Season ticket holders will gather tonight at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center in South Bethlehem to pick up season ticket packages, mingle with team staff, and learn more about the season to come. If you’re interested in season tickets, it’s not too late! Give a call and you can probably make arrangements to come and sign up at the gathering tonight!
Training camp is underway for the 2016 squad, as they prepare for their season opener–a special “kick-off classic” on Saturday March 5 at the PPL Center in downtown Allentown, versus the Philadelphia Yellowjackets at 7PM.
Prior to the start of training camp, I had the opportunity to sit down with SteelHawks General Manager and Executive VP Mike Clark for an exclusive Q&A regarding the upcoming season:
Kram: We’ve heard about the new league for this season (American Indoor Football) and why it was necessary. How are things going in the new league so far?
GM/VP Mike Clark: So far it’s been good. They’ve asked me to help out at the league-level with some of the newer teams and newer owners. But we’re excited. We’re excited with how the divisional alignments are split. It’s going to save us all on travel. Helping all teams on travel will help with the health of the league.
Kram: How does the talent level look in this league? Better? Worse? The same?
MC: I think you’ll see some of the established teams kind of take over–at least at the beginning of the season. Columbus, Florida, Philadelphia–I think we’re going to recognize a lot of the players, too. I mean, Philadelphia’s getting a lot of the Trenton players. The Triangle Torch team is getting a lot of the old Richmond Raiders–so we’re going to see a lot of names and faces that we recognize. And, with PIFL being gone, and the AFL dropping to only 8 teams this year, there’s been that ‘trickle down’–some of these AFL (Arena Football League, the highest level of indoor football) guys didn’t have a team to play for.
Kram: So with the demise–or at least hiatus–of the PIFL, were you able to grab some good players for us this year?
MC: Yeah. Yeah, a few. We targeted the ones we wanted to sign, and that went well. We’re also taking a slightly different approach this season, we did a lot of our own recruiting, bringing in some younger players who are talented enough to come in and contribute right away. One guy we were really happy to get back is from that really good offense in 2013, Tyrone Collins. He was All-League for us after only playing 9 games. He got pulled up to the AFL, so we didn’t have him for the playoffs. He’s coming back. Having him run routes next to Brandon Renford is gonna be good…really good…
Kram: Well that was going to be my next question–which player are you most excited to see play for the SteelHawks in 2016? Collins, then?
MC: Yeah Collins, he has to be one of the ones I’m most excited about. And then the new quarterback we’re bringing in…
Kram: Yeah, OK, you’re one step ahead of me. Before we talk about QBs let’s get to defense: You’ve always had one of the better defenses in the league. Can we expect that to continue? Do you have any exciting defenders coming in?
MC: Yeah, I mean, any time you can get the league sack leader back to play for you, you know, we got Larry Ford coming back. We’ve got some big boys. We brought back Tahir Basil. He was our nose guard last year; he pushed the line–played for Lafayette. That’s 2/3 of your all-league defensive line coming back. That’s always a good start. And what we decided–a little different this year–we went with a lot more size at the corners, and the back end. We’ve got guys 6’0″-6’2″ playing back there. We went really heavy with receiver and DB for camp, and then that will be just the battle of training camp.
Kram: OK, so now the big question: Who do you have coming in to play QB this year?
MC: He lives in Ohio. His name is Clay Belton. He’s 6’6″ 230lbs and he can run. One little difference, though, we’ve never had a lefty QB. But, this kid’s been in camp with the Miami Dolphins, played in Europe, won a championship there. He played the majority of his college ball and the University of Findlay, OH, a I-AA school, but he was at the University of Maryland for a while.
Kram: Now, the last couple years here–and it happens in the NFL too–you need more than one QB. Do you have a good backup lined up?
MC: We did and that’s why. But some things with the contract fell through. But yeah, we’ll definitely have two more quarterbacks in camp. We have a good relationship with the Philly Soul–we get invited to their workouts all the time, and they’ve got a couple of QBs they like, but they can’t keep them all, so, we’ll be good.
Kram: I’ve heard a rumor here, and I hope it’s not true. I heard about new uniforms, but there’s no truth to the rumor that they will be orange, right?
MC: (Laughs) Gosh, no. There’s going to be no changing to orange, but there will be a new alternate uniform.
Kram: Last year was your first at the PPL Center. Any changes to the arena or the way the games will be presented this season?
MC: Not really. I mean, night and day going over there, and the way they treat us. A lot of the people behind the scenes, who do all the work to get everything prepped and…it’s been such a relief for our staff. We don’t have to go in and build the field before the games.
Kram: I noticed that lacrosse game, they used your field. How’d that work out?
MC: I mean, it was fine. That wasn’t the original plan. They were going to bring the old Philadelphia Wings turf and it didn’t work. So we worked it out. They really liked it.
Kram: How is the Junior League SteelHawks looking this season?
MC: Filling up. Last year we had four teams, this season ten. They’ll play before select SteelHawks games. They’ll have a five-game season where they’ll have four of the games in the PPL Center and another at one of our practice venues. The teams from that league will be on the field, something like 8AM to 2PM, then we’ll start setting up for our game.
Kram: Could you have them play at half-time, so that some of us could see the games?
MC: We wanted to do something like that, but the fact that these kids and families take it very seriously, and we can’t time it out to give them a full game and make it fair.
Kram: So they’ve got a new “air horn” over at the arena, did you hear about that? It’s a Mack Truck thing for goals. Will you make use of that for the SteelHawks games?
MC: Oh my, I didn’t know about that. Yeah, I need to check with them about that. That sounds cool.
Kram: Thanks man, good luck this season.
See you at the arena,