Coaches, players, and fans look to rebound from dismal inaugural campaign

03/10/03 Jason Christopherson

Coach Brown:  “If we do our job, we are going to completely turn 180 degrees.”

March 14 is an important date for the La Crosse Night Train.

With a dramatically altered line up and a year of experience beneath its belt, the Night Train and its loyal passengers begin a new journey on March 14th.  This time, though, the destination should be a world away from the 1-13 finish in 2002.

“We play in the toughest division in the NIFL, in my opinion, and this year will be no different,” second-year Head Coach Mike Brown said.  “If we do our job, we are going to completely turn 180 degrees.”

The optimism largely stems from the new and improved lineup La Crosse will be putting on the field this season.  Johnny Johnson, former University of Illinois star quarterback, has been given the nod as the starting signal caller after a tough training camp battle with incumbent Marrial Shields.  Brown would love to keep both on the roster for the impressive depth it would create.  “We’ll see what Marrial decides to do because he’s good enough to be a starter in this league,” Brown commented.

2002 standout running back Doby Howard has some work-related issues and hasn’t been able to report to the team.  Former Carolina Panther Marquette Smith was tabbed to step in, but an injury to him left the running back spot a major question mark.  That is, until La Crosse announced the signing of former Cleveland Brown draft pick Chris Floyd this week.  Floyd is a tailback in a fullback’s body (6’2”, 235#), and in Coach Brown’s offense he will get a chance to shine at tailback.  “We needed to make sure we weren’t rushing Marquette back from injury, so now he has proper time to rehab.  When Marquette is healthy we’re going to have to see how our team has taken shape by then.  It will all depend upon the success we have without guys like Marquette and Doby,” Brown said.

The offensive line, led by Garnet Asmundson, combines raw power and size with tremendous foot speed.  Jason Hennigh, Xavier Bonds, and DuPree Bee round out the offensive line roster.

Speaking of tremendous foot speed, the receiving corps could be among the fastest in the league.  Ex-Michigan Wolverine DiAllo Johnson leads a talented group of receivers including Ben Antony, Jose Banda, Titcus Pettigrew, and Larry Henderson.  Brown is ecstatic about this group.  “I’ve found five wide receivers that can do everything from the short passing game to the deep threat,” Brown said.  Johnson is as big (6’4”) and physical as there is in the league.

Coach Brown’s biggest surprise out of training camp was the speed of the defensive line.  Led by holdover stars Derric Coakley and Willie Stephen, “we look like we’re going to be able to get to the quarterback on a consistent basis extremely quickly.”  Dempsey Miller, Roger Wilson, and Dave Diemel will join Coakley and Stephen in the trenches.  Linebacker Tawan Temple is regarded as a “beast”, according to a comment Brown made in the La Crosse Tribune, while Josh Jacobs is a raw talent.

Marvin Hooker, Tajuan Tait, Freddie Cruz, Jarobi Kemp, and Ken Smith make up the defensive backfield which, according to Brown, “will come around because the overall talent is there.”

Brett Gordon will handle the kicking duties.  Okay, I’ll admit it.  I didn’t ask Coach Brown about the kicking game in general nor Gordon in particular.  Brett, if you are reading this, I promise to give you some props in upcoming articles!  I’ve got this idea for “A Day in the Life of a Kicker” article…

As far as competition goes, Brown believes the Omaha Beef is the team everyone needs to catch up to.  “The Beef have a potent defense and physical offense and play smash-mouth, Nebraska-type football,” Brown noted.  The question marks are the Believers, due to new owners, coaches, and players, and last year’s division champion Capitols, since they lost so many of their offensive producers.  Brown mentioned this week’s opponent, Sioux City, “is an extremely fast team overall and it’s going to take four full quarters of effort to come at them”.

2003 promises to be an exciting season for the Night Train.  Coach Brown wondered if it would be a great story to go from 1-13 to 13-1.

Indeed, it would.

***This column is for the fans of the Night Train.  If there is something or someone in particular you want me to write about, or if you have some questions you would like to see answered by Coach Brown or someone else, or if you just want to comment on the ‘Train, please e-mail me at . 

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