The Richmond Roughriders kicked off their inaugural season in a big way by finishing with a perfect record and an Arena Pro Football Championship earlier this summer. Now, as the off-season dominoes fall in the ever-changing arena football world, the Roughriders are looking to take things up another notch.
“The league we were in last year is actually merging with another league called the AAL,” Roughriders owner Gregg Fornario told Developmental Football USA. “We are personally taking a little bit of the off-season to really check out what league we want to be in and right now the choices are pretty much the AAL or the NAL. We want to play with the best competition, but I’m not favoring one league over the other right now.”
While Richmond was dominant in Year 1, beating teams by as many as 92 points, they almost saw their title slip away in the final seconds of the APF Championship Game as the Florida Tarpons were driving for the would-be go-ahead touchdown. That is until linebacker Malique Johnson sealed the deal with a pick-six on a tipped pass to run away with a 74-61 win.
“That was one of the best games I’ve been a part of in all of sports,” Fornario said. “At the end of the day, their quarterback played amazing, flawless football, Chris Wallace. It really did come down to who was going to hold the ball last or who would make a mistake. The crowd was into it, it was an emotional game. At one point I said to myself, win or lose, this is one of the most amazing games I’ve been around, so thank God we won that game.”
In addition to the APF Championship, quarterback Jimmy Laughrea was named APF Offensive Player of the Year and Keonte Hollis took home the APF Defensive Player of the Year award.
“Those two guys really did stand up in the championship game,” Fornario said. “Jimmy had seven touchdown passes and Keonte was the guy with like 20 seconds left, he hit the quarterback’s arm of the Tarpons to make him throw a duck up in the air to get picked at the end of the game. They did it all year long and showed up in the championship game as well.”
While the Roughriders 2017 season was one to never be forgotten, the front office has already put this year’s successes behind them as they to continue to raise the bar and build onto their championship brand.
“Come August, we’ll have a coaches and owners meeting and evaluate every player and see who we want to bring back and try to go from there,” Fornario said. “The way I look at things – I know we were undefeated, I know we won a championship, but I plan on playing in a more competitive league, so therefore, we’ve still got to get better in every position. We still need to bring in guys to help us get to the level we want to be at.”
This season, the Roughriders brought in players from Texas, California and Florida that were keys in their championship run, but that’s not always as simple as Richmond made it look this year.
“Just by seeing film, it all panned out,” Fornario said. “Sometimes you look at film and it’s not what the film said, but these guys all really worked out for us.”
With a higher level of competition and more at stake, plans are already in the works for the Roughriders to get first-hand player evaluations at different stops around the country as they build their 2018 roster later this fall.
“One thing we’re going to do this year, being in our second year, we’re not going to just do a tryout in our home city of Richmond,” Fornario said. “We’re looking to do a tryout in Texas, a tryout in Los Angeles and a tryout in Florida as well. That will take place from September to January and we’ll put it all together. No dates are set yet. We know where we want to go, we just have to see what locations work best.”