as a former GM of the London Knights and Las Vegas Fury, I know that the SFL works in different ways. Picks in the early part of the draft are made for varying reasons, possibly the least of which being performance in the SFLm. If a player was selected because he/she excels off the field, or they were the best pick in a sparsely populated position, fans should remain patient. On the field opportunities are not a guarantee. With that in mind, let’s take a peek at the ‘Top 10’ picks:

  1. Geno McFly, OLB – Mcfly started well but faded down the stretch. Fooled by a GP Wells spin as he raced away for a TD. Will learn a lot playing next to Jack Brown.
  2. Robert Thump, DT – Double-teamed often by a stout Louisiana O-line. Did manage to get his hand up for a pass deflection though.
  3. Robert Brady, DE – An active part of a defensive line that got after the QB all game. Chipped in with a couples of TFLs and 0.5 sacks.
  4. Xavier Soloman, TE – Used sparingly from the #2 TE spot, but blocked well when needed and showed good hands on a 10 yard reception.
  5. Hadrian Marlowe, LT – The surest part of a Sioux Falls offensive line that couldn’t protect it’s QB, giving up a total of six sacks.
  6. Li Li Nakai, WR – Thrown to the wolves after injuries to B.E Robo and Dave Axis. Performed her starting role and returning duties solidly, including a nice low catch over the middle.
  7. GB Wallace, SS – A quiet performance for Wallace in a defence that played well. A few more weeks and Wallace should find himself adding a couple of INTs to the pair of pass deflections he made.
  8. Rob Hunt, WR – Nothing doing for Hunt, which isn’t a shock as he sits at #4 receiver. His time will come.
  9. Bob Lung, TE – Much like Hunt, Lung will have to bide his time. Be ready to see him feature more and more as the season rolls on.
  10. Prince Wonder, WR – A decent first outing for the slot receiver. Four catches for 35 yards isn’t a bad return when you’re competing with the likes of Mason Kirby and Doug Britton.

Week 1 Winners

I’d be remiss if I didn’t celebrate the rookies who stood out for all the right reasons. First up is Saint Nebuchanezzer, who held together the Predators’ offensive line brilliantly in his first start at center. Kentez Johnson dropped back 33 times and didn’t taste the turf once. Staying with the unsung heroes up front, D.C fullback, Jay Balmer, showed uncanny receiving ability, bringing down a dozen catches for a cool 64 yds. A pair of Jacksonville Kings also deserve a place on this list as they showed sparks of brilliance on the way to a famous Week 1 victory. #15 Overall pick, Dill Swayzee swaggered his way to 78 yds on 7 catches, before being injured. His replacement as the kick returner, Joseph Beadeut, took his new job in stride, taking back a kickoff in an electric 103-yard scamper, adding to an earlier receiving TD that was easy-on-the-eye.

Dill Swayzee lived up to his bright name with a bright performance.

Flipping over to the opposite side of the field, Todd Rigsby, new starting free safety in Queen City, showed natural ball-hawking ability, picking off Eric Price early in the contest with Vegas before getting his hand to a ball and popping it up to a team mate. Rigsby was only outdone by fellow Corsair, Dan Dash, whose power moves shifted offensive lineman like they were children. Dash finished Week 1 with 2.5 sacks and 4 TFLs.

#’Make an Impact’ Award – What a Day for the Knerr Family

Our final segment will focus on a pair of rookies, whom, after being taken with the last pick of the first round and the last pick of the second (and subsequently the SFL Draft), announced their presence on the ‘big stage’ with confidence. Nathan Knerr (pick #28) and Toby Knerr (Mr. Irrelevant), both took the SFL’s leading slogan in its literal form and appeared to be in their own competition to honour it. Toby, unperturbed by his role as back-up safety, stopped the momentum of a first half drive with a full-stretch interception off Julian Tyree. The rookie located the ball and used elite athleticism to meet it before the receiver.

Not one to be outdone by his family member, Nathan had a game-changing 4th quarter. Unsatisfied with a fumble recovery, the cornerback was the first to a deflected pass, plucking the ball out of the air before returning it with interest. Nathan’s late-game impact had the home supporters in raptures, even causing Eddie Gauge to sit back and applaud from his commentary booth.

The Knerr family lit up Week 1 with the blast of their impact.

Week 2 is fast approaching. Who else will step up and earn their place amongst SFL history?

I’ll leave you with another look at Nathan Knerr’s crucial INT…