Albany Conquest hope experience pays off in opener

Relying on their eight players with pro experience for leadership, the Albany Conquest open the aren

Relying on their eight players with pro experience for leadership, the Albany Conquest open the arenafootball2 season

tonight against the Mahoning Valley Thunder at the Chevrolet Centre in Youngstown, Ohio.

First-year head coach Jeff Hoffman said that opening up on the road should help strengthen the Conquest’s already solid team chemistry.

“Like I said earlier in the week, the big thing when we put this team together was team chemistry.

Everything we’ve done so far leads me to believe that when we hit tough times, like you often do on the road, that our guys will play together and play for each other. Playing your first game on the road is often a good thing. I just wish we didn’t have a bye [next week] so early in the season.”

The Conquest, who were 6-10 last year, are idle next week, and will play April 13 at the Times Union Center in their home opener against Peoria.

Hoffman said that the number of returning players on the Conquest roster is about normal for this league.

“You usually see between seven and 11 players back,” he said. The roster limit for af2 teams is 22, with 19 available for each game.

Leading the way for Albany will be former Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute quarterback Dan Cole, who completed 671 of 1,202 passes for 8,902 yards and 87 touchdowns for the Engineers. He was the backup QB for the Conquest a year ago.

Cole’s primary targets will be Antwun Williams and Jared Jones. Williams, a 6-foot-3, 190-pounder from Virginia State, tied for 10th in the league with 33 receiving touchdowns. He finished with 36 TDs overall and was second on the team in receptions (110) and receiving yards (1,242).

Jones, a Syracuse University graduate, led the league in kick return average (24.2) a year ago and caught 12 passes for 144 yards as a backup receiver.

Aharon Kiett, a Kean University graduate, is one of the top defensive backs for the Conquest. He made 37.5 tackles in nine games, and despite missing seven games because of injury, still ranked second on the team in pass breakups with eight.

Also back in the secondary is Clarence Curry from Villanova. Curry played for the Conquest a year ago, and he also has indoor experience with the Nashville Kats, the New Orleans Voodoo and the Philadelphia Soul. He appeared in one game for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals in 2004.

The Conquest’s most exper­ienced position will be on the line, where 6-0, 320-pound Leo Sullivan, 6-4, 315-pound Markus Ferguson and 6-1, 305-pound Ed Greene each have af2 playing time. Sullivan, a Stony Brook graduate, played for the Bakersfield Blitz last year. Greene, a Broadalbin native who went to Hofstra, played for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers in 2006, while Ferguson, from Lynchburg, Va., played 14 games for the Conquest a year ago.

Schenectady High School and University at Albany graduate

Jacob Hobbs (6-4, 315) will also be a mainstay on the line.

Another important player for the Conquest will be placekicker Jason Fralicker, a UAlbany graduate who broke his own single-season record with 15 field goals for the Great Danes last year.

The Thunder, 7-9 in their first season in the af2, are coached by veteran Mike Hold.

Key players for the Thunder are quarterback Mike Schneider, from Youngstown State, who completed 159 of 269 passes for 1,766 yards and 31 TDs last year; wideout DeMarcus Mathes, who caught 71 passes for 1,027 yards and 17 scores; and running back Tim Murphy, who rushed for 343 yards and 14 TDs.

“I’ve known Mike Hold for a long time,” said Hoffman. “He has been in this league even longer than I have, and I’ve been coaching in the af2 since 1997. They’ll have good players and good talent. I know they will play a 3-2 front and use both man-to-man and zone coverages against us.

“In this game, the team that makes the fewer mistakes will win.”

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