There is no title to defend this season. Just a strong desire to rebound from a 7-6 campaign that left the Sioux City Bandits unsatisfied.
That record will be a driving force for a Champions Indoor Football league team that opens its season Saturday night against longtime rival Omaha. The Bandits finished an injury-plagued 2016 season with four straight losses that included a playoff loss to Bloomington in the opening round.
“One thing we try to instill is that when we come into camp we are preparing to win a championship,” Bandits Coach Erv Strohbeen said. “We have a sour taste in our mouth coming off of what was our worst season in the last six years statistically.”
Sioux City won a preseason game against an overmatched First City team 80-0 at the Tyson Events Center last Saturday, but Strohbeen said he will get his first real feel for the team he has against the Beef. The Bandits downed the Beef 43-38 to open last season and followed that up with a 45-33 victory four weeks later.
The preseason game gave a first look at new quarterback Taylor Genuser, who threw for 227 yards and four touchdowns. Genuser played for the Duke City Gladiators in 2016 where he eclipsed the 20 touchdown and 1,000-yard passing mark.
“He played very well,” Strohbeen said. “I am sure there are a couple throws he would like back but he threw it well. He didn’t really have to run but he can tuck the ball and go when he has to.”
The Bandits have always been a team that has leaned on its running game a good amount and this year figures to be no different with a trio of capable backs.
“We have arguably the three best backs in the league in Jeffrey Mack, Dominique Carson and Drew Prohaska,” Strohbeen said. “Mack is electric, we all know that Drew can do because he brings a lot to the table, and Dominique Carson is one of the most elusive guys to run in this league. They are going to be a key to our offense.”
The Bandits leader also said he likes the playmaking ability of his wide receivers led by veterans Frederick Bruno, who is returning from a season ending injury, and Jeremiah Oates.
The defense, which was the backbone of the Bandits last season, finished tied for the top spot in scoring defense at 38.4 points per game and third in total defense at 216.4 yards. Reigning CIF Defensive Player of the Year Marlon Lobban returns at linebacker and former Morningside standout Zac Schleuger is expected to make an impact.
The Bandits also boast an embarrassment of riches in the defensive backfield.
Jemichael Williams has come over from Amarillo after recording five interceptions last year and will team with fellow newcomer DeWayne Autrey II, the CPIFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. That doesn't included veteran playmakers Jon Smith, Rahn Franklin, Cliff Stokes and Denzel Adams.
As is the case most seasons, Strohbeen is most anxious to learn how both his offensive and defensive lines will perform.
“It will be a work in progress,” he said.
The former Bandit offensive lineman is pleased with the work his team put in to get ready for the season.
“This is the most competitive camp I have ever seen,” he said. “I believe that every guy we cut can play in the league it is that we are just so deep at some positions.”
Not only is this the season opener for the Bandits but it is also a reunion weekend for the team. It will also include the return of former Bandit and NFL running back Fred Jackson. Jackson is the Bandits' individual season record holder for rushing yards (1,770) attempts (334), rushing touchdowns (40) and average per rush (7.32) to go along with several other record marks.
Omaha is coming off a 7-5 season.