Tri-Cities Fever open season in Colorado

February 28, 2013 

The Tri-Cities Fever and the Colorado Ice have had such long preseason training camps that players from both teams are ready to hit someone in a different uniform.

They’ll get their wish tonight as the Fever visit the Ice in Loveland, Colo., in their Indoor Football League opener.

While the players are ready to strap on the pads, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered, too.

“Eighteen of the 25 guys on our roster are new guys,” Ice coach Heron O’Neal said.

Fever coach Adam Shackleford is in the same boat — 14 of his 25 players haven’t played in the IFL.

Tri-Cities quarterback Kasey Peters is considered a veteran, having been on the Fever roster last season as a rookie. But he spent the entire season as Houston Lillard’s backup.

“Kasey as a starting quarterback, he is a rookie,” Shackleford said. “He had a really good camp. Both of them (Dante Warren is the Fever backup) did. Kasey was more comfortable out there. He got guys in and out of the huddle faster.”

O’Neal saw Peters play in college at Rocky Mountain College in Billings (Mont.) numerous times when he was the head coach of the Billings Outlaws.

“We’re gonna have our hands full with Kasey,” O’Neal said. “He is an animal. I’ve seen this man play.” Peters said he is ready.

“It was frustrating not getting to play last year,” Peters said. “But spending a year behind Houston Lillard and working with Coach Shackleford has helped me a lot.”

Peters will be going up against a strong Colorado secondary led by veterans Jovan Jackson and Michael Eby — two IFL veterans who played for O’Neal in Billings.

“Both of these guys have solidified our secondary,” O’Neal said. “I am ecstatic to get those two guys.”

Both teams will spend some time feeling each other out at the beginning of the contest, then adjust on the fly.

Shackleford, to keep the new players from being shocked at the speed of the indoor game, expects to run the ball early.

“Make it like the outdoors game for them a little, if you know what I mean,” he said.

Both teams might do that.

“I don’t think either team can afford to be pass happy,” Shackleford said. “Their quarterback (veteran Willie Copeland) has more experience, but I still think the running backs have to be involved in this game. I feel we have our best secondary since I’ve been here. You’re going to have to run the football against us to have success.”

For Colorado, that running back would be veteran Cordera Eason.

For the Fever, rookie Keola Antolin, from the University of Arizona, knocked Shackleford’s socks off during camp. He had to in order for Shackleford to cut veteran Keithon Flemming — who played last season for the Allen Wranglers — this week.

“I only keep one running back,” Shackleford said. “Antolin is extremely explosive. He just has that extra gear. He’s good at catching the football.”

That move shocked O’Neal.

“I wasn’t expecting to see that one at all,” he said.

So here’s what’s going to be keys for tonight’s game:

Establish the run, Shackleford said.

Avoid turnovers.

“We have to win the turnover battle,” O’Neal said. “You can’t beat Coach Shackleford if you’re turning the ball over.”

And limit big plays on defense, Shackleford added.

Finally, whose new guys are going to be the first to respond?

“That’ll be about 70 percent of things,” O’Neal said. “How these young guys play.”

For some of the veterans, they’ll be paying attention.

“I’m pretty excited about this year,” said Fever receiver Steven Whitehead. “I’m pretty excited about (tonight’s) game, and to see who responds. Who is gonna be a gamer.”

Notes: Shackleford’s final cuts in camp were Flemming, OL Brian Folkerts, DL Vaalyn Jackson and DB Dennis Rogan. Rogan hasn’t reported to camp, but may soon. WR DeJuan Miller has been put on short-term injured reserve. ... Besides tonight’s Fever at Ice game, the Texas Revolution visits the Cedar Rapids Titans. On Saturday, the Green Bay Blizzard visits the Chicago Slaughter, and the Sioux Falls Storm travels to the Nebraska Danger. ... Tonight’s game can be heard on KONA 610 AM. The team will have a viewing party at Jack-son’s in Richland.

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