Panthers want to put the hammer down on Alabama

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WHO: Alabama Hammers (2-3) at Albany Panthers (5-0).

WHAT: Panthers’ sixth game of season, first meeting against Alabama.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today.

WHERE: Albany Civic Center.

RADIO: 97.3 FM.

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ALBANY — Complacency?

It comes like a thief in the night, like a quiet disease that slips in when you’re not looking and steals what you have.

It happens in every sport at every level, and the Albany Panthers, who win more than anyone in arena football, know it’s out there.

It’s coach Lucious Davis’ job to fend it off, and he does it as well as anyone.

“I’m not going to say we’re not complacent. At times we are,’’ said Davis, whose team has dominated the arena game for almost its entire existence.

His Panthers won the regular season title their first year, took home the Southern Indoor Football League title a year ago and are off to a 5-0 start this year as the season hits its halfway point tonight. Expect the Panthers to hit the Alabama Hammers, who show up in the Civic Center at 7:30 tonight.

Alabama has a 2-3 record and is just the kind of team that can get overlooked.

Not with these Panthers.

Just listen to Davis: “We’ve won five games, but we haven’t played a very good game yet,’’ he said at practice Thursday afternoon. “We haven’t been playing consistently. We are playing good and we expect to win, but we are making mistakes, and the mistakes we’re making we shouldn’t make.’’

No one on Oglethrorpe Boulevard is taking Alabama for granted.

“They’re a pretty good team,’’ Panthers quarterback Cecil Lester said. “They’re an inch or two away from being real good, They lost a couple of games they shouldn’t have lost. They have a good defense.’’

There are other reasons Lester doesn’t believe the Panthers will be complacent tonight — or at any other time of the year.

First of all, Lester said Davis won’t let them.

“He doesn’t even let us celebrate,’’ Lester said. “If we score a touchdown, he says ‘act like you have been there before.’ ”

But, moreover, there’s an attitude on this team that goes beyond simply winning every week.

“We don’t take anybody for granted,’’ defensive back Levance Richmond said. “We have respect for every team we play. And we look at ourselves as a unit, and as a team we know we have to have the effort every week.

“We play against ourselves. The only team that can beat us is us,’’ he said. “We know we have to stay together and push ourselves, and that’s what we do. We know if we put our minds to it we can beat anybody. Our talent takes care of itself, and we know we have to have the (mindset) to play as a team and be cohesive as a team.’’

Winning hasn’t slowed down this franchise. It has only motivated it.

“Our goals are different this year from last year,’’ Lester said. “The main goal is to still win a championship, but we have other goals lingering around our locker room. We have the goal of playing the perfect game, and then there are other goals.’’

For instance?

“Those goals are secrets,’’ Lester said. “Those are for the team, goals for us as a unit. They push us and help prepare us so that every week we come looking to win. We don’t disrespect anyone, but we don’t believe in losing.’’

Tight end Aaron Wheeler was standing nearby.

“Hey,’’ Lester shouted to Wheeler. “Do you believe in losing?’’

Wheeler laughed and said, “No way.”

“No one on this team believes in losing. We come to win every night,’’ he said.

Lester said that’s one weapon against becoming complacent — the ever-present desire to improve and be better in search of that perfect game.

“It’s not arrogance,’’ Lester said. “It’s just we don’t doubt ourselves.’’

That’s one reason Albany is 5-0 and leading the league again. The Panthers have beaten everyone in the league except Alabama, and they could end the first half of the season at 6-0 with a win tonight.

The Panthers have started all three of their seasons at 5-0, but Davis said in many ways this year’s team is better than last year’s at this point in the season.

“Defensively, yes,’’ he said. “Special teams, yes and overall, yes. But offensively we haven’t been 100 percent yet. We keep making mistakes.

“I’ll know after this game if we’re getting better,’’ he said. “I thought after the first quarter last week against Columbus that we were going to turn the corner. I’m hoping we turn the corner in this game.

“We’re getting there,’’ he added. “We’re just not getting there as fast as I would like.’’

There’s nothing complacent about that.