If you are a football fan in Tulsa, particularly a fan of indoor or arena football, you may have considered lowering your flags to half-mast in 2011 as the Tulsa Talons left town after more than a decade of success and two af2 titles.
My friend, there is hope on the horizon in Tulsa in the form of the Oklahoma Defenders.
Coached by former Talons quarterback Derek Rasmussen, the Defenders are
coming off a 9-3 inaugural season in which they were stopped short of a
championship by one game. That, along with membership in a new league
gives Coach Rasmussen and his team of seasoned veterans and skilled
rookies all the impetus they need.
Many fans of the former Talons may be surprised when they attend games that there are distinct differences between the game the Defenders play and what they may remember from the arena game. The field is still 50 yards long and 85-feet wide like in arena football, but the indoor game is more like open-field football in that there are no end-zone nets to contain the ball and keep it in play like in arena football. Thus, the game is more balanced in that it isn’t as dependent on the pass as it is in the traditional arena game. The pace is a little slower but it does not detract from the overall excitement of the game.
The change in venue to the Tulsa Convention Center and the move to the Champions League aside, one thing that Coach Rasmussen insists will stay the same is that the team will have the “same fire” and the same intensity that placed them just one game away from the APFL title. He is making sure that by signing what he calls the “fierce four” including QB Rico Watkins, WR Cameron Clemons, and Defensive Back Bobby Blackshire, all veterans of the Defenders first season and the addition of veteran Indoor Football League DB James Temple.
As the Defenders field general and team captain in 2012, quarterback Rico Watkins did not disappoint in the Defenders inaugural campaign. Watkins completed 131 of 217 passing attempts for 1,684 yards and 40 touchdowns and added 406 yards on 85 runs (average 4.8 yds/carry) with an additional 18 rushing touchdowns. He was awarded All-League Honorable Mention as well as Team MVP.
Watkins was forced out of the 2012 playoff game in the first half with a severe injury and later was found to have a torn Achilles tendon for which he has undergone surgery and will be back in motion for this year’s season. Much more fun for Watkins; he celebrated the birth of twins over the summer.
Watkins stated, “I’m excited and overjoyed to be back with the team after the season we had last year. We had such a magical run that we all had a bad taste in our mouths on how it ended. I’m so anxious to get back out there and play with my boys. I’m also excited to play against better athletes in this new league. I’m liking what I see with the structure of the new league and some of the things they are doing and would love to have my name associated with this new league.”
WR Cameron Clemons learned what it takes to make big plays in indoor football during the 2012 season. With over-the-wall, soaring, one-handed catches, he and Watkins could ignite the crowd. Clemons had 60 yards on 14 carries with 4 running touchdowns as well as 26 receptions for 405 yards and 9 additional touchdowns. Clemons was also a team captain and was voted OKD Offensive MVP for the 2012 season. Clemons commented, “I feel blessed to even be offered the chance to re-sign for this season. Not many people get a second chance in sports. I think the new league will be good for us It will have more competition, as well as allow fans to really see what OKD is about now—that we are not a bunch of rookies anymore!”
DB Bobby Blackshire, also a team captain, was awarded All-League 1st Team honors, as well as Team Defensive Player of the Year. He led a forceful defense and racked up 98 tackles, 8 interceptions, and 2 touchdowns last season. Bobby also recently “put a ring on it” and married Jamie Blackshire (but kept OKD in mind with a mini-OKD helmet on the groom’s cake)!
Blackshire said, “Making the switch to a different league will only help us as players as we go against great opponents each and every week. The move to the CPIFL was a good one. I think the CPIFL has the right people in the right places. They update the fans and players as to what is going on around the league which is important to players and teams. I can see only good things to come in the CPIFL. As far as the 2013 OKD season, I’m looking forward to playing with some of the same guys from last year; and, with the addition of DB James Temple, I believe the defensive back end will be even better than last year as we strive to be the best secondary in the league and CPIFL Champions!”
