The Duke City Gladiators have restocked their arsenal of weapons this offseason bringing in elite-level talent, and even some familiar faces to solidify their roster. Ownership and the coaches have one thing in mind in 2023, and that is adding an IFL Championship to their storied history. The Gladiators in just 7 seasons of play have logged just 1 losing season which came in 2022 at 8-9.
An offense will live or die by a quarterback. No one knows this better than Duke City. In 2022 they lost Nate Davis to an injury that paved the way for Ramone Atkins to play his way into an amazing season statistically. Atkins has moved on to Tucson, and Davis has resigned hoping for one more championship run.
The former NFL 5th-round pick has made his intentions to return to the field very clear. If he can physically play, he will be back with Duke City as their QB1. Davis is after all just one reason removed from earning IFL Offensive Player of the Year, and First Team All IFL in 2021. Davis did so while setting the single-season record for touchdown passes with 79.
Completing over 64% of his passes and totaling 3,092 yards on the season he added another 7 rushing touchdowns. With a performance like this and a history of being durable, the move to bring Davis back makes the most sense for a team that quite literally runs an offense Davis has created.
Of course, as the Gladiators learned last season, at times the second most important player on your team can be your backup quarterback because he is just a play away from being inserted as your starter. With Atkins in Tucson, and Kilgo released to pursue a spot with Salina of the CIF, there was a hole behind Davis.
To fill this need, the Gladiators tapped former LSU QB Andre Sale. Sale is noted for working with former NFL QB Clint Stoerner since the 6th grade. Originally having committed to UT-Martin he changed his commitment when Offensive Coordinator Justin Rascati moved to Tennessee Tech before the 2016 season. He would redshirt in 2016 before seeing playing time in 2017.
In 2017 he played in 8 games completing just under 59% of his passes for 1,520 yards or 7.3 yards per attempt with 8 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. After a coaching change in the offseason, he transferred to LSU for the 2018 season but didn’t play due to transfer rules. Ultimately, he didn’t see the field for LSU.
Sale was one of the first players to transfer out of LSU in the 2019 offseason. Ironically, Sale was already beginning his coaching career when Duke City offered him a deal. Duke City likes their quarterbacks to have a coach’s mind.
Running Back is going to be a lot more interesting in 2022. It looks like it is shaping up to be a two-headed attack with Tobyas Taylor the thunder to former FCF star James Harden’s lightning. With Taylor, a healthy 6’1 225 lbs, and Harden a 5’8 185 lb wide receiver/running back hybrid, the Gladiator’s offense should have a very fun running game to watch in 2023. I can’t wait to see the wrinkles that get added to this playbook with James Harden in the mix.
The Receiver room has seen quite a bit of movement this offseason so far. While the Gladiators were already working from a position of strength here, in the IFL…you can never have too many good receivers.
Dello Davis returns for the 2023 season. After being let go late last season, the fan favorite will be returning after all. Davis is an elite wide receiver and exactly the type of playmaker a veteran quarterback like Nate Davis wants by his side during a championship run. Last season, in just 13 games Dello managed 72 touches on offense for 814 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also managed 29 kick returns for 523 yards and 1 punt return for 36 yards. It’s obvious why the Gladiators would want him back in the mix.
Lou Dorsey is a 6’7 220 lb wideout that adds a level of intrigue to any offense. Traditionally in the outdoor game, Dorsey would be regarded as a tight end. With that in mind, we have to consider the level of mismatch a man like this can provide within the red zone, where he will be able to high-point balls over nearly every defender in the league. I am excited to see what Dorsey can do when in the game.
Jay Jay Wilson is another big-bodied wide receiver if you can even really call him that. At 6’4 245 lbs, Wilson is for all intents and purposes a tight end. However this position “doesn’t exist in the IFL” at least not in terms of roster designations. Wilson will be serving a role similar to that of a tight end, coming in as a blocker in short-yardage and obvious run situations. It will be interesting to see if both Dorsey, and Wilson make the roster. This could make for a very interesting boost to the run game.
Moe Strong is another big body at wide receiver. A spitting image of Mike Evans from the Buccaneers, Strong came from the AWFC. He helped lead the now-defunct Tri-City Rush to an undefeated season and championship victory. At 6’4 220 lbs Strong is a true wide receiver coming to compete for snaps in this offense.
Returning from last season are Greg Dent, Vinny Gregory, Umauri Hampton, and Eriq Swiftwater as well. All three of these guys have an advantage on the new faces having worked with Davis and this offense already. It should be interesting to see who sticks with all these additions, but the receiver room certainly could be the major strength for the Gladiators in 2023 once again.
De’jour Simpson at 6’0 300 lbs he is listed as a two-way player that can line up as a defensive lineman as well. This is a definite advantage to the depth of the team if he isn’t asked to start for either side of the ball. Simpson however will likely play his way into a starting position quickly. After joining the IFL in late April of 2022 he got his feet wet in his first IFL season. Now in 2023 he can really settle in and begin to dominate indoors.
Kyle Lester is a 6’5 322 road grader of a guard who finds his way to Duke City after playing with the Bismarck Bucks in 2022. Lester lands on his feet after his former team the Bucks goes dormant for the 2023 season. Lester is reunited with Ogburn is former Bucks teammate.
