By Jay Luster
“I came into this arena last year for the championship game and the energy was great. I thought maybe this is something I should try and get involved in.”
Since their undefeated 2016 season and thrilling APF Championship victory over the Florida Tarpons ended; the Richmond Roughriders have become the talk of the arena football world. Early in the off season rumors the team would move to the National Arena League seemed to be proven true when an announcement was made through social media. Not long after, the team announced it was passing up the NAL to join the new American Arena League. Created by a merger of several small leagues, the AAL is also the home of the Can-Am Champion Vermont Bucks and the SIF Champion Cape Fear Heroes. Realizing the team needed to improve if they wished to compete at the higher level, Owner Gregg Fornario said, “We’re a championship organization with a target on our back, and we’re embracing that challenge.”
During their 2017 end of season evaluation, they realized if they wanted to win in the new league they would
need to make some upgrades throughout the organization. One of the areas they identified was bolstering the coaching staff by adding a Defensive Coordinator. The man they signed is Marvin Jones. Riders Head Coach, Mook Zimmerman said, “Marvin played at Florida St. where he was a 2x All-American. Then, he was the 4th overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft, and he played 11 seasons in the NFL as an All-Pro LB with the NY Jets.” The former Head Coach of the IFL team The Colorado Crush, became available when that team folded at the end of the 2017 season. Fornario added, “once we realized he was no longer with Colorado, I reached out to him on social media and grabbed him.”
To bolster their talent on the field, the team plucked two players off of the Iowa Barnstormers roster. They signed 1st Team All-IFL Defensive End Ra’Shawde Myers. Fornario said, “He was just ½ a sack away from leading the IFL.” They also signed 2nd team All-IFL DB, from Iowa, Jamie Bender. On the other side of the ball, they signed Wide Receiver Damon Powell from The Cedar Rapids Titans. Named 1st Team All-IFL, Powell led the league with 22 TD receptions. With 2017 APF Offensive Player of the Year, QB Jimmy Laughrea, off chasing his CFL dream, the team needed to address the QB position. The first guy they signed was Alcorn State quarterback John Gibbs, Jr. A few weeks later, the team signed QB Rakeem Cato. After a record-setting career at Marshall University, Cato went on to play two seasons with the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL. With returning
players like offensive stars WR Daniel Lee and OL/TE James Carter Sr. and APF Defensive Player of the Year, DE Keontae Hollis returning, the Roughriders seem to have put themselves on a trajectory to be one of the best teams in the league for 2018.
With the coaching staff and the roster shaping up, the team began to turn their attention to what ownership could do to improve the teams’ financial position. Despite their undefeated championship run in 2017, ownership reported they were operating in the red, and that was the driving factor in their NAL/AAL decision. Raising the profile of the team was a necessity, and that is where fate seemed to intervene on their behalf. As the host of the 2017 APF Championship game, the team brought in ROC Nation rap star Jim Jones to perform at halftime. Jones said, “I came into this arena last year for the championship game, and the energy was great. I thought maybe this is something I should try and get involved in.” So he reached out to owners Gregg Fornario and Mike Kacor to see about joining the team. After negotiations ended and Jones was onboard as a minority owner, he immediately began drawing attention to his newest venture. He reached out to former NFL QB’s Johnny Manziel and Colin Kaepernick to
see if they would be interested in joining the team. While the odds of either of those guys coming to Richmond are laughably low, the ploy worked. Media outlets running the gambit from TMZ and Bleacher Report all the way to USA Today, reported the story, and it soon became a national buzz. At the press conference introducing Jones to Richmond, he said, “I haven’t heard from him (Kaepernick), but we made every headline in sports news this morning. He didn’t get to play this year in the NFL, and in arena football, he can keep his skills up to par, break some records, have some fun, and the kids will come out to see him. I mean this is what he’s all about, so maybe he might reply.” His response, while not altogether tongue in cheek, drew some laughter among the assembled press. When asked if he was going to sign Kaepernick, Head Coach, Mook Zimmerman laughed and said, “We’re going to do what’s best for the organization.”
Along with Jim Jones, Marvin Jones and the plethora of All-Stars they’ve added to an already strong roster, the Richmond Roughriders will have all eyes on them this coming season.