The 2018 season kicks-off this week with the Blizzard facing off against Iowa Barnstormers at home. Here is a look at both teams and what to expect from them on Sunday.
The Barnstormers Farm For New Talent
Last season, Iowa finished second in their conference with a 13-3 record, but fell to the Sioux Falls Storm in the semifinals of the playoffs. The team was lead by Defensive Player of the Year, linebacker Javicz Jones, and Most Improved Player, quarterback Travis Partridge. The Brainstormers also were steered to victory by their brand new head coach Dixie Wooten, who went on to win Coach of the Year. The team thrived off the offensive connection of Patridge and First Team All-IFL wide receiver Brady Roland that produced over 40 touchdowns and 200 yards per game for the team.
However, as the Brainstormers and head coach Dixie Wooten take the field for the first time in 2018, their roster is completely different. Only eight players returned from last season, with Brady Roland being the most notable. The rest of the roster is filled with new faces and new talent. The team consists of 18 rookies making their indoor football debuts, three of which were signed in their 2018 open tryout.
Of these new faces, Drew Powell steps in as the new quarterback. Powell previously served as the quarterback for the Nebraska Danger and has excelled at his position at Livingstone College during the year. Powell signed late last year for the Danger, and proved himself to be one of the elite quarterbacks at the end of the season.
The Barnstormers also signed two new offensive linemen in Isame Faciane and Lorenzo Allen to protect Powell. Both linemen have had experience in the NFL with Faciane playing for the practice squad of the Minnesota Vikings for three seasons and Allen participating in the Eagles Rookie Minicamp in 2017.
The Blizzard Look to Take Lead by Storm
Over the last three years, the Blizzard have turned in losing records with last season being no exception at 3-13. However, with the shape of the IFL this year and the signings that the Blizzard have made in the offseason, a playoff hope is definitely in reach.
With the league shrinking down to just six teams with four making the playoffs, the Blizzard are on the cusp of a potentially great and successful season. This possibility is certainly increased with the offseason signings that Green Bay has made. One of the most emphatic signings was Blizzard legend and IFL Hall of Famer B.J. Hill. Hill played for the Blizzard from 2010-2013 and currently has the IFL record in both kick return yards and touchdowns. He also holds the Blizzard record for interceptions and tackles. Hill’s talent will lead the team on the field, but his leadership for the team off the field is one of the most significant impacts he will have.
Linebacker Josh Francis was another prime signing for the Blizzard. Francis spent time with the Green Bay Packers in 2015 and is an explosive player that can help fortify the team’s defense. In addition to Francis, defensive end Sean Daniels will be another force on defense as he recorded over eight sacks last season for the championship winning Philadelphia Soul and was named First Team All-Arena. Powerful defensive tackle Cory Grissom and elusive defensive back Manny Asprilla resigned with the Blizzard to round out the defense.
On the offensive side, the Blizzard have brought in two new quarterbacks in Christian Lemay from Jacksonville State University and Raymond Cotton from Mississippi College. Lemay has played in the CFL in Ottawa and Cotton is a dual-threat quarterback. Both are looking to lead the Blizzard throughout the season.
To catch for them, Andre McDonald, Chris Malott, Jereme Jones, and Erick Brundidge round out the receiving core. McDonald returns for his second season with the Blizzard and is looking for a breakout sophomore season.
In an interview with WFRV, head coach Chris Williams reflected on the potential of this team saying, “This is a team that once we get over that hump, we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”
What to Look For on Sunday
The most important players to watch out for on both teams will be their new quarterbacks. How will Christian Lemay and Raymond Cotton fair in the Blizzard’s offense? Will Iowa’s Drew Powell continue the success he had at the end of last season? Both teams need their quarterbacks to start the season strong and lead their team, so possibly expect both offenses to start a bit conservatively.
Also, make sure to pay attention to the Barnstormers’ young roster versus the Blizzards’ more experienced roster. The new roster of the Barnstormers may lead to more turnovers forced by the Blizzards. But, also look for Iowa to come out of the gate strong and fast.
Lastly, it is the return of B.J. Hill to the Resch Center! He will be a crucial key to the game for Green Bay and expect for him to have a big first game back in Blizzard Green.
- Graeme Gallagher