Are the Iowa Barnstormers Ready to Put on a Show?

Curious, I had to research what a Barnstormer truly was. Admittedly the term came and went long before my time. One of the most famous Barnstormers of all time was Charles Lindbergh. Barnstorming was a form of trick flying an airplane in the early 1900s. Their whole objective was to entertain the crowd no matter how big or small. 

In 2023 the Iowa Barnstormers have built a roster of football players they believe will be ready to put on a show. Indoor football in itself is a far more exciting game than the NFL could hope to provide on the more spread-out outdoor field. The scoring comes at a much higher rate, and big plays are a lot more frequent as well. The Barnstormers hope to take that to the next level in 2023 under veteran quarterback Darius James-Peterson’s guidance once again. 

Before they focused on players it was important to make sure the staff was solidified long-term. Signing head Coach Dave Mogensen to a contract extension through the 2024 season was a key move to progressing this off-season. Next to him bringing back assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Jermaine Hampton was equally important. The Barnstormers finished 2022 as the 7th ranked scoring offense, but their defense was ranked 5th in points allowed. Both units can use some fine-tuning but neither was far off the goal of being the top-scoring unit. 

Locking up Veteran Leadership

Bringing back the veteran leaders was a priority of the coaching staff. No player was more important than quarterback Darius James-Peterson who resigned this offseason. When asked Coach Mogensen says: “The IFL is a young player-driven league, look back at previous championship teams and you will see key players who are rookies, but you also will see a sprinkle of veteran leadership.  We felt last year where we at times played games with 16-18 rookies at a time, that we were missing a bit of that, so we made a conscious effort to go out and sign some accomplished  veterans to add to the mix”

QB Darius James-Peterson 5’11 195 lbs

DJP was the MVP of the Barnstormer’s offense in 2022. Completing over 56% of his pass attempts he managed just over 2,000 yards through the air along with 36 touchdowns to 18 interceptions. He also added 179 carries for 892 yards and 17 touchdowns. He led the team in both passing and rushing yards. 

Quotes from Coach Moges: “Darius is one of the most dynamic players in the IFL, a quick glance at his 2022 highlights will show that.  As a rookie making the jump from NAIA to the IFL he acclimated incredibly well, passing for over 2000 yards, and leading the league in rushing with nearly 900 yards.  Those are MVP-type numbers.  If he cuts down on his INTs this year and makes a few better throws in clutch situations he will be in the MVP discussion this year.  Our offense revolves around him, in both style and substance.  Make no doubt about it, It’s his Offense in 2023”

ATH Kezlow Smith 5’11 190 lbs

Smith is hard to place in any one position. He aided the Barnstormers in so many ways last season he truly can only be classified as an athlete. He managed 22 carries for 97 yards and 6 receptions for 93 yards, and 1 touchdown. He added 5 kick returns for 107 yards and 1 touchdown as well as 7 tackles on special teams in just 10 games. Smith could see an uptick in touches in 2023. 

Quotes from Coach Mogensen: “Kezlow Smith is one of the best special teams players in the IFL and as a receiver is a proven big-play threat as a veteran, going back to his rookie season in 2018, along with being a difference maker as a blocker.  He wasn’t 100% for any of the 2022 season with nagging injuries keeping him in and out of the lineup, so we are looking for him to have a bounce-back year production-wise”

DE/LB Chris Robinson 6’2 247 lbs

Robinson was a solid performer in 2022 for Iowa. Playing in 15 games he had 38 tackles, 8 for a loss, 3 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, and 1 recovery. The team believes he can be even better in 2023. Robinson attended an open tryout last season and made an impression ultimately playing his rookie IFL season with Iowa, thanks in large part to his performance there. 

LB Ian McBorrough 6’2 230 lbs

McBorrough is one of the most athletic linebackers in the IFL. His athletic abilities earned him a work-out with the Seattle Seahawks but he ultimately didn’t stick. “Ian is an NFL caliber athlete who had an outstanding college career earning multiple post season accolades,” said Head Coach Mogensen. “We are excited to have him in Iowa and feel he will be a big difference maker on defense for us.” These were the comments made by Coach before McBorrough ever played a down for the Barnstormers. Boy, was coach correct. McBorrough went on to collect 84 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, 4 pbus, 2 recoveries, and 2 blocked kicks. He not only performed well, he immediately established himself as one of the best linebackers in the IFL.

