Five members of the 2012 Tri-Cities Fever football team were selected to either the first or second team of the All-Indoor Football League squad in June.
One of them, quarterback Houston Lillard, asked for and received his release in September so he could explore other football opportunities.
Another, center Will Falakiseni, signed a contract to play for the Spokane Shock in the Arena Football League.
But on Thursday, the other three — defensive end Jake Killeen, defensive back Lionell Singleton and wide receiver Steven Whitehead — signed contracts at a press conference to return to the Fever for the 2013 IFL season.The fact that all three have made the Tri-Cities their year-round home helped in their decisions.
“It just makes sense,” said Whitehead, who hosted the Fever press conference at his new gym in Pasco, Elite Ambitions. “Ultimately I really decided to come back when I was out coaching the Bears team in the Kennewick Grid Kids. To see their desire to play football helped bring back my desire to play again.”
Singleton, along with former Fever linebacker Brandon Wilson and the Cathedral of Joy, runs an after-school program for at-risk kids at Kennewick’s Eastgate Elementary School and Park Middle School called The Next Level of Academics and Athletics.
“This is my passion,” said Singleton of that program, which now has a waiting list for kids to get into. “But having the opportunity in the Tri-Cities to do this and play football, I couldn’t pass up.”
Killeen has a girlfriend and works at Jackson’s in Richland. He actually played a game with the AFL’s San Antonio Talons after Tri-Cities’ season was over last year.
But for him, the Tri-Cities is the best fit.
“Coach (Adam) Shackleford is a great coach and a great recruiter,” said Killeen. “But he’s able to recruit because of what the ownership offers him. Here, you know exactly what you get. They offer the best amenities, the best housing in the league.”
In a perfect world, all three would get an opportunity to move up in pro football.
But Shackleford said four teams have folded in the AFL, so there are a lot of players looking for football jobs.
“I don’t think there are that many football jobs out there,” Shackleford said.
While the trio signing Thursday will provide the Fever with a solid core, plenty of other veteran standouts have signed to make Tri-Cities a favorite to return to the IFL championship for a third consecutive season.
In recent weeks, quarterback Kasey Peters, kicker Brady Beeson, linebacker Boris Lee, receiver Ed Berry and defensive linemen Shane McCord and Vaalyn Jackson have signed with Tri-Cities again.
Quarterback Jordan Rasmussen, who played at Pacific Lutheran University, was also signed this week.
“He was the Utah Blaze (AFL) backup last season,” said Shackleford. “He played in five games for them, and I really like his film. I expect him to compete with Kasey.”
By the time the season starts next year — Tri-Cities opens March 1 at the Colorado Ice — the Fever’s roster could be half veterans from previous Tri-Cities teams.
Not one usually for overstating things, Shackleford believes the quality of players coming in will be even stronger than last season’s.
“We’re going to have a very strong rookie class,” he said. “I think it will be the best one yet.”