Joshua Taylor is a veteran lineman who likely will be vying for starting spot in 2023. He spent last season with the FCF’s “Force Field” offensive line group. He also spent time with the Sioux City Bandits of the CIF. As if that wasn’t enough Taylor was selected in the 2022 USFL Draft by the Michigan Panthers. He was eligible to be selected in the 2023 XFL draft but did not get selected this time around.
Donte Ogburn is another veteran lineman. Ogburn graduated college in 2020 and embarked on an impossible journey to an NFL draft selection without the benefit of the combine or a pro-day coming out of a small school in Lane College. He went undrafted and eventually landed on the Bismarck Bucks for the 2022 season. His team as mentioned before has gone dormant for the 2023 season leaving Ogburn and company to find new homes.
Last Season the defense allowed 687 points to opponents; this was an average of just over 40 points per game. They aim to cut that number down in 2023 with new faces that should help this defense improve in a few areas, specifically their run defense where they allowed over 1,300 yards all season, they also looked to bring in a few more ball-hawking defenders that can hopefully cut down on the 62.7% completion rate they allowed in 2022.
Mason Newton the 6’1 295 defensive lineman was brought back for the 2023 season after a solid performance last year. Collecting 21 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks, as well as 3 fumble recoveries, 5 blocked kicks, and 1 tipped pass. Newton also won special teams player of the week after a game in which he blocked two field goals that were recovered by the Gladiators. He also happens to hail from my home state of Colorado having attended Colorado Mesa University.
Zack Reynoso was a rookie in 2021 with the Salina Liberty. Signed by a defensive-minded head coach, Reynoso is one of those rare 6’4 320-pound defensive linemen that can two-gap with the best of them, but also still pressure the quarterback when called upon.
With Reynoso and Newton on board, it was time to turn to that other end position. That’s where Brian Johnson comes in. At 6’5 275 pounds, Johnson brings NFL measurables to the position for the Gladiators. He also should be able to anchor his side of the line in the run game and help cut down on the running lanes opposing backs had in 2022.
D’Darrin Primes returns to the defense for the 2023 season as well. In 2022 he was another reliable and versatile playmaker seeing some time at both linebacker and defensive end. He produced 26 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. Primes also spent time with The Spring League Generals up until 2022 when the league when dormant with the formation of the USFL.
Jaelin Smith is a 6’1 253 pound defensive end who can also stand up and play linebacker at times as well. He should be a very interesting addition to this defensive unit in 2023. He will have a lot of competition to ultimately see the field with yet another new face in the mix.
Sadat Sulleyman was once signed by the Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent LB/DE out of Portland State. Unfortunately for Sulleyman he didn’t last long with the NFL squad but has continued to play football. He now lands not far from Denver in Duke City with the Gladiators, where the ties to the XFL, seem to be bringing more and more former NFL players back to the indoor game.
Greg Hancock is a versatile defensive back. Looking at his measurables: 6’0 190 lbs, you may never guess you would see him winning a defensive player of the year award as a linebacker. However, you would be wrong. In 2022 he was signed by the Tri-City Rush, who were very heavy on defensive backs. Being that Hanock wanted to get on the field as early and as often as possible he volunteered to step in at linebacker. He not only stepped in he dominated in 2022. Hancock is expected to play defensive back for the Gladiators but I would not be surprised to see him moved all over the field playing several roles for what is ultimately a very deep secondary once again.
On the opposite side of Hancock is yet another ballhawk. Billy Eakins spent last season with the Outlaws, which was fitting because he often stole the ball from opposing offenses, 8 times in 2022. Eakins also had 35 tackles and 3 pass breakups in 10 games. Eakins is a veteran whom a lot of times ends up in the right place at the right time because of his knowledge. With a veteran presence aiding his development perhaps we see Hanock bring home back-to-back DPOY awards.
The Gladiators have a type at defensive back. They like 6’0 190 lb guys who can jump routes with the best of them. This is why we see Dexter Reese resigning for the 2023 season. In 2022 he was reliable producing 48 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 5 pass breakups. With Eakins, Hanock and Reese resigned, perhaps this allows Greg Dent to focus more on the offensive side of the ball in 2023.
Jeremy Lewis is yet another new face that stands 6’0 tall. He is a bit closer to the 200-pound mark than some of the other defensive backs. Lewis will try and find his way on the field in what is suddenly a stacked secondary. This could turn into a strength for this team as well.
If there was one priority from the 2022 secondary that needed to be resigned it was DB Roderi Chapman. Chapman was arguably the most dynamic member of the secondary in 2022. He produced 44 tackles, 3 interceptions, 10 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, and 3 recoveries. He will be looked upon to again add a playmaker to this secondary that is now chock full of them.
Ernesto Lacayo has been signed for the 2023 season. Lacayo spent the last two seasons with the Arizona Rattlers. He also spent the 2020 season with the XFL’s Seattle Dragons. Lacayo began his career in 2011 and is about as solid of a kicker as they come in the IFL. He hit on 79% of his kicks in 2022, including a 48 yard field goal against Duke City. He also handles kickoffs for his teams as well. Lacayo is just one more important piece to what the Gladiators believe is a championship puzzle.
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