2016 Season Preview - Men's Central South

Texans like to think they're the center of the universe.  They're like New Yorkers in that respect, except they make better food.

With three teams among the top ten in the country, Texas can make an argument about being the center of the footy world, at least in the USAFL.  With national champions Austin, resurgent Dallas, and burgeoning Houston, there is plenty of top flight footy in the Lone Star State.

But the entire southern US is, in itself, full of great teams and good players.  Footy in Oklahoma is growing faster than the crops there, while Nashville and Baton Rouge continues to build on their respective histories.  Plus, there will be a good number of players competing for spots on the Revos roster for next year in Melbourne. 

It'll be fun to see them get together and play during the course of the year, not to mention at the Central regional in Indy come July.

Be it ever so humble, there really is no place like home. 

Three times the USAFL has bestowed the National Championship on the Texan capital, and all three times they have hoisted hardware.  In 2015, led by former OC Bomber and NT Thunder alum Kenrick Tyrell and Montrose product Ben Carpenter-Nwanyanwu, the Crows ran roughshod over all comers – stumbles against Dallas aside – and clinched the title of best footy club in the land on terra familiara.

The home field advantage meant that the Crows had the largest attendance ever by one side at Nationals – nearly 60 players wore the red, gold, and blue over three divisions.  Austin won with depth and talent at all positions, and there is wealth of American talent on this team to sustain it for some time.

Nolan Cox, brother of Collingwood’s Mason, set himself apart in the rucks during the season.  When he was unavailable for Nationals, Harley Nussman filled the gap superbly, taking home the Cooper’s Medal for most consistent in Division 1.  Nussman’s play in the middle means Nolan, like Mason, can platoon in the forward line where he could prove equally dominant. 

Travis Avera also had a breakout year last season, and will be on Tom Ellis’s radar for IC17 at center half-forward.  Rugby converts Mike Montgomery and Pete Pettinari add athleticism to an already athletic team, and Dillon Edwards should impress with his improved fitness levels.  Jesse “Tex” Leos is primed to be one of the next American superstars, and should have an even better year.

Tyrell takes over as coach this year, and the club looks to bolster its ranks by introducing metro footy for the first time.  But until someone can come along and play the fast, flowing footy that took the Crows to the top mountain last season, it’s hard to see them not being on top again this year.

NATIONALS SEEDING PROJECTION: High Seed, Division 1.

The Bayou Tigers have established a reputation of fundamentally good football amongst a hearty band of passionate players in the Louisianan capital.  Playing regional footy against some of the better teams in the country, Josh Cartmill and company were worthy adversaries against the likes of Houston, Atlanta, and Nashville, but had no victories to show for it.  Pairing up with their friends from Houston’s reserves, the Tigers would go 1-2 on the weekend in Division 4.

This year has already started well on the local level, with the Metro season already off to a hot start.  Baton Rouge is still plugging along, and though they haven’t been able to completely capitalize on the talent that can be drawn from being in the same town as LSU, they manage to maintain a good quality of football.  This year should continue the trend for the purple and gold.

NATIONALS SEEDING PROJECTION: Division 4

Brenn Miller, who has become one of the veteran faces of the Dallas side, is a fighter.  No, literally, he boxes in addition to his footy exploits.  But his teammates, too, have spent the last several years punching their way back to the top of the USAFL ladder, and 2015 was a season decisive victories and signs that Big D would be the ones winning D1 in their home state.

Playing a hectic 14 game schedule, the ‘Pies wrapped up the Central Regional D2 title over Columbus with ease, and took out the eventual champ Crows in a Texas Cup scrap, and came darn well close to picking off defending champ New York… in Yonkers.  Clawing their way to the #6 spot in the Top 20 poll, Miller and friends served notice that they expected to be there on Sunday afternoon.   But down they went, going three and out despite a fighting effort.

But the one thing that hasn’t gone out of the Magpie snarl is a swagger of a team that knows it is good, and they are.  Former SANFL alum Jason Sutherland is a big strong prescence up front, and should be 100% after injuring his ankle at Nationals.  So too should Rob Ward Craig Storer was a dominant force running through the middle, and with Matt Taggert in the ruck should form a formidable tandem.

The Magpies’ have gotten where they are by playing tough football, and have spawned a great number of good American players over the last decade.   Mike Mayne, Patrick Pryor, and David Grzesiak continue the trend into the new season.

Once again, Dallas will play a loaded schedule that includes the Texas Cup series, the Central Regionals, a home game against New York and a trip to L.A. to face the Dragons.  This is a durable team up to the task, and should be a dark horse for D1 in Florida come October.

NATIONALS SEEDING PROJECTION: Middle Seed, Division 1.

At the beginning of the decade, the Lonestars were but a twinkle in the eye of a number of expats living in the Energy City.  They have grown to be among the largest clubs in the country, and president Dave Bryant’s efforts were recognized with the Paul O’Keeffe organizational award.

Oh and they play footy pretty well, too.

The Lonestars held their own against D1 competition in their backyard, challenging Dallas and Austin all year and ending up ranked 11th.  Jesse Carcamo had a breakout year, winning best on ground for the Revos development team at the 49th Parallel Cup.  The Lonestars were favored to take out Division 2, but lost to eventual champ Quebec in their final group game.

Though the oil industry’s fluctuating status has had an effect on the Australian contingent within the Lonestars, but the team is loading up on American talent that may put them over the top.  In addition to Carcamo, Nick Maass also had a fantastic season from the rover position which gives the ‘Stars a potent combo in the midfield, teaming with durable ruckman Tom Donnelly. 