DB De’Vaughn Whitt 5’11 190 lbs

Whitt was an NFL hopeful who was eligible for the 2022 NFL draft class. He went unselected and ultimately played in just one game in 2022. Whitt during college was a big-time performer. He collected 96 tackles, 8.5 for a loss, 5 interceptions, 8 pbus, 1 forced fumble, and 1 recovery in 25 games. He looks to bring the same impact to the IFL for his first full season.

DB Tyrell Pearson 5’9 171 lbs

Pearson is an IFL veteran who returns to the Barnstormers in 2023 for what will technically be his third season with the team. He began his IFL career in 2017 with the Green Bay Blizzard, before signing with Iowa for the first time. He spent 2 seasons there in 2018 and 2019 In 2020 he signed with the Arizona Rattlers, before again returning to Iowa. Now he has resigned to stay in Iowa for one more season. His first two seasons in Iowa resulted in winning special teams player of the year for the team in 2018, and First Team All IFL when he tied for the league lead in interceptions with 6. 

Finally Some New Faces

Finally, after a few weeks of free agency Iowa made some moves to bring in new players. DL Jay Kennedy, WR Derek Kumerow, DB Marcus Green, DL Charles Brooks, and OL Eric Janeau Jr. 

DL Jay Kennedy 6’8 300 lbs 

Kennedy is a man whose story will bring tears to your eyes, but by the time you reach the present day, your heart will swell with hope. Kennedy was faced with a decision out of high school, attend a school or stay with his ailing mother. Jay chose the family as he should. After his mother regained her health he began the journey back to football playing in a semi-pro league before latching on with the Wenatchee Valley Skyhawks. Kennedy brings NFL-caliber size but needs a bit of polish to his game which is exactly what Iowa intends to give him. 

WR Derek Kumerow 6’3 215 lbs

If you followed the Aaron Rodgers saga closely the Kumerow last name likely struck a chord with you when you read it. Derek’s brother is none other than Jake Kumerow. The receiver Rodgers campaigned for only to watch the team release him. Jake is currently in Buffalo with the Bills. Derek is still hoping he reaches the NFL heights a host of family members made it to, but the Barnstormers hope he can shred a few defenses on his way back outdoors. 

DB Marcus Green 6’1 185 lbs

Green spent the 2020 season with the Bismarck Bucks. Playing in just one IFL game he intercepted a pass. He has a long winding college career that spanned 5 seasons, 4 schools, and 3 transfers. He still only played in 20 games. This led him to go unselected in the NFL draft. He should be an interesting player to follow given his relatively limited playing time in the past. 

OL Eric Janeau Jr. 6’3 325 lbs

Janeau Jr. Comes over after three seasons under Corey Roberson in Green Bay with the Blizzard. Coach Mogensen knows Coach Roberson rather well and likely knows all the ins and outs of Janeau’s game and what he brings to Iowa’s offense. His veteran presence on the offensive line will be huge in 2023 for a revamped unit. 

DL Charles “CC” Brooks 6’1 265 lbs

Brooks was a two-way player in college playing defensive tackle and fullback. This role helped him land with a team Dave Mogensen came from in the NAL, the Albany Empire in 2021. During this season Brooks scored twice despite most of his playing time coming on defense. Brooks will likely focus on defense now that he is no longer asked to play iron man rules, although we could see a cameo on offense in short-yardage situations. 

More Key Players From 2022 Return

DB Titus Howard 6’2 195 lbs

Having attended Pitt, before Slippery Rock, Howard is no stranger to playing under the limelight. However he didn’t pop on film until 2015 when he looked like a shutdown defender racking up 71 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 4 interceptions, 21 tipped passes, and 1 fumble forced and recovered. This is exactly the kind of performance Iowa got in 2022. 44 tackles, 3.5 for a loss, 5 pbus, 1 forced fumble, and 1 blocked kick. 

Quotes from Coach Mogensen

As you look at these moves, you begin to see a trend. The staff with Iowa believes they are two things you can’t teach: size and speed. “Size and Speed are not coachable so I value both greatly, size, especially along the offensive line is important. Chris Jackson is huge, as is TJ Jackson. Cam Johnson is 6’6.

I made a calculated decision to try and bring in some bigger but explosive receivers, I thought we got pushed around the middle of the season once Eric Thomas went down and before we brought in Ardarius Stewart and Zac Parker.  Hence the trade of Bell and non-tender of Alvin bailey and Dom McNeil – Derek and Nate are both very athletic Big receivers.

