The Arena Football League returned to Georgia last season with the arrival of the Force in Gwinnett and the team built a strong following as they advanced to the Division Championship where The Force fell 64-55 to the eventual Arena Bowl Champion Jacksonville Sharks. The Force are now preparing for the coming season and have resigned eight core players from last year’s squad, including quarterback Darnell Kennedy and wide receiver Larry Shipp.
Kennedy started the final three games of the season, including both playoff games, and was 63-for-100 passing for 833 yards and 17 touchdowns. His performance (21-of-32 for 373 yards with seven touchdowns) in the 63-59 win against the Iowa Barnstormers in week 20 earned Kennedy the Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Week honor. Shipp led the team in receiving yards with 1,784 on 124 catches with 29 touchdowns as well as returning kicks.
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In addition to Kennedy and Shipp, defensive linemen Jeff Littlejon and Lois Ellis, defensive back Robert Durham, linebacker Caleb Bostic, offensive linemen Sean Allen and Ray Norell have all agreed to terms for the coming season.
Allen and Norell anchored an offensive line that allowed the Force to throw for the sixth-most passing yards in the AFL last season.
Durham averaged 5.8 tackles per game and finished in the top ten in that category while Littlejohn was a mainstay on the line. Ellis will join Littlejohn on the line after spending last season on the exempt list because he was a member of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers before his release. Bostic will bolster the linebacking corps this season.
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Force Head Coach Dean Cokinos said “These players were key components to our success during the 2011 season and their signings give us a solid base to build on heading into 2012.” Cokinos went on to say “We expect more Force players to sign, but we’re really excited to get into the free agent market this week to continue building our roster as we move forward.”
The restricted signing period ended Sunday, and teams are now pursuing free agents and a number of signings will be announced in the coming days and weeks as teams shape their team for 2012.
In the biggest move so far, legendary AFL QB Aaron Garcia has announced he will be going to San Antonio for what will likely be his final season in the team’s inaugural season. This will be the seventh team in Garcia’s 18 seasons in the AFL and San Antonio becomes the second consecutive newly formed team Garcia will play for. The Talons are relocating from Tulsa, Okla. And will play home games at the Alamodome.
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