Tri-Cities Fever

Fever opener a week away

Adam Shackleford looked at home behind his desk Monday afternoon.

The new coach of the Tri-Cities Fever had paperwork stacked up around his computer, and his office had the lived-in look of a longtime coach, not one who has been on the job for a couple of months.

"We've had a lot of work to do in 2 1/2 months," said Shackleford, who replaced Pat O'Hara in December. "I had to put a football team together -- it was overwhelming, but we feel we have a great group of athletes. I've been here every day for a month. I work for good people who I can trust, which hasn't always been the case."

It's a new start for Shackleford -- who guided the Spokane Shock to a 49-8 record and an arenafootball2 Arena Cup in his three years in Spokane before being let go in September -- as well as the Fever, which finished 3-13 last season in the af2. The Tri-Cities team will compete in the Indoor Football League this season, starting next Monday in Fairbanks, Alaska.

"There's not one guy out there who has ever played a down for me," Shackleford said. "It's good to come here and wipe the slate clean, for both of us. There are still a lot of passionate fans here who want to see us win."

Shackleford started with 42 players when camp opened last week and hopes to have that number whittled down to 27 today. The team will carry up to 30 players this season.

"Some players have tryouts with other teams at a higher level, but we will keep them on our roster," Shackleford said. "Our goal is to help the guys make money. They are here for the film."

Shackleford said he hopes to win back the fan support the team had a few years ago with the broad range of talent.

"We have guys who have played Division III to Division I (college football), some who were in NFL camps last year and some who are close to being back there," he said. "Some of our players are on the radar of NFL teams. The guys came in in pretty good shape -- we are just trying to sort our depth at running back and defensive back."

At quarterback, Zillah native Andy Collins (Occidental College, 2004-06) and Houston Lillard (SE Missouri State) are battling for the No. 1 spot, which Shackleford said will be announced Wednesday.

Collins was a three-time Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference offensive player of the year, finishing his career at Occidental with 6,394 passing yards with 71 touchdowns.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Collins was invited to the New York Giants rookie mini-camp in 2007 but did not stick with the team. He played in the AFL and in the af2 last season with the Stockton Lightning, where he took apart the Fever defense with seven TD passes in a 66-40 victory.

Lillard (6-1, 210) played two years at SE Missouri Valley State, throwing for 3,417 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Also making a big impact is former Florida State linebacker Derek Nicholson (6-2, 235), a two-time all-ACC selection who had 180 tackles combined his last two seasons with the Seminoles. He was invited to the Atlanta Falcons camp in 2009 but was later released.

The Fever will play its first home game March 27 vs. Kent but likely won't have any practice time at Toyota Center before then since the Tri-City Americans hockey team is still playing.

"We understand that until hockey is over, we have to make do," said Shackleford, whose team has been practicing at the fairgrounds. "We hope the hockey team keeps winning."

w Annie Fowler: 582-1574; afowler@tricityherald.com

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