The 2017 Rio Grande Football League playoff picture is certain to look different than it did one year ago. With last year’s champions, Sun City Reapers, closing doors and last year’s finalist, the West Texas Pride, joining the Minor Professional Football League, this year’s title race is wide open.
At least on the surface of things.
Beneath the surface, the Las Cruces Kings, the league’s 2015 Champion and a semi-finalist from one year ago, are ready to take back the title.
“We will be 2017 Champions,” Kings general manager Richard Brown told Developmental Football USA. “We’re coming for everybody in the RGFL and they’d better be ready because the Kings are coming.”
Barring a crazy upset, the Kings are a pretty-sure pick to return to the championship game to represent the West Division. The East Division is a bit more uncertain, with the West Texas Drillers, West Texas Scorpions and Lubbock Liberty Eagles joining the league.
“The West Texas Drillers, they’re my new target,” Brown said. “The Drillers are always in it. I love this competition, I love the new competition. We played the Drillers in 2016 before the season started. Here in Las Cruces, we have a mentality, we will take on anybody, anytime, anywhere.
“When we took on the Drillers, we took on a Texas juggernaut. To go 1-7 (in 2014), then to take on the Drillers, that was risky. We scored more on the Drillers – 12 points – than anyone had in three years. We dropped that, then dropped the opening game to the Reapers (in 2015), then went on a 9-game winning streak to win the league.”
Brown is a little less familiar with the Scorpions, and the Eagles have yet to play a game, so they’re a bit of an unknown too.
“I know nothing of the West Texas Scorpions, other than what I’ve read and their records,” Brown said. “I don’t pay any attention to that because it’s a new year. Lubbock is beefing up, it’s anybody’s ball game this year.”
The El Paso Sun Devils picked up some of the former Reapers players, so they could pose more of a threat to the Kings than they did one year ago.
“We’re projected contenders, I’d give that to us and the Armor,” Brown said. “The thing with the Reapers breaking up, their players went everywhere. They’re no longer the unit that they were. The West Texas Lions got a couple, I think a lot of them went back to the Sun Devils because a lot of them originally came from there. It’s going to be highly interesting how the El Paso teams do.”
This season, the Kings will be without veteran gunslinger Ryan Farley, who has moved to California. However, Brown still feels confident with their situation at quarterback.
“We picked up a new guy, Conrad Collins, and our tight end from last year, Josh Mederios, that’s what he played in California,” Brown said. “He took a couple of California teams to bowls. Both are dynamic players, but Josh is more of a pocket passer.”
Aside from Farley, don’t expect too many changed offensively for the Kings.
“We got quite a few playmakers,” Brown said. “We got a fellow out of Florida who did really well for us last year, he got a little injured and kind of sat out a few games. We’ve got Bryant Jones, he’s very dynamic. Our fullback comes from the Amarillo team, Andrew Ray, he’s a beast.
“Our wide receivers, Marcus Allen, he’s a beast, Jacob Cruz. We pretty much return the same team. A few guys are taking a leave, like Jason Hays, No. 7, but we’ve brought on some new guys that are looking good. If you gave him the ball, he was going to truck you, he’s a beast. We are missing some things, but as GM that’s my job to fill those needs and we’re filling in nicely.”
With the Drillers joining the league, it’ll be interesting to see who finishes the year with the league’s No. 1 defense – a title the Kings have held for the past two season.
“We’ve had the No. 1 defense for two years running and we have all the same players plus some on defense,” Brown said. “We’ve got No. 33 Trey Bennett, Marcus Allen, Cedric Samuel. At linebacker, we brought in one of our new cats from New York, Corey Rivers. We’ve got defensive end Will Allen, he’s a sure five to ten tackles a game, with forced fumbles and sacks. That dude’s an animal. Him and his brother both play for us, his brother John Allen had most of our receiving touchdowns last year. You can’t catch that guy once he catches the ball.
“We’re stacked on defense. That’s something we’ve never really had an issue with. Even through our bad years, our defense has always been stellar. Larry Cesar, our strong safety, is a real strong safety.”
With a fairly loaded roster on both sides, Brown doesn’t feel a specific team is standing in the Kings’ way of a championship. If there is, then it’s the one wearing orange and green.
“The way I see it, as far as an obstacle in front of us, we are our own worst enemy,” Brown said. “Nobody can beat a Kings team except the Kings. That’s the way it’s been the last two years I’ve been here. We shoot ourselves in the foot, that’s our worst issue. Last year when we lost the divisional championship before the bowl, I knew to an extent we were going to lose that game because we were playing angry, and you can’t play like that, you have to play focused.”
With the on-field operations now going steady for the past few years, Brown is spending extra attention on reaching out to the community, something the Kings have done for years.
“We’re constantly in the community,” Brown said. “I use football as a platform to help the community. Anybody that calls me, I try to help. Even if I can’t help everybody, I always try. This community means so much to me, we do at least 20 events a year.
“This is a huge football town. Two of our high schools have one of the top 10 high school rivalries in the country. If we can pack a stadium of 20,000 in Aggie Stadium, why can’t we do this for us? I’ve had guys that have come from every high school in town, and I have former college players from the Aggies here. It’s an all-star Las Cruces team, we should be able to pack the house and that’s my goal. We have a stadium for the high schools and it’s the only turf stadium besides the college and my goal is to fill that thing up.”