The Panthers' starting QB Cecil Lester was a big addition to the team's 2013 roster Tuesday when it announced various signings after Lester hinted at retirement following Albany's second straight league championship earlier this year. (File photo)
ALBANY — The Albany Panthers’ pursuit of a third straight arena football championship got a big boost Tuesday afternoon.
Several top players from last season’s Professional Indoor Football League championship team were re-signed, including quarterback Cecil Lester, who was one of several veterans flirting with retirement during the offseason.
Now he’s back, along with six other returning starters, to go after another ring.
“Having them back, I believe the fans and the organization will expect the same results,” said Panthers coach Lucious Davis, who contemplated stepping away from football himself before deciding to return and pursue the three-peat. “These guys know what it takes to win, so personally I don’t think there is any pressure. We just have to go out and play. If we do our job and execute the way we know we can, then everything else will take care of itself.”
Other players re-signed on Tuesday were defensive backs Damian Daniels, former ASU star and defensive leader Demetrie McCray and Corey Rue, along with receivers John Harris and Antwon Cutts — both former Americus-Sumter stars — and kicker Ryan Gates.
“What other team is there to play for besides Albany?” Harris said during Tuesday’s press conference to announce the signings. “We have established something here and always like to stick together. … It was like, ‘You’re coming back?’ Alright, I’m coming back, too.”
Davis said re-signing McCray made it easier for the rest of the veterans to jump on board for another season.
“He is the glue behind it all,” Davis said. “Once he signs, all of those other guys fall into place.”
McCray left the Panthers last season to play up a level in the AFL but then suffered a season-ending injury on the first day of practice. Now he’s healthy and ready to resume his leadership on the field and on the sideline.
“It’s great to have him back,” Davis said about McCray. “It helps a lot. He is a guy I can trust. He knows my defensive schemes inside and out. Certain parts of the game I don’t have to say much. I let him handle it, and he makes the right checks and the right calls.”
Lester threw for 2,195 yards and 47 touchdowns, while Cutts (48 catches, 607 yards, 16 TDs) and Harris (8 catches, 96 yards, 1 TD) were two of his top targets. Daniels led the league with nine interceptions, and Rue finished with a team-high 60.5 tackles.
Albany State grad and offensive lineman Deandre Williams re-signed with the Panthers earlier this week, while newcomers Isaac West (WR, FAMU), Stoney Woodson (DB, South Carolina), Peter Riley (DB, Florida International) and Trae Ivory (FB, Midwestern State) also inked deals.
The Panthers open the 2013 season March 9 on the road against the Louisiana Swashbucklers.