Season Preview Week 2017: Men's South

Just like their Northern brethren, the southern part of the USAFL’s Central region has teams at the top echelon of talent, and others that are on the way up with constant improvement.

At the top of the heap are the Austin Crows, two time defending Division 1 champion. Whether anyone can knock them off this year is up for a round table type debate.  But teams like Dallas and Houston will be nipping at their heels, and always put together entertaining footy matches during the Texas Cup series.

This year’s Central Regional brings footy on the big stage to new territory: Little Rock, Arkansas.  The birth of the Little Rock Coyotes expands on the growth of the game in the heartland, and should the competition around them should be fun to watch.

From the Lone Star State through the Bayou and up through Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Tennessee, here is a look at the nine team Southern section:

The sounding of the hooter to end the Division 1 Grand Final in Lakewood Ranch officially signaled, in a physical sense, the second dynasty of the USAFL’s 20 year history.

That piercing sound brought a championship victory over vaunted Golden Gate, a perfect season, a 23-game winning streak, and a third D1 flag in four seasons to the Texan capital.  From the Central regionals to the Texas Cup right on through to Florida, it was the Crows year, and even when down by 33 points in the second half against Denver at the CRTs, it didn’t look like anyone could beat them.

Austin goes after their third flag in a row in 2017, and would be only the second team behind Denver to accomplish that feat at the D1 level.  Though they’ve lost a couple of important on-ballers in Pete Pettinari and Bradley Taheny who have returned home to Australia, their young American core should pick up the slack.

No less than five Crows were named to Tom Ellis’s Revo roster for this cycle, led by big Ben Carpenter, Mike Linehan, and Nolan Cox.  Coxy has been asked to do a lot over the past couple of seasons, and so far he has taken like a fish in a big green lake, playing well in the middle and up forward as well.  Defender Mike Montgomery has emerged as one of the best defenders in the league, and Ben May has been the on field leader that has made the different for the murder.  Harley Nussman's development into a top American ruckman has also been fun to watch.

As in last season, it’s tough seeing anyone beat the Crows this year.  It’s possible, sure, and the footy season is a long and testing gauntlet.  But the target is on the Crows’ back and they have the goods to wrap up that treble.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: High Seed, Division 1

The Cajun footy club has always been a hale and hearty crew.  The 2016 tested them to the core, both on and off the field.

Having started the year at 1-3, the Tigers were to head to Little Rock for a three way tournament with Nashville and Tulsa.  Mother Nature had other plans.  The Baton Rouge flood in August had a devastating effect on the region and on the team itself, but they persevered and just several weeks later, turned back Houston and Atlanta at home to win their home tournament.  Joining forces with Atlanta, the Tiges went 1-1 in D4 at Nationals and came just a couple of calculator buttons short of the semifinals.

Despite losing a handful of veterans including Kyler Johnson and Allen Cameron, Baton Rouge’s 5-4 record last season (which included a 3-0 home mark) should bring them significant momentum this year. Coach Matt Heintze has been playing up his team’s fundamentals and how they continue to be consistently solid year in and year out.  They remain a tough nut to crack, and will be good matches on the road against teams like Tulsa and Atlanta.  They’ll also make their CRT tournament debut in Little Rock, which should be an entertaining find.

Josh Cartmill and company have done a great job building a strong footy club culture in Louisiana, one that even raging waters can’t tear down.  They’ll be in the thick of things in D4 again.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Division 4

They grow them tough in Big D, and the footy club that represents Dallas has always been a hard hitting crew.  Their ascendancy and renaissance has been fun to watch, and despite a disappointing end to last season, 2017 should be better.

The record will reflect an up and down year for the ‘Pies during the regular season overall; They would play four parts on the business end of Austin’s winning streak, but a 1-1-1 showing at the Central regionals was a testament to their grind-it-out style, and their win over New York in Texas late in the year was an impressive showing.  Eeking back into Division 1, the ‘Pies found themselves staring at a full-strength New York and Golden Gate platter and were humbled in successive games, ultimately going 0-3.

Dallas had four call-ups on the Revo list for this cycle; Jack O’Dell is a tough and consistent defender, Mike Mayne and David Grezesiak provide athleticism in the speed through the midfield, and Patrick Pryor is a tough tackler.  Aussie veteran Craig Storer has been the rock of the team from some time, as has forward sharp-shooter Matt Taggart.

The Magpies’ style of play recalls the hard hitting toughness of both Tulsa and Los Angeles, who they will play during the season.  They’ll also do battle with New York on the road; they came three points short of upsetting them the last time they visited the Big Apple.

There may be some that will argue that Dallas should be playing in Divvy 2, but they’re good enough to deserve to stay up.  If they can pull in some fresh blood to what they currently have, they’ll break through and trouble some of the other teams.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Low Seed, Division 1

Flowing swiftly like oil through derricks on the Texas sun, the Lonestars put in another strong set of performances in season 2016.

Houston’s solid regular season run, which included a D2 Central Regional sweep, a hard fought Texas Cup that saw a late season win over Dallas, and a tightly contested match on the road in Portland, brought them into Nationals as a favorite to take out the D2 flag there in Florida.  An opening game stumble against Columbus ruled them out, but they showed their strength in a 1-point win over Baltimore-Washington and a strong win over much fancied Sacramento.

