AFL West Division Preview

AFL Publishes West Division Preview

Billings Outlaws

Location: Billings, MT

Arena Name and Capacity: TDS Fiber Field at MetaPark, 8,700

Head Coach: Cedric Walker

Walker brings two Arena League championships with him as he assumes his head coaching duties in Billings. He will also serve as the defensive coordinator for the Outlaws. As a player, the former defensive back played for seven different teams over his ten seasons in the AFL. Walker was a member of the Arizona Rattles who went on to win ArenaBowl XI in the 1997 season.

Immediately after retiring as a player, he transitioned to coaching and took over as the defensive coordinator of the Bakersfield Blitz for the 2006 season. He has gone on to coach in some capacity for nine indoor football organizations. Most notably, Walker was the defensive coordinator for the San Jose SabreCats. In 2015, his defense allowed the fewest points in the league en route to an ArenaBowl victory over the Jacksonville Sharks.

Walker has spent the last two seasons as the head coach and defensive coordinator of the Spokane Shock and the Wyoming Mustangs. He also served as the general manager of the Mustangs taking his team to two playoff appearances.

Key Signings

Isaac Harker - QB Indiana State University, Colorado School of Mines

Harker has three years of professional football experience under his belt in the Canadian Football League. The former Sycamore and Orediggers’ signal-caller spent two seasons as the backup quarterback with the Saskatchewan Roughriders during the 2019-2021 seasons. He was later signed and released by the B.C. Lions in 2022. During his time with the Riders, Harker completed 70 of his 97 pass attempts for 706 yards and five interceptions.

As the quarterback at the Colorado School of Mines, Harker threw for 3,858 yards and 39 touchdowns. He led the Orediggers to a 10-2 overall record and a trip to the NCAA Division II playoffs.

Danny Southwick - QB Occidental College

Competition for the starting quarterback position was made more intense with the December signing of a long-time Arena Football veteran signal-caller. Southwick has indoor football experience going back to his professional debut with the Louisville Fire of the af2 during the 2008 season. Since then, he has made stops in 18 different indoor football organizations. One of them was with the Zappers of the Fan Controlled Football League. Southwick has accumulated 6,249 passing yards and 113 passing touchdowns over the course of his arena football career.

Franchise History

The Billings Outlaws bring championship pedigree to the Arena Football League. The previous incarnation of the team earned three league championships as members of the National Indoor Football League (NIFL) and the Indoor Football League (IFL). Billings went back-to-back in 2009 and 2010, taking home the IFL’s first two United Bowl trophies. Over ten seasons of existence, the Outlaws made the playoffs eight times in various leagues, won four division championships as well as three conference titles.

The current Outlaws franchise rebooted in 2022 as a member of the Champions Indoor Football League. Billings finished the season with a 6-4 regular season record. They advanced to the semi-finals of the playoffs exiting by way of a 42-6 loss to the Omaha Beef.

Oregon Blackbears

Location: Salem, OR

Arena Name and Capacity: Oregon State Fairgrounds Pavilion, 5,000

Head Coach: Chuck Jones

Jones has spent over 20 years in Oregon and is looking forward to showcasing his coaching talents with the Blackbears this season. He brings with him over 15 years of indoor football experience as a player and a coach. Jones has played and coached exclusively in the Pacific Northwest having played for the Kent Predators, the Everett Hawks, the Tri-Cities Fever, and the Oregon High Desert Storm. He went on to coach the Storm in 2023, taking the team to the American West Bowl, losing the championship game 42-20 to the Idaho Horseman.

Key Signings

Jeremiah Spicer - LB Riverside City College

Spicer’s road to professional football has been well documented. The former Spring League and XFL linebacker went from being homeless in Los Angeles to playing on national television with his hometown Wildcats. More recently, Spicer has played for the Orlando Predators of the National Arena League. car Almost two years ago, the tenacious defenseman was ejected from his vehicle during a car accident. Once again, his drive and determination lifted him from a seemingly hopeless situation back onto the football field. He will provide a strong veteran presence and a positive role model for younger players.

Deanthony Hall-Steele - DE/LB Friends University

Hall-Steele adds veteran indoor experience to the Oregon defense. He last played on the Oregon High Desert Storm indoor football team of the American West Football Conference. The Storm made it to the American West Bowl where they lost to the Idaho Horsemen. Hall-Steele was also a member of the West Texas Warbirds of the Lone Star Series where he brought home a championship.

