Familial Culture Paces Outlaws in Opening Season

They call Arizona “the Valley of the Sun,” most likely because some days, it feels like you’re living on its surface.

It’s known for its hot, dry weather, its desert scenery, and for its booming and ever-expanding metropolis in Phoenix.

For the past two decades, however, it has been a literal and figurative hotbed of Aussie Rules football.   From the Phoenix Scorpions and Tuscon Javelinas giving way to what is now the Arizona Hawks, the game has flourished in the nation’s 48th state.

That footballing history begat a new era that began last February with the creation of the Arizona Outlaws.

Joining as the USAFL’s 39th club, the Outlaws’ first year was impressive both on the field and off.  They recruited a solid roster of players, including their women’s side, and combined with Las Vegas and Seattle’s reserves to come runners up in Division 4 at last year’s Nationals in Racine.  Led by a sextet of players from the Lutostanski family – they all go by “Luto” – the club’s first season was a resounding success.

“Starting at the beginning of 2018, we wanted to create a team different to any of the teams we have been a part of before,” said club president Morgan Lee.  “Not just a team but to build our own club and a family atmosphere.

Lee told USAFL.com that the club faced the same growing pains as most clubs do in the beginning, from identity design, to finding fields, to sponsorship and getting organizational structure set up. 

“Within a month we were able to sign our first major sponsor, Tilted Kilt Pub and Eatery which provided a home for our family after games and for social functions. Soon after we signed the Rob Dollar Foundation, Just Like Home Too and MTL Design as minor sponsors for the year,” Lee added.

Come spring, and the team launched Arizona Footy, their four team metro league.  Playing in Tempe, the Outlaws’ saw their numbers grow and they had a permanent home at the Tempe Sports Complex.

“The officials in Tempe were more than happy to work with us to allocate time and fields for our events and we look forward to continuing to work with them in the coming 2019 season,” said Lee.  “After just 2 months of operation, it had seemed like we had achieved a lot and we were proud of how far we had come.”

On May 5th, the Outlaws and the USAFL community honored the memory of their late teammate and friend Rob Dollar, who died suddenly in the weeks following the 2017 USAFL Nationals.  Despite never having played a game in the Outlaw hooped guernsey, Dollar was a large part of the Arizona footy family for more than a decade.  The Rob Dollar Memorial AFLX tournament featured twelve clubs from across the country, and despite only picking up one win from the weekend, the team deemed it a success.   The competitive pieces were in place, not only for a run in 2018, but for beyond.

Once the league season got started, the new recruits began to shine around the veteran core.  Lee noted: “Some notable players are first-year players Peter Abernethy and Aaron Tislow, who have a never-ending energy source and are both really showing signs of becoming great players in the future of this club. I can't forget the Luto boys that run riot throughout the middle of the field and captain the center of the oval, Matt Lambert whom at fullback and defensive captain who always puts my body on the line against bigger players for the team and although he missed nationals, John King who is a sharpshooter from anywhere in the offensive half of the field and our forward offensive captain.

“It's hard to select only a few standouts as our team is full of players that will always go above and beyond for each other, we are all family.”

A theme to the year was a budding friendly rivalry with the Las Vegas Gamblers, a club which has struggled for numbers off and on for the past decade.  But the relationship with the Outlaws seemed to strengthen both clubs.  Before the two clubs teamed up at Nationals, they were paired in Division 2 of the Western Regionals in Sacramento.  The wins weren’t there that hot weekend in NorCal, but a fantastic joint effort was, as the side produced three supreme efforts on the day; the Lutos, Abernathy, and Lee among the standouts.

“During the season we played many games against clubs from all over the country including one of our close rivals the Gamblers, currently, they are up one win on us,” Lee affirmed.  “This is a club we played within nationals as we are all like family.”

Going from triple digit temp sin Arizona  to the cold of Wisconsin took some getting used to, but the Outlaws and company took to it like penguins on ice.  Day one opened with a 70 point win over Atlanta and a tight victory of a well-travelled Baltimore Dockers team.  They were in the semifinals, but the wins took their toll.

“Leading into the semifinal against Houston Lonestars [and Fort Lauderdale], we had 2 players with hamstring tears, a player that was knocked out the game prior, a broken finger and another player with a broken nose,” said Lambert, who is also the club’s Sponsorship and Marketing Director. “Our bench was decimated and we still came up in front and won the game by 18 points.

“In the grand final we were up against the big team (size and numbers) again in Baltimore, at this point we had no bench left uninjured. We played as a family and did so with pride for one another, left nothing in the tank and gave all for one another and only just came up short by 9 points.

“Whilst we had players from 3 other clubs join us, all the players played for the Outlaws and we showed these other teams what we are about and how the club named Arizona Outlaws means family.”

For most clubs, the end of Nationals means a long break during the cold winter months.  For the Outlaws, it was but a brief breath of rest and then back to the competitive action with the AZF Fall League.  The first half of play kicked off on October 26th, and after a pause for the holidays, will resume on Friday, January 11th at 8pm MST at the Tempe Sports Complex.

“[O]ur winter season competition will help with exposure and recruiting, as well as fitness heading into the 2019 USAFL season,” said Lee.  “Whether it be for fun, fitness, family or competitiveness we welcome and encourage all to come down to play.

“Just you wait and see, next year the Outlaws will be one of the best teams in the competition.”

For more info on the Outlaws and the AZF competition, visit http://www.azfooty.com/.

Photo sources: AZ Outlaws, Ray Kwan

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