The Wichita Force know a thing or two about winning championships, and they’re planning on using that experience to go out and win another.
The Force, who are led by head coach Paco Martinez and a plethora of talented players, are the defending champions of Champions Indoor Football (CIF). They went 10-2 in 2016, a record that included a 52-51 win over the Bloomington Edge in the Divisional Championship and a 48-45 win over the Amarillo Venom in Champions Bowl II.
Heading into the 2017 season, Wichita should be the CIF favorite to take it all the way again, and at the very least, that’s the expectation of the organization. They’re not planning on a letdown.
“We’re the defending champs so that’s our goal — to get back to the playoffs and try to make a championship push again,” Martinez said in a recent interview with Developmental Football USA. “[We’ve] got a lot of new faces on offense and some new guys on defense, so it’s going to be a little bit of a different team. Our goal is always to make the playoffs and push for a championship each year, though.”
Just like any defending champ, the Force are going to be relying on a handful of players from last season’s championship team to have big impacts in 2017. Martinez is looking for impact seasons out of four players in particular.
On defense, Kendrick Harper is a player to watch this season for the Force.
“He’s a defensive back who has been a stud for us for several years,” the head coach explained. “He’s one of those guys who should have gotten a shot in the NFL, for whatever reason it just hasn’t worked yet.
Harper is only 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, but he has a ton of experience and playmaking ability. He’s a former Kansas Jayhawk and in the last two seasons for Wichita, he’s notched 125 tackles, 29 pass break-ups, and 12 interceptions — including one for a touchdown.
Linebacker Jason Catchings is another defender who is getting some hype from his head coach. In fact, Martinez called him a “freak athlete”, and he’s positive that if an NFL team was to take a shot of Catchings, he’d have a shot to make an impact. After spending two years at East Central Oklahoma, Catchings spent training camp with the New York Jets in 2013 before joining the former Wichita Wild in 2014. At that time, Wichita was in the CPIFL.
Last season for the Force, Catchings was an All-CIF second team player, totaling 91 tackles (53 solo), 14 tackles for loss, five sacks, five blocked kicks and two safeties.
Offensively, Wichita will be relying on two big-time wide receivers to lead the way in 2017.
The first is Clarence Anderson, who’s a former NAIA All-American (Ottawa University) and Warsaw Eagle. Last season for the Force, Anderson notched 66 receptions for 741 yards and 20 touchdowns — all team-leading stats.
The other wideout expected to have a huge season for Wichita is Brett Soft, who checks in at an imposing 6-foot-4, 215 pounds. Soft played at Central Arkansas and is returning for his second season with the Force. In 2016’s championship run, he caught 48 passes for 492 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“Those guys were playmakers in our offense last year and for the past couple of years,” Martinez explained. “We have a new quarterback coming in, but I anticipate those two guys to have big years.”
Martinez and his staff are going to need all four of the aforementioned players to step up, but in reality, the opportunity is there for just about anybody to make a name for themselves this season in Wichita. The CIF championship win has increased the profile of the team, and that means more eyeballs on the players, and it’s not just the fans watching.
Winning a championship puts more eyeballs on you within the community. From a coaching standpoint, [there’s] definitely more interest from CFL and NFL scouts,” Martinez said. “Even some AFL teams have shown interest in some of our guys. Winning a championship, people always take notice.”
Obviously, the rest of the CIF has taken notice of Wichita as well, and that’s something the Force are taking in stride. Martinez told DFUSA that they approach that challenge head on, and they definitely seem mentally prepared to be the top dog in the league.
“We tell the guys, ‘You’ve got the bullseye. You’re the defending champions. You’ve got the rings, the banner hanging in the arena, so everybody is going to be gunning for you.’,” the head coach said. “We’ve won championships in the past and that’s the mentality we’ve taken, and that’s what we’re going to do again this year.”
The Force kicks the season off on March 11th on their home field at INTRUST Bank Arena when they welcome in the Dodge City Law. Repeats are tough to accomplish at any level of football, let alone in a league like the CIF, but don’t expect a letdown from Wichita.
“What’s in the past is in the past. It’s great to celebrate it but that doesn’t have anything to do with helping us win games this year,” Martinez said. “We’re focused on us and getting better every day, and just focusing on what’s ahead of us.”
This is a team that’s preparing and focusing on moving forward.
Martinez and his organization are proud of what they’ve accomplished, but they’re not resting on their laurels.