The Indoor Football League (IFL) is one of the most prestigious operations in the United States — it spans across nine states — and the Spokane Empire are looking to once again make their mark.
The Empire, coached by Adam Shackleford, are coming off a 2016 season that saw them go 12-4 with an Intense Conference Championship. They went on to meet the champions of the United Conference, the Sioux Falls Storm, in the United Bowl, losing 55-34 at the Denny Sanford Premier Center.
It was undoubtedly a tough loss for the Empire, perhaps made just a little bit easier by the fact that 2016 was Spokane’s inaugural season in the IFL. Sioux Falls also entered that game as a five-time defending IFL champion, which is something else to consider.
Looking ahead to 2017, there’s even more to consider when evaluating the Empire, though. Shackleford and his organization will be returning 10 players from last season’s roster, and as a result, expectations are extremely high.
“With 10 returners from 2016 on the roster to open training camp and the addition of a talented group of veterans and rookies, we’re looking to make another run to the United Bowl Championship,” team General Manager Ryan Eucker told DFUSA in a written statement.
Offensively, the Empire will be lead by former Saginaw Valley State quarterback Charles, Dowdell (6-foot, 200 pounds), who started all 16 of the team’s regular season games in 2016. He completed 263-of-425 passes on the season for 2,738 yards and 63 touchdown passes, which was tied for first in the IFL.
Dowdell was a huge part of Spokane’s offense, but he was helped out by returning IFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Trevor Kennedy.
Kennedy, who’s a 6-foot, 205 pound running back, rushed for 720 yards and 28 rushing touchdowns in 2016, and this was despite missing the team’s final three games. He also caught 35 passes for 273 yards and nine touchdowns.
Defensively, the Empire are led by former Central Florida defensive lineman Toby Jackson and four-year IFL pro Robert Brown.
Jackson, who checks in at a hefty 6-foot-4, 265 pounds, totaled 27.5 tackles (17 solo), nine tackles for loss, four sacks, two forced fumbles, two blocked kicks and a fumble recovery last season for Spokane. He’s a big body on the defensive line for the Empire, and he undoubtedly makes it much harder for opposing offenses to get things done, especially the quarterbacks. And if Jackson can’t get the job done, Brown, a defensive back, surely will. He’s only 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, but he notched a team-leading 104 total tackles and seven interceptions (T-2nd in the IFL) in 2016. He also played a role on special teams, taking back 17 kicks for an average of 15.4 yards per return.
Dowdell, Kennedy, Jackson and Brown all project to play huge roles for Spokane this season, and with six other high-impact players returning along with them as well as a handful of indoor veterans and newcomers, the Empire should be the favorites to once again win the Intense Conference and make their way back to the United Bowl — and this time they might even win it all.
As a league, the IFL has been around since 2003. Entering its ninth season of professional indoor football, the league features the Cedar Rapids Titans, Arizona Rattlers, Green Bay Blizzard, Colorado Rush, Iowa Barnstormers, Nebraska Danger, Sioux Falls Storm, Salt Lake Screaming Eagles, Wichita Falls Nighthawks, and, of course, Spokane.