We also right now are probably the fastest team in the league- Bralon Robinson ran a 4.28 40 at his pro day and is legitimately one of the fastest men in the country.  Kezlow and Darius are legit 4.3 guys,  Cam Clemons a 4.3 guy, Ian McBorrough probably the fastest LB in the league in the high 4.4s.”

DL Jordon Beaton 6’2 315 lbs 

Beaton played with Iowa in 2022, after originally signing with Frisco. He wound up starting every game for Iowa in 2022. He racked up 20 tackles, 4.5 for a loss, 3 sacks and 2 pbus. Juco transfer that found his way to the University of South Alabama. After dominating at the JUCO level he came back to earth a bit notching 30 tackles, 6 tkfl’s, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery. He is a guy who should fit in well with Iowa.

DL Carl Igweh 6’4 265 lbs

Hailing from Frostburg University, (which should definitely be a feeder school for the Blizzard) Igweh is an elite pass rusher. Every team needs at least one player like Carl Igweh. In four years of college, he played in 36 games and produced 37 sacks. It doesn’t get much better than that. Igweh participated in the 2022 College Gridiron Showcase, and had high hopes of landing in the outdoor game. Igweh has the feel of a player that just needs one season of solid play to gain more recognition from the NFL, CFL, XFL, or USFL.

DL Marshaun Jones 6’2 305 lbs

Jones is another big body on the defensive line that spent 2022 with Iowa. He appeared in several games last season. Collecting 20 tackles, 8 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 1 pbu, 1 blocked kick he scooped up and ran back 40 yards. Playing in 35 games over four college seasons, he managed 20.5 sacks and 227 tackles. Jones is yet another high-ceiling player that could potentially be a breakout player in 2023.

DB Rick Rumph 6’1 180 lbs

Rumph last played for the Green Bay Blizzard but also spent time with the Duke City Gladiators and Sioux Falls Storm in 2021. His first experience with the IFL came in late 2018 with the Cedar Rapids River Kings, where he also spent 2019. He would finish the 2021 season with Green Bay before returning to the Blizzard in 2022. He produced 16 tackles and 2 pass breakups in 7 games. 

K Gabriel Rui 5’11 195 lbs

Rui was easily the best kicker in the league last season. His performance was impressive even before I asked Coach Mogensen about him: “Rui is the best kicker in the league, he was without a doubt in the first half of 2022, he played 9 games with a torn MCL and ACL in his plant leg and still made 2nd team all-league.” He scored 60 points on field goals alone last season, while also handling kickoffs as well. Rui looks to get healthy and return to dominant form in 2023.

WR Ke’Lenn Davis 6’2 195 lbs

As stated above coach made a conscious decision to bring in bigger receivers across the board. David is more evidence of this standing at 6’2. Out of Texas Southern University, Davis had a solid college career. In three years he played in 16 games, collecting 54 receptions for 771 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also had a 5-yard punt return for a touchdown, and 5 special teams tackles. Davis could be an asset for Iowa. 

WR Nate Stewart 6’2 215 lbs

Nate Stewart is yet another big body receiver brought in to impose his will on defensive backs near the red-zone. Stewart brings NFL size, but lacks the top flight speed at this point to truly thrive in the NFL. Running a 4.71 40 yard dash, he would likely be a guy NFL teams wanted to see gain some weight and make the move to an h-back position, or move tight end. Speed may be a necessary evil as a wide receiver, but if you can create separation or high point a ball over a defender there is a place for you on the field.

DB Eric Johnson 5’10 200 lbs

Iowa swung multiple trades to bring in or ship out players no longer in their plans. One of the players acquired was Eric Johnson previously with the San Diego Strike Force. Johnson came over in return for G Jonte Berry. Johnson is an indoor football veteran thanks to Jeff Garcia who helped him launch his career. He has had stops in Dodge City, Salina, San Diego, and now Iowa. Coach EJ as he was affectionately dubbed in San Diego adds that the Quarterback of the defense can be the coaching staff’s eyes and ears on the field. He will be reunited with his college coach and now defensive coordinator Coach Hampton. He had 33 tackles, 1 for a loss, 1 interception, 3 PBUs, 1 forced fumble, and 1 recovery. 

DB Justic’e King 5’9 180 lbs

King is a smaller defender but one that shouldn’t be slept on as a solid defensive back. King was elite last season and showed he isn’t scared to get physical despite his smaller stature. He had 68 tackles, 3.5 for a loss, 4 interceptions, 6 PBU’s, and 1 fumble recovery. This was one guy the defense couldn’t afford to lose. He is invaluable to this team on defense and has displayed the traits of a shutdown cornerback. 

