For every developmental football team, the off-season is a golden opportunity to recalibrate the vision and the direction of the organization and make necessary changes to put the team in the best possible position for the season. It’s generally also a time of renewed hope, and for the Tri-State Buffalos, the hope is that 2019 will be a pivotal season.
“This season we’re expecting to make a complete turn around and make the playoffs once again,” new Buffalos head coach Zach Bickett told Developmental Football USA. “We’re looking to have the team’s first playoff win.”
The Buffalos were established in 2012 and haven’t made the playoffs since 2013, going 2-24 over the last three years, but there’s a world of hope and anticipation in the Tri-State area that that’s all about to change forever.
“We’ve signed 30 new players and we have a team record 44 players on our roster,” Bickett said.
That’s not all that’s new for the Buffalos. They have recently secured a new home field in Garretson, South Dakota, and brought in an entirely new coaching staff. In addition to Bickett, Tri-State has added offensive coordinator Alex Toupal, defensive coordinator Tyler Fischer, line coach Wyatt Fink and defensive backs coach Brady Meyer.
“My expectations this season are that it will be a hard-fought one,” Bickett said. “The other teams will be overlooking and underestimating us, so it’ll help give us an upper hand coming into the early games. Everyone’s mind is set on playoffs and ending with a winning season for the first time in six years.”
The field is set, the staff is set, now the question is whether or not they can put the 44 pieces to the puzzle in the right spots and get them to play as one unit at a high level. One plus for the Buffalos is that they have a lot of talented players on both sides that should help change the culture of this organization.
Offensively, it starts with quarterback Ryan Gonzalez, who led the Sioux Empire Crusaders to an undefeated season before losing the the championship game last year.
“Ryan can put the ball on the ground or in the air and you can always trust he’ll get you yards,” Bickett said. “He’s a natural talent and can prove to be the best quarterback in the league this season.”
Gonzalez is joined in the backfield by veteran running back Daniel Cannon.
“Daniel is potentially on his last season before retirement and he has always been a leader and a star for the Buffalos,” Bickett said. “He’ll be bringing back more experience and intelligence with him to help teach the new guys to follow in his steps.”
Another key weapon offensively for Tri-State is rookie wide receiver Keith Davis Jr.
“He’s just coming out of college and he is unstoppable,” Bickett said. “There isn’t a defensive back in this league that can keep up with him. His speed and footwork are uncontainable. He’s a beast, ready to get his name out and find his way onto the professional scene someday.”
Defensively, expect some serious pressure off the edge with the tandem of Connor Hoy and Josh Fisher.
“Connor is a combination of big, strong, and fast that you’d only see in D-I football or the NFL,” Bickett said. “Just graduating high school a couple of years ago, he’s still young and fresh and can be an amazing pick-up for an arena team in the near future. Not a lineman in the league will be able to stop him.
“This will be Josh’s first year playing since playing in high school many years ago, but he is in tiptop shape and playing with something to prove. His brother Tyler played on the team for many years before switching to coaching, so now Josh wants to come in and outdo his brother and make it onto the pro scene as well. He’s an animal waiting to be unleashed.”
Rounding out the defensive leadership is veteran middle linebacker Matt Klinger.
“He’s another one with a lot of experience with the team who will be bringing that to the table to help others around him as well,” Bickett said. “He’s been the team leader in tackles for the last three years, looking to make it four.”
The landscape around the Southern Plains Football Conference will be a bit different this year with the addition of two new teams. However, Bickett doesn’t expect a drastic shift in power other than the Buffalos potentially squeezing their way into the mix.
“I think the contenders will stay the same as they have been,” Bickett said. “The Sioux Empire Crusaders, after coming in second last year after an undefeated season are looking to come back and show it’s not a fluke. The Buffalo Ridge Wildcats are another big one to look out for. They won the championship two years ago and went on to the national championship to lose by a hair. Last year they took a hard loss in the semifinals to the would-be champions. The Wildcats would also be coming back with a chip on their shoulder, looking to put another championship under their belts.”
While it’ll take effective preparation week after week for the Buffalos to have the kind of turnaround they are aiming for, there are two games in particular Bickett is especially looking forward to.
“I think May 18 against the Sioux Empire Crusaders, mostly everyone has circled, because it’s not only a cross-town rivalry, but it’s a chance for us to take another stab at the division champs and hopefully knock them off their high horse. Another date I think everyone might have circled would be April 20th, the season opener against the Dakota Bulldogs. The Bulldogs gave me my start in the league and it’ll be nice to go home and hand my old team a loss.”