By Jay Luster
Somewhere between fighter pilot, infantry brigade commander, and orchestra maestro, you’ll find the quarterback. It’s a singular position in the world of sports. No player on any field, court, or ice can dominate the play and the imagination in quite the same way. From the first moment in the huddle to the referees whistle signaling the end of the play, he’s the guy the fans, cameras, and players of both teams focus on like a laser. He is the Field General, who transmits the plan to the troops then through grit and guile sets the plan in motion and makes the decisions that lead to success or failure. Over the years the indoor world has featured some of the most amazing QB’s to ever take the field on any level of football. This year the upstart American Arena League will feature a group of players who dominated in high school and college, spent time with NFL teams, played in the CFL, and have won championships in the close quarters of arena ball. We’re going to look at the QBs from teams who either won, or were runner-ups, in their league last season, or have improved their roster at the most important position.
Michael Eubanks, Atlanta Havoc
An expansion team who joined the league a couple of months ago, they’ve quietly put together a solid roster of players. Wide Receiver Thyron Lewis, is considered to be one of the best at his positions in all of arena football. In order to convince a guy like T-Lew to sign with the team, they needed to find someone who could get him the ball. The man they chose is Michael Eubanks. An Arizona State transferee, Eubanks shined in his two years at Samford where he passed for 3,568 yards, 22 touchdowns, with another 7 on the ground. Out of college, he was an undrafted free agent who earned a tryout with the Carolina Panthers. While his NFL dream has yet to come true, success with the Havoc will propel the new franchise into the AAL limelight.
Shon Chisom, Triangle Torch
Last season the team from Raleigh, North Carolina was undefeated in SIF league play. The only in-season loss they suffered came at the hands of the Richmond Roughriders in an out of league road game taken on short notice. Their QB, Garrett Sutphen, was a decent player who also had a penchant for making head scratching decisions in critical situations. After their loss to the Cape Fear Heroes in the SIF Championship they made the move to upgrade the position which had led them to heartbreak. With Sutphen out, the team signed former Vermont Buck, Shon Chisom. The Torch, following the old Oakland Raiders bigger is better model is putting together a team of giants. At 6’6 and 240 pounds, the Kentucky Wesleyan Panther, and former Vermont Buck fits the profile. Reminiscent of Drew Bledsoe with better running skills, he is an accurate downfield thrower with leadership skills. With the improvements they’ve made on both sides of the ball, it wouldn’t be surprising if the team competed for the AAL Championship.
Daryll Clark, Cape Fear Heroes
Last year’s SIF Champion, the Cape Fear Heroes, realized they needed to upgrade their roster if they were going to compete in the AAL. They finished the season in second place then became hot at exactly the right moment to bring home the ring. Knowing you can’t plan on catching lightning in a bottle, they’ve signed standout QB Daryll Clark. After graduating from Penn State, the undrafted free agent had a tryout with the Washington Redskins. Although he didn’t make the team, the four-time Big 10 Offensive Player of the Week has had a respectable indoor career, including stops at Omaha, Chicago, and Myrtle Beach. Clark is a dual threat QB who, when surrounded by the right cadre of coaches and players, is more than capable of bringing both the thunder and the lightning the Heroes are looking for.
Darren Daniel, High Country Grizzlies
Last year, Daniel led the Columbus Lions early and effectively before being benched and replaced by Mason Espinosa. A source close to the situation says the benching was primarily due to an off the field disagreement between Daniel and the team. Whatever the case, when Daniel ca
me free, he was quickly signed by the Grizzlies. A capable starter, Daniel’s role was cemented when OC James Fuller took the job in Maine and brought QB Jonathan Bane with him. Long and lanky with a strong arm, Daniel is an able runner and when called upon, an efficient wide receiver.
Chris Wallace, Florida Tarpons.
At 42, Wallace is the elder statesman of the AAL premier QB class. His championship career includes stops in the AFL, AF2, and as a head coach. Last year, he returned to the Tarpons mid-season and led them to the APF Championship game in Richmond against the Roughriders. A fiery
leader, he is tough, durable, and a deadly accurate passer. He kept the Tarpons in the seesaw championship battle all night before succumbing to the pass rushing pressure of the Riders front 4. This year he is on a mission, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he notched up another championship.
Rakeem Cato, Richmond Roughriders
A graduate of Marshall University, Cato tied or broke many of the schools QB records, including yards, 14,079, and TDs, 131. Out of college, he was signed by the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL. In two seasons north of the border, he completed nearly 69 percent of his passes for 3,570 yards, 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Cato was released at the end of the 2016 season and has landed in Richmond with the Roughriders. In 2014 his last year a Marshall he ran for 8 TDs and nearly 400 yards. While he didn’t get out of the pocket a lot in Canada, the 6’0 tall 200lb, Cato ought to be a rushing threat on every play on the abbreviated indoor playing surface. Though he is untried in arena football, and a little small, he is feisty and has a strong and accurate arm. If he can adjust to the quick pace and claustrophobic field size, Richmond might have their own arena version of Doug Flutie.