The Avondale Reapers’ inaugural season one year ago didn’t go anything like they planned as they limped into the last week of the season with only one win and couldn’t even finish the final game against the Phoenix Phantoms due to injuries.
“We showed up with 13 players and three guys got injured, so we couldn’t finish the game,” Reapers owner Tyler Jaquez told Developmental Football USA. “We have unfinished business. That’s exactly what it really is. We wanted to keep going, but also we had to look out for the safety of our players.”
For that reason and their 1-9 record, some teams may be counting out the Reapers as a legitimate contender in the Arizona Cactus Football League, but the Reapers feel otherwise.
“We’ve got a lot to prove this year,” Jaquez said. “I’ve been telling my players that we’ve got to show we belong.”
The No. 6 Reapers will have a chance at redemption early as they open up the season next weekend against none other than the No. 8 Phoenix Phantoms.
“That’s the No. 1 game that we’re all looking forward to,” Jaquez said. “We weren’t able to finish that game last year, so that’s something we’re all looking forward to.”
Avondale finds themselves in what is unquestionably the toughest division in the league with the defending champion Southwest Stampede, the No. 2 Kalvary Lions and the No. 5 South Phoenix Runnin’ Rebels.
“We’re definitely ready,” Jaquez said. “We’re looking pretty good, 100 times better than last year. We got something to prove this year. I really think we have one of the hardest schedules. We definitely have one of the hardest divisions. We’re going to come to all these games hard, 100. Our expectations are pretty high. We want to come out of the gate and show the league we belong here.”
Like most teams at this level, the Reapers made plenty of changes during the off-season that have given them a new outlook for the 2019 season.
“We’ve got a different game plan and we’ve got new coaches this year,” Jaquez said. “We learned a lot last year with all the different looks we were given. We learned not to quit, not to give up and that’s something good for us moving forward. Especially the guys coming back from last year, that’s in the past, this is a new team, a new look, a new year and we’re ready.”
The Reapers’ combination of returning players and added acquisitions has Jaquez confident that 2019 will be much different.
“We picked up some big free agents, so I’m really excited about this year,” Jaquez said. “My center Troy McCubbin, he came over from the Stampede and he’s one of the best centers in the league and one of the best captains.”
McCubbin will lead what could be a dominant line for the Reapers.
“Our line is nasty,” Jaquez said. “It’s really good this year. That’s something we improved. It was something I wanted to go out and recruit myself and I went out there and did it.”
Left to right the offensive line will feature Aaron Joseph at left tackle, Raul Nevarez at left guard, McCubbin at center, Addison Stokes at right guard and Ismael Guzman at right tackle.
“If I can name six guys I think will be big for us, I would say my whole offensive line and my quarterback,” Jaquez said. “Those are my guys. My quarterback, Juan Conley, is young. He’s 18, but I have confidence in him.”
Defensively, Jaquez believes the strength of that phase of the game to fall on the shoulders of his linebackers.
“My linebacker core is amazing this year,” Jaquez said. “We picked up Xavier Covarrubio, Jay Wright, we picked him up – a key free agent – and we got a linebacker that made the All-Star Game last year. We call him ‘Bam Bam’ because he can hit. His name is Dwayne Gaither.”
That defense will be put to the test plenty this year in the Reapers division, which in their opinion contains the toughest two opponents of anybody.
“The Stampede at No. 1 is a known team, a championship team,” Jaquez said. “The Rebels picked up a lot of players this year. Those would be the two guys, the two top teams, and both of them are some of our main rivals. Those two teams are up there and will be up there in the playoffs.”
After months of anticipation, the AZCFL kicks off its inaugural season in less than one week.
“This league is amazing so far,” Jaquez said. “It’s definitely proving to be one of the best leagues. I love it. I love being here and being part of the league with all my peers around, John (Polchin) with the Outlaws, Ed (Love) with the Rebels. It feels good to even be mentioned in the mix, way better than last year.”
With a new look and key additions on both sides of the ball, the Reapers are eager to prove this isn’t the same team as last year.
“Our three things that we do stand by is to stay humble, stay hungry and stay focused,” Jaquez said. “One key word is family. That’s what we’re all about. Stay humble, stay focused, stay hungry.”