Tri-Cities Fever coach Adam Shackleford let his team take all of last week off for good behavior, which was finishing the Indoor Football League season with a 12-2 record and the team having a bye.
IFL rules state a player can’t be paid if they don’t have a game.
“I’m not sure what we would have gotten accomplished if we weren’t healthy,” Shackleford said. “I made a commitment to the guys that if they were not getting paid, I’d give them the week off.”
Some players went home to visit family. Others travelled to Portland or Seattle. Others still went sightseeing around the Mid-Columbia.
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“We still had 15 guys go out on their own to the arena and work out,” Shackleford said.
The coach also stayed busy last week, preparing for the team’s first-round playoff game — 7:05 p.m. Friday at the Toyota Center — against the Colorado Ice (8-6), and recruiting for the 2013 season.
“We’ve been game-planning all week for Colorado, and I sent out about 450 emails to players,” said Shackleford. “The reality in this league is a lot of teams didn’t make the playoffs, and they’re already recruiting.”
And this week, he’s got a message for his team, now that the players have had a week to heal up.
“Give us best the four weeks you’ve got,” he said.
If that happens, the Fever could be playing in the IFL championship, possibly winning it.
First things first — the matchup with a Colorado Ice team Tri-Cities has beaten twice, 64-50 in Kennewick, and 52-49 in overtime on the road.
Shackleford said nothing changes against Colorado mentally.
“We treat them as they are: They’re a good football team,” he said. “We’ve to got stop their quarterback. We want him to put the ball in the air.”
Ice coach Heron O’Neal made a personnel move about two-thirds through the season, starting Jeremy Sanders at quarterback and benching — then releasing — veteran David Knighton.
Knighton, by the way, is the starting quarterback for the Allen Wranglers now.
But Sanders has provided a lot more energy at QB for the Ice.
“He’s an extremely good runner,” Shackleford said. “If he is forced to throw the ball 40 times a game, that is exactly what they don’t want to happen. Our goal will be simple: to keep him under 40 yards rushing, and make him throw the ball.”
Fever quarterback Houston Lillard said Sanders has the ability to keep the ball out of the Fever offense’s hands by running the ball and chewing up time.
“We don’t have as many opportunities to be on the field when he does that,” said Lillard. “Last time we went there our kicker (Brady Beeson) had a lot of field goals. We just need to move the ball.”
Shackleford said he and his staff have a few tricks up their sleeves.
“We’ve been saving things for the playoffs we haven’t used for six weeks,” he said.
Regardless of what happens in the post-season, Shackleford has enjoyed this season immensely.
“We beat every team we played this year except Sioux Falls,” he said. “This is my most fun year of coaching football. I enjoyed these guys more than any team I’ve had here in the Tri-Cities. I have never had a team play 14 games where I didn’t questiion their effort and determination. I think that’s made that very enjoyable for me.”
Shackleford said offensive lineman Ryan Tolar should be available for Friday’s game.
The Pasco High graduate left in the first half of the team’s 66-34 win over the Wyoming Cavalry on June 9.
“It was a staph infection (on his ram),” said Shackleford. “He’s not feeling great. Luckily we got him to the hospital right away. Hopefully, he’s gonna be available.”
Running back Dennis Kennedy (knee) was pulled from the game, while defensive lineman Jake Killeen (knee) and defensive back Lionell Singleton (back) didn’t suit up.
“All of those guys, I have the feeling if we had game this week, they’d all play,” Shackleford said. “We going to practice Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and there’s no doubt in my mind we’ll be ready for this football game.”
Shackleford said he wanted to get Steven Whitehead one more reception late in the victory over Wyoming. That would have given him the outright league lead with 85 for the season.
“I have too much respect for (Wyoming) Coach (Dan) Maciejczack to do that though,” said Shackleford.
So instead, Whitehead and Cavalry receiver Jasonus Tillery — who didn’t play against the Fever — tied for first with 84 catches each.
Notes: The league lost the Reading Express franchise for the 2013 season after the team’s owners announced last week they were making the team go dormant. Owners Ted and Lisa Lavender said they would play a league fee to keep the team dormant, allowing them to activate it for the 2014 season. ... The Ice signed four players with some NFL experience last week — DB Reggie Sullivan, DT Tommie Duhart, WR Augustine Agyei, and QB-WR Lorne Sam.