DL Dillon Salva 6’2 265 lbs

Salva is yet another new face competing for time on this line. However, Salva is a former NFL Tight End making the move to defense. He has become known as a physical trainer and is looking for film at a new position. Salva could be a guy to watch in 2023 as I firmly expect him to make the roster. 

In yet another effort to collect players that offered next-level size, Blake Mitchell the 6’1 305 lb guard, and QB Tez Nunnery were released to clear the way for new guard Chris Jackson, and DB Cam Clemons. 

OL Chris Jackson 6’9 325 lbs 

Jackson is a mammoth offensive lineman with size that is nearly unrivaled at this level. Jackson attended UTM where he stuck around for five seasons. In 2021 Jackson was voted the second team all OVC, and AD Honor Roll. He finally moved on after the 2021 season leading him to the 2022 NFL Draft. He wound up unselected and turned to the IFL for his next chance. 

DB Cam Clemons 5’10 175 lbs

Clemons is an interesting player who began his college career with Western Illinois as a wide receiver. He played 3 games at the position in 2017 catching 1 pass for 15 yards, he would focus on special teams in 2018, and ultimately transferring to Missouri S&T. In 2019 he managed 19 touches for 183 yards and 2 touchdowns, adding 11 returns. In 2021 he got his first taste of defense and played special teams as well. Upon switching to defense he looked like a dominant cornerback. He produced 21 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions, including 1 pick-six. He also collected 43 tackles and a career-high 17 punt returns for 127 yards. Clemons could prove to be one of the better defensive backs on this team. 

OL Cam Johnson 6’6 325 lbs

Johnson is yet another road grader on that offensive line that is built to physically dominate opposing defensive lines. The Barnstormers fully intend to run over teams in 2023 and Johnson is just more evidence of that. 

OL Tj Jackson 6’8 340 lbs

Another mammoth offensive lineman here in Iowa. Jackson is a solid athlete despite his size. He was a two-sport athlete in high school, also playing basketball. As a senior in high school, he also played the defensive line. Upon arriving in college, Jackson attended Virginia Tech playing in 24 games during his time at the school. He was not a full-time starter in college which makes this move even more intriguing. He would transfer to Ohio State for his final season starting every game. This led him to mini camp with the New Orleans Saints last season. He looks to prove himself worthy of the outdoor game

Moving on From 2022 Talent

DL Mike Boykin 6’6 295 lbs

Boykin was released in the wake of bringing in all these defensive linemen in free agency. This was due to the fact that he never reported in 2022. He was signed by the Tennessee Titans, before being released later on and landing in the XFL.

Traded away wide receiver Kentrez Bell to San Diego. As mentioned before moving on from Bell was part of a conscious effort to bring in bigger pass catchers. In return for Bell Iowa received Future Considerations. In this case, it means that Iowa will get the first crack at anyone San Diego decides to release. 

Re-Signing More Home-Grown Talent

DL Dave Calderon 5’11 265 lbs

Calderon is an undersized defensive lineman at 5’11 but the hybrid linebacker/defensive end is still an effective piece of the puzzle. Despite his size, he put up 28 reps of 225 lbs on the bench. Had deceptive foot speed for his size and often makes plays based on effort alone. Last season in 14 games he had 30 tackles, with 14.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, 3 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, and 1 blocked kick. He was definitely a priority player this off-season.

DB Jordan Baldwin 6’2 195 lbs

Baldwin finished the season on injured reserve after playing in 10 games. He was one of the most prolific defensive backs they had in 2022. Collecting 53 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 1 interception, and 1 pbu. Baldwin played with the Sioux Falls Storm in 2021, his rookie season in the IFL. He collected 27 tackles, 1 interception, and 2 PBU’s. Baldwin is a guy who looks to be a budding star in the IFL. These are the players that the league should be attempting to retain. 

For all the effort made to bring in bigger-bodied receivers, there is always a place for elite speed on any roster. The Barnstormers choose to release wide receiver Alvin Bailey and offensive lineman Nino Schmidt. 

Bailey was a solid performer last season with 28 receptions for 324 yards and 1 touchdown on offense. He also averaged over 16 yards per kick return on 19 attempts collecting 317 yards, and 40 yards per punt return with 2 attempts for 80 yards and 1 touchdown. Collecting 12 tackles along the way. 

