Everett Raptors make their debut Saturday night

EVERETT — Professional football is back in Everett in the form of the Raptors, a new addition to the Indoor Football League.

The Raptors kick off their season tonight in Kennewick against the Tri-Cities Fever, then play their home opener March 1 at Comcast Arena. But before the Raptors can bring indoor football back to town for the first time since the Hawks folded in 2007, there is one big question to answer:

Just who are these guys?

Well, if you’re a big enough fan of the sport that you ventured to Kent last year to watch the Kent Predators (who were rebranded as the Seattle Timberwolves under new ownership midway through the season) then the Raptors won’t be entirely unfamiliar. Head coach Sean Ponder was in Kent last year, as were several key players, including quarterback Charles McCullum, all-league receiver Andre-Piper Jordan and standout defensive end John Fields.

In all, Ponder estimates he’ll have 10 to 12 players on his 25-man roster who played for him in Kent last year, as well as a handful of others he coached in his previous job with the Fairbanks Grizzles. That continuity and experience is especially valuable in a league with a high turnover rate and a very short preseason, which is why Ponder is confident the Raptors can be title contenders this season despite being technically considered an expansion team.

“A lot of teams look really good on paper, but the big thing is how well they play as a team,” he said. “Is there team chemistry, are they picking up the new system? There is a lot of turnover in this league, there may be coaching changes or ownership changes, all of those things are a factor. … Our team chemistry is there. Guys respect each other and can look each other in the eye and know that they’ve got each other’s backs. We’ve helped ourselves out a lot with that, now it’s a matter of going out and producing.”

On offense, that production will start with McCullum, who Ponder calls “probably the most mobile quarterback in the league.” The Raptors will use a spread offense that gives McCullum the opportunity to run or spread the ball around to playmakers such as Piper-Jordan and 6-foot-5 receiver Lonnie Sanders, who was a standout in Ponder’s offense in Fairbanks.

“Some teams are more physical running teams, some teams try to stay 50-50, we try to run a more wide-open spread offense and try to get the ball into athletes’ hands,” Ponder said. “… We game plan to use (McCullum’s) speed and athleticism as well.”

On defense — and make no mistake, defenses are at a sizeable disadvantage in this version of football — Fields is one of the league’s top players according to Ponder. Another player to watch will be defensive back Cashmin Thomas, who was an all-league player with Amarillo last season.

For those who haven’t watched the IFL in the past, the game looks quite different than the game played outdoors. Games are eight-on-eight, played on fields 50 yards long, and perhaps most intriguing, the field has padded boards rather than sidelines, which leads to some big hits.

“It’s a lot faster,” Piper-Jordan said. “The fans are right on the other side of the wall. It’s fast-paced, big hits. It’s real up close and personal.”

Added defensive back Xavier Hicks, Jr., a former starting safety for Washington State: “It’s more exciting. The fans are right there, the players go over the wall, (fans) get souvenirs because we lose a lot of balls during the game.

“It’s a lot of fun.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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