ALBANY -- It's never too early to start promoting.
At least not for the Albany Panthers, who are off and running toward the playoffs with the best record in the Southern Indoor Football League in one hand, and D.J. Shockley in the other.
Shockley, the former Georgia QB who briefly played in the NFL, won't be under center when the Panthers open the playoffs at home July 10 against an opponent yet to be determined, but he will likely be the center of attention.
The Panthers are bringing in Shockley to help promote the game, and he won't just be signing autographs. He will also be available for pictures before the game.
"This is our first playoff game,'' Panthers general manager Will Carter said. "We're looking for a real big crowd for this game, and we're doing some good promotions by bringing in a player like D.J. Shockley. We've got great fans, and we hope to have a big turnout from our fans in Albany and the surrounding counties.''
Carter has lots of ideas, including a promotion where the first 1,000 fans at the game will receive commemorative T-shirts that say "Panthers Division Champs,'' while the first 1,000 will also receive free thunderstix noisemakers. Carter is hoping for not only the biggest crowd of the season, but the loudest.
The Panthers play their final regular-season game Saturday night in Columbus, but they have already clinched home field in both playoff games by virtue of their 8-2 record, the best in the SIFL. Columbus (7-3) could force a tie with a victory Saturday, but the Panthers have won the first two games against Columbus, which makes them the No. 1 seeded team in the four-team playoffs regardless.
EDWARDS NAMED PLAYER OF THE WEEK:
It's funny to look back at a Panthers' season and remember the first big defensive play of the year that set the tone for the season came from linebacker Larry Edwards, whose sack in that opener against Columbus led to a touchdown.
It took 10 games, but Edwards finally won the SIFL's Defensive Player of the Week award on Wednesday, following his performance in the Panthers' 66-15 victory against Greenville.
"It's about time. He deserves it,'' Panthers coach Lucious Davis said. "Since we've had him we've been lights out. I believe without a doubt he's the best linebacker in the league.''
Edwards, who joined the team just before their opener, had to wait for his turn on a Panthers defense that is one of the biggest reasons the team is 8-2. This is the fifth time in 10 games that a Panther player has been named the defensive player of the week.
The notoriety Wednesday didn't faze Edwards, who wasn't aware he had been named the player of the week when he took the field for practice that afternoon.
"That's all right,'' he said. "I'm not thinking about that. My mind is on winning a championship. We're all pretty competitive on the defense. I just like making plays.''
Edwards had 8.5 tackles against Greenville last Saturday, and he also put some points on the board when he gave the Panthers a 2-0 lead by sacking Greenville quarterback Victor Rogers to set the tone for the night.
Panthers kicker Juan Bongarra, who has won the SIFL's Special Teams Player of the Week award three times, was an honorable mention after kicking seven extra points and an uno against Greenville.