The South Phoenix Runnin Rebels made a statement this past Saturday with a 44-0 win over the Mecca Town Bulldogs during the Arizona Cactus Football League’s out-of-state double header. While blowouts and shutouts always attract plenty of attention, the Rebels weren’t too surprised by the outcome as they are expecting quite a year in their camp.
“We will not only be the state champs this year, we will be national champs, we are that good,” Rebels owner Ed Love told Developmental Football USA.
Other teams around the AZCFL will certainly look to prove the Rebels wrong, specifically the defending champions and pre-season No. 1 team, the Southwest Stampede, as well as a few others.
“They won it all last year and they’ve been in and out of the championship game three years in a row, they are always one of the contenders,” Love said. “The Phoenix Outlaws are always pretty solid, then there are a few other teams that can be good, but you never really know what you’re going to get from them.
“The Kalvary Lions got some good talent and I’m interested to see what the Central Valley Sergeants are going to do in our league. They’ve got a good coaching staff, they’ve got numbers. Outside of that, it’s a toss-up from there. Other teams do have good players, but when you play those top teams and get beat up a little bit, it becomes about survival. You get beat by one of those top teams and start losing players and it goes downhill.”
Numbers are certainly an advantage at this level and most teams you see holding trophies after the season have plenty of depth. While the Rebels’ roster is certainly not thin, Love believes in limiting his roster to fewer guys than most owners would like to have, if they had the option.
“We’re not big in numbers and the reason we’re not is because of me,” Love said. “I don’t promote a team of 55 guys. We’ve got 42 guys and if some get hurt, we finish with about 35.”
Of those 42 guys wearing the red and black, many of them are new faces, but if Saturday’s outcome is any indication, they’re already gelling together pretty well.
“We are in the midst of, not saying it’s a rebuilding year, but our core is a little bit different this year,” Love said. “We lost a few of our guys. We don’t have our championship quarterback from two seasons ago. Last year, right around this time, our quarterback got a full ride to Ottawa University three weeks before the season, so we had to find a new quarterback. We lost a couple of key guys, but we’ve gained a couple of key guys as well.”
Rebels quarterback Ivan Jones saw the opportunity and stepped right in when his predecessor departed to play college ball.
“Last year, he had a pretty good season,” Love said. “He came in three weeks before the season and got hurt Week 3 and played the rest of the season not 100 percent. We know what we’re going to get from him. He’s a great quarterback, a great leader. He’s at every practice half an hour before practice, ready to go.”
During 7-on-7s and 9-on-9s this off-season, a few new pass catchers emerged for the Rebels and will look to have a big year. One is 6-foot-3, 190-pound Trayvon Williams.
“He’s an elite athlete, who runs very powerful routes,” Love said. “He’s a workhorse. I expect him to have a dominant season. Is he a leader? Yes, he can be a leader. He has leadership qualities and we expect him to really help us out.”
Fellow wideout Guy Brown will likely be one of the biggest receivers in the league, at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds.
“We just expect Guy to really control the middle of the field for us,” Love said. “He’s a leader off the field, helping guys get to practice. He’s always got three or four guys in his car. He’s a versatile guy with very deceptive speed. Looking at him, you don’t really know if he can move.”
“He’s been one of the better cornerbacks in the league the last few years,” Love said. “You say Fluke and they know who you’re talking about. He may be the fastest guy in the league. If not, then definitely top two or three. He’s a great athlete. This year, he’s been solid with practice and will not only help us out on defense, he can help us out on offense and be a two-way player, running the ball, doing reverses and things like that. Fluke will be one of the better athletes in the league. He’s going to return at least three or four kicks for touchdowns this year. He’s dynamic. He’s that guy. That’s him.”
Another guy who could make headlines with Fluke on the defensive side of the ball looks to be rookie defensive end Paramore Tapa.
“The dude is just an animal,” Love siad. “He has speed, nice size and he’s very aggressive. I think he will be one of the guys that will be a standout on our defense. I think overall, our defensive line will be the best in the league. Having the best defensive line enhances your defense because the offense won’t have as much time. Overall, that line will be our best asset when it comes to defense. It’s usually the other way around. Normally, when you think about the Rebels’ defense, it’s been about our DBs, the athletes, but this year I think it’s going to be more about our d-line because those guys are that good.”
The roster won’t be all that is different with the Runnin’ Rebels in 2019. This off-season, Love stepped back into a sole leadership as two-former co-owners pursued opportunities away from football. Love had originally founded the Rebels in 2003 before spending several seasons with the East Valley Warlords.
“Back in the day, the Rebels were really dominant, dominating not only Arizona, but wherever we landed to play football,” Love said. “Four seasons ago, they brought me back out to become the Warlords head coach. The first season we did alright, the second season we had come in and it had basically become my team. There were no Warlords left on the team, so we changed the name to the Arizona Runnin’ Rebels.”
Since re-assuming sole ownership, Love decided to bring the team back to where it all began.
“I decided to take it all the way back to the roots as the South Phoenix Runnin Rebels,” Love said. “We took the logo back to one of our original looks from 2006. We do have black uniforms coming back this year, just to have some of that spice back in it. We were originally the South Phoenix Runnin Rebels when we came out in 2003.”
Like the other AZCFL members, the Rebels are excited about what’s in store for the league’s inaugural season this year.
“The new league has been doing a lot with the media and social media and it’s been a good push and a positive vibe,” Love said. “The guys at the top are more concerned about the players and the venue and not just themselves. If they can continue and pull that off and keep it about the players, the owners will do the rest and provide everything the league needs. It’s a players league, so it should never become about the owners of the league. Make it available for scouts to come see these guys and give these guys a chance to get up out of here. I like the direction and it seems like they’re trying to open up those avenues, which is one of the reasons we all do this, to give guys an opportunity to play football at the next level.”