Old is new for the Duke City Gladiators as they welcome back record-setting quarterback Nate Davis after an early-season knee injury sidelined him for most of last season.
Likewise, head coach Fred Griggs has had the interim removed from his title and takes over the reins for the Indoor Football League team that plays its home opener Saturday against the Frisco Fighters at the Rio Rancho Events Center.
“It’s been going better than I imagined,” Griggs said. “As fast as our guys have been buying in and doing what they need to for us to be successful.”
Griggs was a linebacker on the team when it won back-to-back Champions Indoor Football league titles before he moved into coaching. So he understands the players’ perspective.
“When I played, the hunger was there,” he said. “Some of these guys were in the same exact spot as I was then and now they’re ready to get something out of it.”
The Gladiators opened the season with a 43-35 win last week over Northern Arizona.
And it was obvious that Davis’ return had a big impact on the offense, even as his replacement last season, Ramone Atkins out of New Mexico Highlands, performed better than could have been expected.
What Atkins didn’t possess, however, was the knowledge and championship pedigree that Davis brings to the field, Griggs said.
And that even carried over to the defense, he said.
“These guys have motivation and experience with Nate, Griggs said, “so they played a lot harder.”
There will be new faces in the receiving corps, with Xavier Amey and Vincent Gregory both getting their opportunities to step into the limelight this season.
And newcomer Gary Brown looks like a star in the making after he had two touchdown catches in his debut last week.
“He’s a raw talent in the game,” Griggs said. “He’s definitely a playmaker. He makes plays nobody expects him to make. I haven’t seen one defensive back that’s been able to take him down. It takes two or three players to get him down. He’s that fighter, that dog we need on offense.”
Still, if it is defense that wins championships, the Gladiators’ defense has Griggs particularly excited.
“Six of the eight starters from last year are back,” he said. “Those guys are working together. They played a whole season together and made it to the playoffs with a rookie quarterback. We have a lot of good pieces. It’s a pretty experienced team right now.”
Leading the defense, again, will be local legend Jayson Serda, a linebacker who played at Manzano and Eastern New Mexico.
And Griggs is expecting a breakout season from Byron Cooper on the defensive line. Cooper filled in admirably two seasons ago when Serda was hurt, but has been searching for a position since. Griggs moved him up front and he looks like a quarterback-seeking machine, the coach said.
“He’s definitely undersized, but he plays big,” Griggs said. “He plays humongous for us.”
NOTE: The Gladiators will conduct a Kickoff Kids Camp on Sunday at the Events Center for players from 5-15. To register: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/576344731607.