Schmitt was another 2022 rookie who came from Missouri S&T. He began his career as a defensive lineman before moving to center. He spent six seasons in college, 2 on defense and 4 on offense. After making the move to center he won the starting job as a junior. He collected honorable mention all GLVC in his final two seasons. He served as the swing lineman for Iowa and played fairly well. However, at 6’0 320 lbs, he doesn’t meet the desire for linemen with above-average size. He also spent time with the Sioux City Bandits of the CIF. He would be a guy I would expect to garner interest from the NAL given his experience playing both ways. 

OL Justin Morgan 6’6 325 lbs

Morgan is a former Pitt Panther with an interesting story. Attending the school for the 2016 and 2017 seasons he redshirted as a freshman before seeing no playing time as a sophomore. With 18 offensive linemen on the roster, Morgan was dismissed from the program the day before training camp. A former 3-star recruit, and the top lineman from New York, he ended up at Stony Brook. After arriving in college at 365 lbs, he was down to 335 by his time in Stony Brook. Perhaps his weight had something to do with his dismissal. In Iowa, it appears the Barnstormers simply loaded up on players they liked a bit more than Morgan. He will find another job if he wants it. The offensive line is always in high demand. 

WR Max Elliott 5’9 185 lbs

To replace Bailey, the Barnstormers went and signed an even smaller receiver. Bailey is 5’11 180 lbs, and Max Elliott is 5’9 185 lbs, two inches shorter, Elliott is built a bit thicker almost like a running back. Elliott was one of the players who attended the open tryout the Barnstormers held. Elliott attended Newberry College a DII program, where he won Special Teams Player of the Year back in 2010. Since leaving college, Elliott has grown a following on YouTube as a traveling one-on-one artist. He is a 4.4 guy, that is extremely versatile. He had 6 carries for 32 yards and 13 receptions for 121 yards, in just 7 games in his final year of college. He would also return 18 kicks for 417 yards. I expect Elliott to step in as the primary return man, and aid the offense in multiple ways. Stay tuned to Shady Sports Network for the interview with Elliott, and eventually DJP as well.

DB Joshua Johnson 5’9 190 lbs

Johnson hails from Wayne State, where he actually played at 200 lbs. having shed 10 lbs to help his speed and agility he reportedly looked “very fluid in defensive back drills” Johnson played just one year of football but was a track star before that. His speed and athleticism could prove to be a huge asset on special teams. Johnson is extremely green and nothing short of a project for the Barnstormers but again this offseason was about bringing in the elite-level size, and athleticism that was lacking last season. Johnson certainly checks that second box for Iowa. 

Speaking of track stars…

WR Bralon Robinson 5’11 190 lbs

Robinson’s resume makes it appear as if his future was more closely tied to Olympic Sports, and not the Football Field. Robinson played football as a freshman, and although listed as a receiver, he didn’t catch a pass. Instead, he was utilized as a runner and return man. He is another very green player joining the team based primarily on his athletic abilities. Robinson graduated college holding two records for Alcorn State, the fastest indoor 60 m, and fastest outdoor 100 m relay. With 6.65 and 10.20 respectively. Robinson is so intriguing as an athlete the Buccaneers brought him in for a workout with QB Aqeel Glass to see. This will be his rookie season, and I for one expect to see him involved in multiple ways for Iowa. 

The Final Signing so far this Offseason

WR Caleb Smith 6’1 195 lbs

His father was once known for playing with the Arena Football League in the 90s. Caleb attended Towson University for all four years of college. He was brought into the offense slowly, but by his senior year, he caught 52, passes for 614 yards and 5 touchdowns. He added 2 carries for 8 yards and 2 kick returns for 22 yards. Collectively he produced 1,394 yards after his first two seasons amounted to just 75 of those yards. Smith is an exciting young player whom I believe could be a dark horse of this group. I would imagine his transition to the indoor game will be a bit quicker given his father’s influence. 

A Broader View

As addressed above, Iowa made a concerted effort to get bigger, stronger, and faster as every team attempts each season. Although not every team can find success in this pursuit, I believe Iowa knocked it out of the park this offseason. There are still a couple of questions to answer, such as backup quarterback, and running back. However, if these other moves are any indication I believe Dave Mogensen, the former Albany Empire Director of Player Personnel, will unearth some more hidden gems. One thing is for sure, I expect Iowa to improve on their 9-win total in 2022. 

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