Johnstown Generals ready to kick off arena football season
Generals head coach Quenteen Robinson speaks during a press conference last summer. (Chad Mearns)
The Generals, part of the newly formed six-team UIFL, opened camp at Indiana's S&T Bank Arena Feb. 2, molding a mixture of draft picks, recruits and walk-ons into the final roster, which was announced Feb. 16.
"We've shoveled through I'd say 60 or 70 players who had a legitimate chance to make it and whittled it to 23," said Robinson, a former Greater Johnstown High School standout who has served as a star player, coach and general manager with Johnstown's previous arena football teams.
But Robinson's up-tempo practices have included little talk about the city's history of now-defunct arena football franchises.
"We have only one goal in mind. The only thing we talk about is winning a championship — period."
Robinson said his Generals will mirror the way he played the game: quick, athletic and hard-hitting.
"I want them to fly to the ball, to be high-energy and very aggressive," he said.
He'll do so with a roster heavy on local and regional talent. Ten of the 23 players on the season-opening roster hail from the Johnstown area.
The group includes former Trojans Xavier Thomas, Terill Simms, Lamont Stephens, Mark Tisinger, Jimmy Myers and Sam Barber, as well as Bedford's Mike Marshall, Somerset's Josh Simmons and Windber brothers Steve and Jeff Slatcoff.
"They each earned their spot. Everybody on the squad earned their right to make the 18-man active roster."
The roster also includes California University of Pennsylvania product Antoine Bagwell, who participated in the St. Louis Rams' training camp, and first-overall draft pick Victor Sesay, a converted defensive lineman who played at the University of Missouri.
At quarterback, the Generals will be led David Dinkins, who once gave Robinson headaches during the coach's playing days.
"He played for the Erie Freeze, and he used to kill us," Robinson said.
Not all of the Generals' players have arena football experience, however. The ones who don't, Robinson said, will need to quickly adjust to the differences in the indoor version of the game.
"The game is different. It's a lot faster, and your reaction time has to be a lot quicker," Robinson said.
The team will play with eight players per side. Defenses will field three linemen, two linebackers and three defensive backs, countered a quarterback, full back, three receivers and three linemen on offense.
The 50-yard field, roughly 28-yards wide, provides for a different playing experience, Robinson said.
"Not everybody who is good at outdoor football will be good indoors — especially at the receiver position. Not everybody is willing to go over the middle to take that hit."
Other differences include defensive restrictions (only one linebacker can blitz, while the other linebacker is forbidden from dropping into coverage) and formation rules on offense (only the three lineman, quarterback and fullback can be in the tackle box when the ball is snapped).