The Golden State Football League, in which the Outlaws played the previous three seasons, has incorporated other teams in the region to form the powerful Northern California Football League.
The increased strength of the league is a plus for teams that attempt to attract local talent and fan interest, and this year represents a significant stride forward, according to Outlaws player Fred Sprung. “The league keeps getting stronger every year,” he said, noting that the league now includes the Pacifica Islanders, the No. 1 team in the nation last year. In addition, negotiations are underway with Comcast to televise games and provide on-demand access to the Game of the Week.
With the increase in exposure and talented teams will come a far more difficult road for a franchise seeking its fourth straight trip to the post-season. “This will be our hardest season to date,” said Sprung. Since only the top two teams in each division will make the playoffs, the Outlaws need to be successful against tough competition in the AFC West: the Marin Bulldogs, Solano Ravens and the team most prognosticators pick to win the division – the Northbay Rattlers.
“Defense should definitely be our strength again this season. We have nine returners on defense, while our offense will be improved and more well-rounded,” said Sprung.
He cited the defensive tackle tandem of Chris Shafer and Eric Jobe as a major reason why the Outlaws’ run-heavy opposition should find his defense a force to reckon with. Sprung, Jesse McGill and Matt Hendry comprise the linebacking corps behind the front four, while A.J. Johnson has been a solid cornerback.
A new quarterback, J.P. Flores, brings optimism to an offensive unit that has struggled in recent years to throw the ball. Combined with receiver Will Thompson, who scored in every game last season, the Outlaws hope their downfield threat will keep defenses honest. They also anticipate a solid running game spearheaded by the trio of Lontavious Johnson, Bryce Wheeler and Marlee McNeely.
Two weeks ago, the Outlaws played the NorCal Lawmen in a charity game for Children’s Hospital. The Outlaws didn’t crack the end zone, but Sprung described the game as a positive experience, saying, “We gained a lot from the scrimmage, with the ability of both our starters and backups to get a lot of work.”
The Outlaws home games are played on Saturdays at Freedom High School. The first home game is at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 28 against the Sacramento Cobras. The full schedule can be found online. Tickets are just $5. The team has partnered with Sticky Chicken ’n Ribs to provide fans with some good food while they watch the game.
“Expect to see a lot of hard-hitting football,” said Sprung. “Fans will love the local flavor and the intensity we bring.”