The hybrid defenseman attended Friends University in Wichita, Kansas after transferring from Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock. He spent a short time playing semi-pro football for the West Texas Oilers of the Texas United Football League.

Connor Kaegi - QB Ottawa University

The 6-7 signal caller is no stranger to football indoors having spent time previously with the Jacksonville Sharks of the NAL. Additionally, he has spent time playing professionally for the Blues of TSL and spent last summer playing for the Berling Rebels. While in Germany, he led the Rebels to the playoffs and threw for 2,126 yards and 23 touchdowns in 11 games.

Kaegi brings a cannon arm and professional experience to the Blackbears. Add in some determined rushing, he ran for 336 and 6 touchdowns in Berlin, and you have a potential star in Oregon.

Franchise History

The Blackbears will be starting from scratch as an organization, but Oregon is no stranger to arena football. From 1997-1999, the Portland Forest Dragons participated in the AFL until their relocation to Oklahoma in the 2000 season. It would take 13 years before the Portland Thunder brought the AFL back to Oregon. The Thunder went on to make the playoffs for three straight seasons even after the league took over the team and changed its name to the Steel during the 2016 season.

Former Oregon Duck and current New York Giants linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux heads the ownership group for the Blackbears. Thibodeaux was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2019.

Washington Wolfpack

Location: Everett, WA

Arena Name and Capacity: Angel of the Winds Arena, 10,000

Head Coach: JR Wells

Fans of arena football in Everett will recognize Wells from his playing days with the Hawks. His most recent assignment has been as the offensive coordinator for the Everett Royals of the Gridiron Developmental Football League. Early in his career, Wells suffered a hand injury that almost required amputation. He battled back to go on to enjoy a seven-year career in the Arena Football League as a wide receiver.

Key Signings

Jacob Ta’ase - QB Central Washington University

Ta’ase is a local product playing quarterback at Ballard High School in Seattle. In his two varsity seasons, Ta’ase threw for 3,297 yards and 31 touchdowns. He went on to attend Central Washington University making the football roster as a quarterback. Ta’ase spent the next two seasons as a redshirt freshman at the wide receiver position. The Washington native does have quarterback experience in the indoor game. He has spent time with the Wenatchee Valley Skyhawks and the Oregon High Desert Storm of the American West Football Conference.

V.J. Malo - DE Portland State University

Malo is a ferocious defensive end from also from the Pacific Northwest. He set the single-season records for both tackles for loss (20) and sacks (10.5) in his time at Portland State University. Malo is a three-time All-American and a four-time All-Conference defensive end. Before attending Portland State, he earned JUCO All-American honors at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, California.

Franchise History

This will be the first attempt for the Wolfpack as a franchise. However, Everett has played host to several arena and indoor football teams in the past. Among them were the Everett Hawks who played in the af2, the Northwest Football League (NWFL), and the National Indoor Football League (NIFL) from 2002 until 2007. The city also contained the Everett Raptors of the Indoor Football League between 2010 and 2012.

Rapid City Marshals

Location: Rapid City, SD

Arena Name and Capacity: Summit Arena at The Monument, 10,000

Head Coach: Shon King

Coach King is a veteran of the game with several years of arena and indoor football experience both as a player, and a coach. From 2007-2009 he moved up the ranks from WR/Special Teams Coach to Offensive Coordinator, to Head Coach of the Quad City Steamwheelers of the af2. After spending time coaching high school, King returned to the indoor game as the DB/Special Teams Coach for the Tri-Cities Fever of the Indoor Football League. He took over the head coaching position of the Billings Outlaws in 2023 leading his team to the semifinals.

King was a wide receiver and defensive back from 1999-2004 in various indoor leagues. He was a member of the 2000 Quad City Steamwheelers who went a perfect 19-0 with an ArenaCup victory. The record-setting wideout had his jersey retired in appreciation of his efforts in his time with the Steamwheelers.

Franchise History

The Marshals have competed in the Champions Indoor Football League for the last two seasons. Overall they went 2-18 over the 2022 and 2023 seasons in the CIF. Rapid City has hosted indoor football before with various teams in the IFL, the NIFL, and the UIL (United Indoor Football).