Stu Job, who has won two best and fairest awards in a row, is back to wreak havoc in the midfield.  And Triegue “Trigger” Allen leads a defensive unit has been tested and hardened by battles in the Texas sun to a vulcanized sheen.  Lastly, they’ll get another huge boost from former Golden Gate and current Revo midfielder Bobby Sears, who comes to Houston for work and will certainly do work for the Lonestars too.

Houston continues to recruit in a city full of college athletes and sportsmen, and new co-coaches Scott Cameron, Rick Veroude, and assistant Maxy Boland will have their charges focusing on fitness in order to overtake some of the best teams in the country.  Columbus and Minnesota will be tough, but Houston are right in fancying themselves as D2 favorites.

NATIONALS SEEDING PROJECTION: High Seed, Division 2.

It’s been a long, long way from 2008 for Kansas City, who won the D3 title and went as high as Divvy 2 the following season.  Since then, their core group has shrunk, and they’ve played a mostly regional schedule against Tulsa and Des Moines.  But for what numbers they do have, there is some really good American footballers coming out of the land of barbecue.

Led by Revo players Christiaan Leyva, Caleb Dougherty, Travis Poythress, and Josh Henges, the Power teamed up with Sacramento’s reserves to run the table in Division 4 and make it into the Grand Final, only to be humbled by the San Diego Lions.

There is a lot of good footy being played in KC, and the talent of the four international players is a good core to rebuild back to former glory.  Dougherty is among the best of the bunch, and had a great showing at the Parallel Cup coming from the half-forwards.

The silver, teal, and black and white are still in D4 country, but if they can again amass a good squad at Nationals, they would be good D4 favorites.

NATIONALS SEEDING PROJECTION: Division 4.

The Kangaroos style of play, much like the music from the city they represent, have a familiar twang that has endured through their almost two decades’ existence.

2015 was a mixed bag for Smashville, as they went 5-5 on the regular season to finish 12th.  Led by emerging American talent such as Tim Fulwider and Eric Toepfer, the Roos logged quite a few miles in the travel.  Big wins at Columbus as well as at home against Chicago were balanced by road losses to Baton Rouge and Atlanta.  Despite the high finish, the Kangas weren’t able to get enough players down to Austin to play in D2, and were beaten all ends up in D3 play.

A new year, and a new slate to succeed with.  It has already begun with a solid road victory over rival Atlanta, and this year they’ll also be playing what is most likely the first footy game played in Arkansas when they hook up with Tulsa.

One thing that Nashville’s teams have been known for is a devastating attack, and Fulwider, Toepfer, Cliff Cosnahan, and Nathan Caldwell form a multi-pronged attack that has the efficiency and ease of a metal spork.  They’re supported by a stable of old pros, with the likes of Jeff Persson, Dee Vsetecka, Evan “Colonel” Ling and David “Frosty” Harris on the back half of the field.   Their recruiting has been on point, and the addition of a number of athletic weapons such as Maurice Howell, James Duty, Duane Mathes and former Indy Giant Tim Dunn looks to take them over the top.

The short distance to Florida from the Music City should allow ‘Roos to field a fuller team this year, and if that’s the case, they’ll be bumping someone out of D2.  Nashville is always a tough side to play, and if they can find some consistency, they’ll be there on Nationals Sunday.

NATIONALS SEEDING PROJECTION: Middle Seed, Division 2.

After playing as a metro side within the Tulsa Buffaloes organization, the Sooner State’s footy representation doubles in 2016 with the addition of the OKC Flyers.   The Flyers will combine with the Buffs to play other USAFL clubs for this season.

Unlike most new clubs, the Flyboys will have the advantage of having an experienced foundation of players to which to build a team in a city that has an underrated sports landscape.

Former University of Wyoming tight end Chris Cox leads OKC in their first season, and around him will be an equally athletic lot of talent.  Twins Stephen and Andrew Rasbold are versatile ballgetters that look to propel this new attack, as are Shawn Farber and Ryan Minmier.  Josh Armstrong, their lead Australian vet, will miss the entire season with a knee injury, but he’ll provide key insight from a coaching role.

The Flyers dropped the first of four matchups against Tulsa a couple of weeks ago, but there is plenty of time to catch up, both this season and beyond. 

NATIONALS SEEDING PROJECTION: N/A.

As for the original Oklahoman club, the Buffaloes chalked up many-a-mile, playing a total of 20 games on the season, the most of any team in the USAFL club.  They compiled a 5-12 record, though they showed their meddle against teams like Dallas and Denver during the season. 

The potential of coach David Stevens’ side was apparent to the seeding committee, though as they were named the top overall seed in Division 3, moving up after spending their first three seasons in Division 4.  Outmatched but not outplayed, they went 0-3 on the weekend despite a good overall effort.

Though the OKC contingent won’t completely be separating from the Buffs just yet, they will have to find a way to recover from a number of players stepping away from the game due to life commitments and relocation.  The biggest loss, though one of mixed emotions, is that of Revo Jonathan Showman, who is in Australia to expand on his already apparent talent for footy.

That leaves Dustin Brasel to continue to do what he’s done since the team began, and that is recruit from the fertile Oklahoman athletic field.  The team is as rugged as the landscape they toil in, and it is exemplified by the hard-hitting talents of Shane Hood and Andrew Rose.  There is international caliber ability on this team, and it’s starting to bloom.

An early season test this weekend against Dallas will set the tone for the year.  They’ll make it back to D3 again, but one can bank on them leaving Sarasota in October with at least one win.

NATIONALS SEEDING PROJECTION: Middle Seed, Division 3.

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