You know it’s getting close to indoor football season when Tri-Cities Fever coach Adam Shackleford packs his stuff up from his Spokane Valley home, gives his wife and two sons kisses goodbye, and moves down to the Tri-Cities.
“I usually try to come down Feb. 1, but it worked out a little earlier,” he said Tuesday after getting into town on Monday.
Now, training camp doesn’t really get going until Feb. 12. But players start arriving on Feb. 9 for physicals, collecting their gear, and generally getting settled in.
“At this point, it’s about all the little things getting taken care of, like finalizing the meals from all our great sponsors, getting their housing set,” said Shackleford. “We make sure everything is taken care of when the players get into town.”
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That way, Shackleford and his two assistants — defensive coordinator Ryan Lingenfelder and special teams coach Cleveland Pratt — can concentrate on football.
As a matter of fact, that’s what Shackleford and his staff were doing Tuesday night — watching game film from last year of the Kent Timberwolves, renamed the Everett Raptors and the Fever’s season-opening opponent in the Toyota Center on Feb. 25.
Beginning his third season as the Fever’s head coach, Shackleford feels a little more relaxed than in past seasons.
“This is the first year where I feel like we’re kind of finetuning,” he said.
And the team and players — having to overcome problems in the community of previous Fever teams, sometimes with the law — have done a great job of changing sponsors’ and fans’ attitudes about the team.
“We’re not fighting that problem a whole lot anymore,” Shackleford said. “We had a responsibility to change. Now we feel it’s the community’s responsibility to change by coming out to support the team.”
Shackleford did report that ticket sales are above last year at this point.
And what those new fans should see is a better Indoor Football League. The league lineup is down from 22 teams of last year to 16 this year, meaning there are less job available and the quality of players should be stronger.
“It’s gonna be better,” Shackleford agreed. “The league’s owners have done a good job. They’re all on the same page.”
The Fever’s camp roster isn’t completely set.
“There might be some minor adjustments,” said Shackleford. “We may lose some guys to the AFL and CFL. I still have a very short list of guys to see about coming here. They’re still waiting to make a decision, and a lot of them are waiting until after this weekend’s Super Bowl.”
One player definitely coming back will be lineman Malcom Bennett.
He is the eighth player from last season’s 13-5 team coming back.
Also returning are running back Dennis Kennedy, defensive lineman Jake Killeen, quarterback Houston Lillard, defensive back Lionell Singleton, wide receivers Giovanni Stanley and Steven Whitehead, and linebacker Brandon Wilson.
There could be more eventually. A number of former Fever players are going to be in AFL camps this spring. But if things don’t work out, some of those guys could be back playing in the Toyota Center this season.
“It’s gonna be very interesting,” said Shackleford. “You’ve gotta balance where you’re at team-wise. The reality is, if you’re winning, you’re not gonna make a change.”