Members of the Albany Panthers organization address the media during Wednesday’s press conference at Buffalo Wild Wings. Seated at the table are, from left, linebacker Larry Williams, receiver John Harris, head coach Lucious Davis, general manager Will Carter and director of client development Elizabeth Faircloth. (Staff photo: John Millikan0
ALBANY — John Harris and Larry Edwards sat shoulder to shoulder, patiently waiting for their chance to speak.
After a dozen questions were directed to Albany Panthers head coach Lucious Davis at Wednesday’s press conference, the two veteran Panthers finally got an opportunity to talk — and when they did the excitement started to fill the room.
“We are really excited to put the pads back on,“ Harris said as a smile stretched across his face. “We are ready to put in work like we are rookies again. I feel like I’m a rookie again. I feel like I have something to prove to the team and the coaches and the fans.”
Harris, a 7-year veteran wideout, and Edwards, a star linebacker in his sixth year, were two of 12 players to sign contracts with the Panthers, who are coming off a disappointing 7-6 record and are trying to recover from several of their stars — including QB Cecil Lester, WRs Clenton Rafe and Antwone Savage and FB Derrick Wimbush — retiring during the offseason.
Wednesday’s signings, which include several veteran Panthers, makes the transition a little easier.
“We are a group of guys who work hard and we want to represent this community,” Edwards said. “Last year I felt like we left ourselves and our fans down. … We are ready to go out there and do something remarkable. I feel like I want to do some record-breaking stuff this year.”
The 2011 and 2012 league champion Panthers also re-signed receivers Antwon Cutts and Johnny Lester, kickers Ryan Gates and Meredith Trout, defensive backs Demetrie McCray and Corey Rue and offensive linemen Aaron Wheeler and Deandre Williams. Two new additions to the team are former Alabama Hammer stars defensive back Derek Patterson and linebacker Darian Payne.
Head coach Lucious Davis also announced that former Panthers quarterbacks Darnell Kennedy and Chris Mitchell will compete for next season’s starting job.
“We have a guy that we are talking to and probably are about 90 percent sure he will play (at quarterback). He played for us before, Darnell Kennedy,” Davis said. “Right now that’s our top guy going into training camp. I have also been working and talking with Chris Mitchell to come on and back him up. We have two guys who I believe can take us back to where we were.
“Those two quarterbacks have played with us before so they know the system and know the guys and know the town. The fans know those guys. They are winners, so it’s good to have that core group come back. It helps out on the mentality of the team.”
Five of the team’s top starters retired during the offseason, and McCray considered joining his teammates in retirement but ultimately decided to rejoin the team after missing all of last season with an injury.
“When the season was over maybe a month or so (McCray) called me up and was like, ‘Hey, I want to play again. I want to really rehab and work out and give it my all,’ ” Davis said. “I feel like if he comes in with that mentality, he’s the best DB in the league hands down.”
Damien Daniels could easily make his own argument about being the best DB in the league.
Daniels, who is three interceptions shy of breaking the all-time career record in all levels of arena football, played for the Panthers the past two seasons after a long career with the Columbus Lions, but Daniels recently re-signed with the Lions and will likely break the record in the jersey of the Panthers’ biggest rivals.
“I understand to go home and finish your career at home,” Davis said about Daniels’ return to Columbus. “ I respect that and understand that. There’s no love lost or no hard feelings. He has to face us two games. We don’t look at it as us having to face him. We look at it as he has to face us. I feel good about playing against him.”
And so do Davis’ players.
“Nothing against Damien, because we love (him). But (he) has to come see us now,” Edwards said.
PIFL EXPANSION: Panthers GM Will Carter announced that the Professional Indoor Football League has expanded to eight teams with the addition of the Harrisburgh (Pa.) Stampede, which is owned by New Orleans Saints receiver Marques Colston, and the Trenton (N.J.) Freedom.
Carter also hinted that the league is thinking of adding teams from Nashville, Tenn., and Chattanooga, Tenn., and possibly splitting into north and south divisions to alleviate long road trips.
“The league officials are still working those things out,” Carter said. “As they continue to work that out, we will find out in the next couple of weeks if that is going to happen or if we will just roll with the eight teams we have now. I would say in the next two or three weeks we will have a full schedule.”