The Oklahoma Monarchs shocked the developmental football world in 2016 by winning the Xtreme Football League of Oklahoma Championship in their very first year. Now that the team from Tulsa is no longer a mystery, everyone in the league is gunning to take down the defending champions.
Earlier this week, Yukon Bobcats made a statement of confidence that they can knock off the defending champions in Week 1. For the Monarchs, those type of call-outs just come with the territory.
“Everyone appreciates a little bit of bulletin board material from time to time,” Monarchs co-owner Gary Joice told Developmental Football USA. “We’re just as excited about it that they are. It’s no secret when you win the championship to have the proverbial X on your back. I know those guys are going to come in focused. (Bobcats owner Dillon Louk) has done a great job done there. I’m excited for them and I’m excited to play them week one.”
The Monarchs returned 32 of the 48 players from last year’s championship roster and have also added several key newcomers across the board.
“On paper we look good, but we try not to preach championships,” Joice said. “What the Monarchs are, our goal is to be competitive week in and week out.”
Last year the Monarchs certainly achieved their goal, partially because a lot of teams overlooked them since expansion teams typically don’t do so hot in their first developmental football season, much less win the championship.
“I’ve been involved in minor league football at different levels in different parts of the country for a long time and I’ve been lucky enough to have some success, so I think people kind of paid some attention to us early on,” Joice said. “We made some crucial signings of veterans at key positions early on, but I don’t think many people expected us to win the championship early on.
“We snuck up on some people, so there was some shock factor there. This year we don’t get that privilege, so it makes for a whole different dynamic for sure.”
The defending XFL Champions roster is loaded with players with prior arena, Division II and NAIA college football experience, and it starts with a headliner at quarterback.
“We’re returning our quarterback Steven Hamilton,” Joice said. “He spent some time back in the old AFL2 days back with the Tulsa Talons as the practice squad quarterback and he was able to get some starts with the Oklahoma Defenders, then went on to win three league championships and a national championship with the Joplin Crusaders in the Central Football League. He had a great year last year. We played nine games last year, I don’t remember the yardage total, but he had 18 touchdowns to two interceptions.”
Hamilton looks to connect with one of his primary targets, 6-foot-4, 240-pound superathlete Patrick Jones who has unique story about his path to the Monarchs.
“Everybody knows him as Packy Jones,” Joice said. “He never played football through high school or any of that stuff. He went and was a college basketball player at Saint Gregory’s in Shawnee. He’s the all-time leading scorer there. He never played football until he tried out for the Oklahoma Defenders indoor team and went on to set league records there, having never played football before. He signed on with us, had a great year and scored several touchdowns as key moments last year.
Former Southern Nazarene star and Broken Arrow native, right tackle Mike Edwards anchors an offensive line that returns all five starters from one year ago. Edwards was voted team captain last season.
Defensively the Monarchs run a 3-4 look, so they’ll be relying on a mean nose guard to clog the middle and they have that in Jamel Walker.
“He was a standout high school player and high school wrestler,” Joice said. “He went on to play some Division II football. He’s a great, great kid with a great work ethic. He really makes our defense go with him anchoring the middle.”
Outside linebacker Cody Zickefoose played at Arkansas Tech University and leads a solid linebacker unit for the Monarchs.
“He’s a very quiet, lead-by-example guy,” Joice said. “He’s your typical, bring your lunch pail to work, clock in clock out, blue collar type guy. He doesn’t say a whole lot, but he’s very productive. Last year he was number two on our team in tackles and ranked in the top three in sacks. He’s just a very dependable, hard-working, consistent football player.”
Another pillar of the Monarch’s defense is 2016 tackles leader, Robert Dansby, who played for Northeastern Oklahoma State junior college.
“He’s a kid I was fortunate enough to coach in high school,” Joice said. “He’s kind of the speed and agility behind our big nose guard that makes everything in the middle go for us.”
With a target on their backs every single game, it’ll be a task for the Monarchs to repeat as XFL Champions, but it’s one they’re up to. The 2015 Champions and 2016 Finalist Kansas Cougars may have a little something to say about that.
The Cougars handed the Monarchs their only loss last season, 20-12 on March 12, but the Monarchs got the final word by scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 27 seconds left to win the championship game 28-24.
“They have a great program up there and do everything the right way,” Joice said. “Without question, they’re going to come at us full tilt. They were the 2015 XFL Champion and we took that from them, so they’re going to come at us ready to go.”
A few teams that have just joined the league in 2017 could also pose a threat to the Monarchs planned title defense.
“The Oklahoma City Elite and Oklahoma Nightmare,” Joice said. “Both originally started in the XFL, went to CFL and had some success and have come back to XFL and I look for them to cause some noise.
“To throw in kind of a wildcard or a dark horse, the Oklahoma Redwolves from Prague. They kind of have some of the same characteristics we were lucky to have last year. They’re a young team, but owned by a veteran group of guys. They have a great coaching staff and there’s no question they’re going to be very competitive. I think there’s a lot of people overlooking them, and we’re not one of them. They’re going to be very, very good.”
Possibly more vital than any talented athlete on the Monarchs roster is their coaching staff, which is well-versed in the game of football and has successful track records beyond just developmental football.
“We have a full coaching staff of nine people, including myself as the head coach,” Joice said. “Out of those nine coaches, five of us coach high school football, so we have a staff full of guys who coach football for a living. Defensive coordinator, Brad Clark, he coaches locally at Bixby High School, the three-time defending Class 6A Division 2 State Champions. Even the guys that don’t coach high school football, could coach high school football if they didn’t have a different profession.”
When Joice and co-owner Dwayne Joseph stepped out and started the team, they knew if they put the right coaching staff and structure in place, that the players and results would follow. So far, it has.
“We feel that with our coaching staff that we can coach with any other organization around as far as coaching goes,” Joice said. “Without them, we would definitely not have the success that we have for sure.”