Newcomer DB James Temple joins OKD for the 2013 season, a former standout player in the IFL. Temple had 12 interceptions in 2012 with the Bloomington Edge and was named to the All-IFL First Team in 2012. He also led the IFL in interceptions for the 2012 season. He is a competitor, missing only 6 games of 75 total IFL games. Temple is no stranger to hard-hitting, aggressive defenses; Temple and Coach Baker, OKD’s Defensive Coordinator, are actually former teammates with the Bloomington Extreme (IFL). Temple’s thoughts: “I feel like I have something to look forward to. In anticipation to the upcoming season and the move to a new league, I am ready to take on the challenges. All teams will have the same goal, but only one team will reach it: OKD, all the way!”
One of the more interesting facts about the Defenders is that their success has come with little media coverage. That will change this year with the addition of a play-by-play broadcast helmed by last year’s public address announcer, Blake Gazaway. Now Defenders fans will be able to follow every snap in every OKD contest over the Oklahoma Defenders Radio Network.
“I am excited for the opportunity to be The Voice of the Oklahoma Defenders.” Gazaway said, “Working with the team has been a great honor for me. We all have put our blood, sweat, and tears into the planning and preparation for the broadcast, but I think the fans will truly enjoy the experience. Through our exclusive broadcast, we will have the best, most in-depth coverage in the CPIFL.”
“Having a broadcast is key to keeping the fans tuned in,” explained Defenders Head Coach Derek Rasmussen. “Add that with a guy like Blake Gazaway who knows the organization inside and out, and you have a great tool for the fans to stay connected.”
In addition to that, the Defenders have announced the creation of the Oklahoma Defenders Media Center, which will offer a fan chat room and music channels. “The media center and the Defenders Radio Network will allow us to keep fans informed and up-to-date.” Oklahoma Defenders GM Lamar Baker said, “The media center is so versatile. Fans will enjoy the OKD fan chat room and the live-music stream with over 50 music channels including a variety of genres.”
Finally, for the first time the Defenders will have a dance team on the Convention Center sidelines. Former Tulsa Talons choreographer and Cheerleading director Andrea Collins was named as the director of the team, known as the Defender Diamonds. During the 2011 Tulsa Talons season, Andrea was chosen for the AFL Dream Team by fans, to represent the Tulsa Talons Cheerleaders at the Arena Bowl Championship game.
Collins started her training in Houston, Texas with Tiny Tots Dance & Gymnastics, continued in Tulsa, with Fun Times Dance & Gymnastics and Jenks Dance Company. She competed nationally for ten years, and received numerous awards and dance scholarships.
Andrea became an assistant dance teacher at the age of twelve, a lead teacher by the age of fifteen, and has continued teaching for the past twelve years.
While attending Jenks High School, Andrea was a member of the pom squad for four years, a UDA Varsity All-Star, and a member of the All-Regional Dance Team. She has coached and choreographed for several cheer and dance teams in the Tulsa area, as well as production numbers at the collegiate level.
Andrea has been dancing and teaching in the Tulsa area for over twenty years. She is a graduate of Oklahoma State University with a bachelor’s degree in Finance and Accounting, and is also concurrently working as a Staff Accountant at the BOK Center and Tulsa Convention Center.
“I am extremely excited to be a part of the Oklahoma Defenders organization,” says Collins. “A dance team is one of the most exciting elements of a game, and the fans have been so supportive going into their second season. I am looking forward to putting together a great group of beautiful, talented, outgoing young women to energize the crowd and give the fans a game day experience like no other.”
The Oklahoma Defenders will take the field in the Tulsa Convention Center on Saturday, March 9th at 7:05pm where they will face the Wichita Wild. The game will be the very first game in CPIFL history. ickets are on sale now and more information on single-game tickets and season tickets can be obtained at www.oklahomadefenders.com or by calling 918-403-9926.