One of the Lonestars’ trademarks has been a cohesive club culture, one that continuously attracts strong recruits, and that should sustain them this year as they cope with the loss of some of their veterans.  They also are known for recruiting athletic Americans, and 2nd year players Mike Monahan and Jeff Jamnik return and look to continue that trend in the Energy City.  The ‘Stars have also picked up former college basketballer Scott Elder whom they hope will make an impact from the get-go.  They have five Revo call-ups in their ranks, including the omnipotent Jessie Carcamo and skillful forward David Restrepo.  They’ve also picked up former VAFA and Paris Cockerel Steve Ryan in a vital addition to the coaching staff.

Dave Bryant’s club has always prided themselves on the mantra of a challenging schedule leading to a stronger on-field performance, and matches against Los Angeles and Portland, added to games against Tulsa and in-state rivals Dallas and Austin in the Texas Cup, should set them up for a potential run at the D2 flag in 2017.  It will depend on the teams in their group, but the Lonestars are always a threat for the Grand Final, at least.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: High Seed, Division 2

The Power had gone from winning the Division 3 final in 2008 and Divvy 2 competition the following year to near oblivion in a handful of years.  When they popped up to make the Division 4 Grand Final in 2015, it looked like a resurgence was coming from the Silver, Teal, and Black and White.

Sadly, however, there was little to no activity from the KC camp in 2016, aside from Revo regular Caleb Dougherty and Christiaan Leyva playing the odd matches.  Both appeared alongside Des Moines and Milwaukee at Nationals in Division 4.

As of this writing, there has been no indication of what kind of numbers there will be in Kansas City this season.  Hopefully that will change during the course of the year.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Division 4

A new frontier was broken when the USAFL’s first outpost in the Land of Opportunity was founded last summer.  The Coyotes, brainchild of the league’s Central regional VP Steve Grandfield, hosted its first event when the locals teamed up with Nashville to play Tulsa, and got a good showing.

Numbers have been good throughout the preseason at team practices, and the fact that Little Rock will be hosting the Central Regional Tournament in June should be a nice accelerant for the team.  With clubs within relatively easy travelling distance and with a fertile sporting soil with which to grow the game, the ‘Yotes future looks good.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Division 4

The Kangaroos well enter season number 20 in 2017, and like any team with that sort of history, the pendulum will swing from raging powerhouse to rebuilding effort as the years go on.

Nashville went 5-6 last year during the regular season, but 3 of those 5 wins came in Indianapolis as they swept the D3 CRT crown in a convincing effort.  John Freeman was the sensation of the season, and if the USAFL had a rookie of the year award he’d probably have taken it out.  Freeman and company went to Nationals with reinforcements from Cleveland and Indianapolis, advanced to the semi-finals and were upended by the eventual D4 national champions Ohio Valley.

One of the concerns heading into last year was where on earth they were going to get scoring from, as Cliff “Nugget” Cosnahan was their leading goalkicker, and he’s a midfielder.  The addition of Freeman and Maurice Howell was an emphatic answer to that question, and Eric Toepfer and Nathan Caldwell joined in on the fun as well to bolster the Roos up front.  In such a banner year for Nashville, it’ll be the defense that will need to step up, and it’s appropriate that they’ll be anchored by a plethora of their stalwarts.

Nashville’s schedule will include a number of teams who they may see in D4 at Nationals in San Diego, including arch-rival Atlanta, Baton Rouge, and St. Pete.   There is a ton of talent in this bunch and a ton of potential, and in the Wild Wild Frontier that is D4 footy in San Diego, you may see the Roos in the final showdown.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Division 4

Footy in OKC was officially anointed last season as the Flyers began operations, striking out on their own after being associated with the Tulsa Buffaloes.

Though the Orange and Blue played their USAFL footy alongside the Buffs last season, and will most likely do the same in 2017, the club is growing quickly and is adding some pieces to their foundation.  Chris Cox, no relation to Nolan and Mason, continues to be the keystone of the club.  The former Wyoming gridiron player has the Rasbold twins, Stephen and Andrew, as well and Shawnm Farber and Ryan Minmier return from last year’s inaugural line up.

Fresh blood for the Flyers arrives this year in rookie Michael Crawford (I loved him in “How I Won the War”) and Aussies Matthew Barton, Eugene Shanasy, and Jakob O'Meara-Gill.

It may be another season before OKC flies solo, but there is a lot of optimism in the Sooner State, and those baby steps will eventually lead to some giant leaps.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Division 4

Tulsa’s reputation as a hardnosed footy club continued to prove accurate in 2016, though a fair bit of turnover left them a bit disappointed in their final result.

Despite dropping all three games at the Central Regionals and struggling against Red River rival Dallas, the Buffs had glimpses of brilliance during the regular season, capped off with a tight 1-point win over Des Moines.  Tulsa’s trip to Nationals saw them as a chance to advance to the semi-finals.  Though they earned a draw in a titanic tussle with Tampa, they would fall to Nashville and finish in 7th in Division 4.

Two key additions punctuate the new year for the Buffaloes.  Alex Mirakian comes on board as coach; the USAFL veteran previously played and coached for the Florida Redbacks and Philadelphia Hawks, and is a tough-as-nails midfielder.  Jonathan Showman returns from a stint in Australia, and Revo defender Andrew Sneed sures up the backline on a squad that routinely takes advantage of their height.

Though getting their crop of rookies up to speed has been a steady process, Tulsa is still a challenge and the help from OKC should put them in good position to harry their opponents at Regionals and onto Nationals.  They are still a threat to make the Grand Final in Divvy 4.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Division 4

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