KENNEWICK -- Tri-Cities Fever head coach Adam Shackleford is not a person who makes big statements unless he means them.
So what he says next makes a person's ears perk up: "I believe this (Fever) team has as much talent as any team I had in Spokane."
"I believe that," said Shackleford, whose team opens the 2011 Indoor Football League at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at the Toyota Center against the Arizona Adrenaline. "Especially our defense. It reminds me a lot of the 2008 Spokane team I had."
That says a lot, since Shackleford's Spokane teams were 49-8 over three seasons, including a 19-1 Arena Cup champion in af2 in 2009.
"This (Fever) team, we did two-a-days and put these guys through a lot," he said. "And they've just responded. They've kind of jelled."
Shackleford and his coaching staff tidied up loose ends Thursday, cutting enough players to get the roster down to 30 players and naming a starting quarterback for Saturday's opener.
Houston Lillard, who started from mid-season on last year at QB, gets the nod against the Adrenaline.
"But I want to get (backup) Antwon Young in the game too," Shackleford said.
Meanwhile, those players on the roster who played for Tri-Cities last season in addition to Lillard -- OL Kenny Ackerman, OL Jason Donnal, DB Lionell Singleton and WR Joey Hew Len -- all made the team, except for DL Fred Poole.
Poole never came into camp.
"He had a family matter to attend to," Shackleford said. "We told him to take care of it, and he might come in in a week or two. We released him."
Shackleford also put LB Cyrus Mulitalo on the Refused to Report list because he's finishing up getting his degree at Sacramento State. Mulitalo could join the Fever by the end of March.
Other than those guys, everyone else on the Fever roster are new players.
"I like going the young route and adding some guys who have played with before," Shackleford said. "Last year, on such short notice, I couldn't get a lot of guys I wanted to because they were already signed. So I had to go with more veterans than I wanted to."
Not this year, and guys like Dennis Rogan and Jason Beauchamp are glad.
Both players were at the NFL Combine a year ago at this time and had dreams of playing in the ultimate outdoor league.
Neither player was drafted.
Rogan, a defensive back from Tennessee, signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"But I pulled a hamstring and was released right before preseason camp," Rogan said.
Beauchamp, a linebacker out of UNLV, signed with the New Orleans Saints. But he too was cut before preseason camp.
He did, however, get to preseason camp with the Detroit Lions, but was eventually cut.
Neither Rogan nor Beauchamp gave football much thought after that. Until Shackleford called.
And now they're here.
"Coach has done a wonderful job putting this team together," said Rogan, who broke all of Willie Gault's kick return records at Tennessee. "The competition has been up to par, and I think we've got a pretty good team."
"I was so surprised when I got here," he said. "I thought it was just a bunch of guys coming together for the love of the game. And it is. But there is a lot of talent here. Everyone here is extremely hungry to move up the (football) ladder. Everyone here is highly skilled and extremely motivated. And that's a great combination."
And they'll do anything Shackleford wants them to do, said Rogan.
"I told Coach whatever he wants me to do, I'll do it," said Rogan. "I'll even block on the line."
-- For a look at the entire Fever roster, see Saturday's Herald. ... The Arizona Adrenaline left Thursday morning from Prescott by bus, and the team doesn't expect to arrive in the Tri-Cities until 8 a.m. today. ... Because the Tri-City Americans have a game in the Toyota Center tonight, the field won't be put up until late tonight. The two football teams will get to hold walk-throughs Saturday morning. ... The Fever and Adrenaline will meet twice during the season - even though they're not in the same division. The teams play in Arizona on April 16. ... After Saturday's game, the Fever visits Wenatchee Valley on March 5 before returning home March 12 for a game against the Fairbanks Grizzlies.