NEW YORK DRAGONS - SEASON PREVIEW
If Wednesdays, February 2nd, New York Dragons Practice that was open to the media is any indication, Dragon Fans are in for a real treat this season.
A new coaching staff, some new players, and a solid core of veterans that helped the team make the playoffs last year, looks like it has provided for a perfect mix that has expectations at an all-time high.
"Were here for the ring," First-year Coach Weylan Harding told me as his players left the field to shower, and get set for an afternoon of meetings and game films. At 33, Harding is the youngest head coach in the AFL.
wish we had a real game under our belt. There is no substitute for playing in
game conditions, but the luck of the draw gave us a bye last week, when all the
other teams opened their season, and well just have to work a little harder
to get to that level, and be ready for Dallas."
With defense so important in a game that is geared for lots of offense and high scoring, I asked Coach Harding if hed rather see his defensive players make an interception, or put a big crushing on an opposing receiver.
"Well " he hesitated, the thoughts of his playing days staring to come back into mind where those big hits were very rewarding "its nice to get a turnover, but Id like to see us knock 2 of the opposing receivers out with some clean hits. That would make them use an offensive lineman as a receiver, and theyre much easier to cover."
The entire coaching staff of The New York Dragons
has AFL experience, one of only two teams in the league that can make that claim,
and thats a key component according to Weylan Harding.
Dragons Quarterback, Aaron
Garcia, who has already spent 10 years in the AFL, echoed some of his coaches
thought when it came to goals for this season.
Garcia, one of the
leagues most hi-profile players, is moving in on some personal milestones
this season. He is only 15 touchdown passes away from hitting the 650 mark for
his career, and has thrown for over 30,000 yards in his career, 3rd most in AFL
When asked how Garcia and the Dragons planned on stopping the Dallas Desperados offense, which last week opened their season by scoring touchdowns on their first 5 offensive drives behind 2nd year quarterback Bobby Sippio, and then holding on to win in overtime against Chicago, The 10 year veteran had this to say.
"I think Dallas and Sippio learned a lot last week. Having a big lead in the first quarter doesnt give you the option to sit back on a lead. This is Arena Football. Anything can happen. As far as stopping them? My job is to score points, and our goal is to score a touchdown every time we get the ball."
For the first time,
Garcia has 4 offensive weapons at his disposal this season, a luxury many quarterbacks
only dream of. Wide receiver Mike Horacek, who was the AFL Offensive MVP in 2000
while playing with Garcia at Iowa, will once again be a favorite target of the
In a league that is designed to benefit the offense, it is often the defense that will make or break a teams success. When Head Coach Weylan Harding came over from Columbus, he brought with him one of his favorite players, Defensive Specialist, Chris Angel. Just entering his second season of Arena Football, this one-time Oakland Raider is ready to help the Dragons Defense the best in the league.
"As a Defensive Specialist,
were often the only thing between the opposing receiver and the end zone,
so were often the scapegoat when the other teams scores."
"Well, it feels real
good to put a big hit on someone, and make them think about coming into your area
the next time, but I better make Coach Harding happy and say Ill take the
interception. I think hed rather us take the ball back so we can score."
"In Columbus, we were the only game in town, so we sold out every game over 17,000 people). Between the music and the fans, it was deafening. But at times I could tune it all out. The game is designed to be fast, and with the fans right on top of the action, sometimes that can be a little hard to do."
One thing all the players seemed to agree on is that the camaraderie they find playing for the New York Dragons reminds them of when they all played football for the love of the game. They may not be making millions of dollars, but their excitement level is high, and their expectations are even higher.
The Dragons open their season this Sunday against the Dallas Desperados, who just happen to be owned by Jerry Jones, who just happens to own the Dallas Cowboys. Im sure Mr. Jones will be in Florida for the Super Bowl, but his Desperados will be here at the Coliseum, for a game which VP of Communications Chris Botta expects to be a sellout.
have some scattered seats left, and we may have to open up some of the upper-level
end zone seats to accommodate the fans."
Arena Football is also a family-oriented form of entertainment that has something for everyone. Speed, skill, scoring, promotions, and dont forget, the "World Famous Firedancers". The Dragons Players also make themselves available to the fans after each home game during an on field autograph session.
The fast pace makes it a truly exciting game to watch in person. Seeing it on television doesnt begin to define the speed and skill of these athletes, nor the true scope of the field, which is a lot bigger in person than it looks. And for the fan that has not yet been exposed to football of any kind, the shortened field makes it easier to keep track of what is happening.
LongIslandExchange.com will be covering the Dragons
all season, and check back here every week for game results, and in-depth features
you wont find anywhere else. For more information about the Dragons, and
to purchase tickets, click on the Dragons banner on this page. To find out more
about Arena Football, just visit www.ArenaFootball.com.
photos by Maryann Ferrante
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