South Division Preview: Tennessee Valley Vipers PDF 
Tuesday, 17 March 2009 14:08
Tennessee Valley Vipers (2008: 10-6, 4-0 playoffs)

Home Field: Von Braun Center (6,642)

Head Coach: Dean Cokinos, second year with Tennessee Valley, third season overall; 19-16 (including playoffs)

Rookies Invited to Camp: 11

Key Player Lost: DL Terrance Ford, WR/DB Gary Elliott, K Nick Hayes

Key New Faces: WR/LB Bradly Chavez, LB Keller Speaks, WR Jeremy Grier, WR/DB Chris Bocage

Key Returners: QB Kevin Eakin, WR Maurice Brown, WR Alonzo Nix, WR/DB Travis Blanchard, WR/DB Desmond Foster, DB Demetrius Derico, DL Eric Scott

Burning Questions: Can the Vipers repeat as ArenaCup champions? Can Tennessee Valley keep all its stars happy? Can QB Kevin Eakin carry over his strong play from the second half of 2008 into 2009?

Last Game: Won at Spokane, 56-55 in overtime, in 2008 ArenaCup Championship (August 25)

Comments: The defending ArenaCup champion Vipers have the look of a club loaded to make run at another league title. Last year’s Tennessee Valley team got off to a slow start, losing its first three games before winning 10 of its last 13 games to head into the playoffs as the No. 4 seed. In the postseason, the Vipers took out top seed Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on the road in the conference semifinals before defeating Manchester at home to earn the right to play in the ArenaCup. Tennessee Valley scored another upset win in the final against the heavily-favored hosts from Spokane. In what would later come to be known as the greatest af2 game in league history, the Vipers defeated the Shock, 56-55, in overtime on a game-winning two-point conversion run by backup QB Tony Colston.

After last year’s amazing run, Head Coach Dean Cokinos could’ve felt justified in being a bit complacent, but that’s not what happened. Instead of resting on his accomplishments, Cokinos went right back to work to secure another highly competitive team for 2009. On offense, a number of key returnees from the title team of 2008 are back, including QB Kevin Eakin, receivers Alonzo Nix and Maurice Brown and WR/KR Travis Blanchard.

Eakin threw 51 TDs in 12 games for the Vipers while Nix and Brown combined for 205 catches, 2410 yards receiving and 50 touchdowns.

Blanchard, an All-Ironman team honoree in 2008, led the team with 13 rushing TDs in addition to 37.5 total tackles and three interceptions on defense.

Speaking of defense, All-af2 First Team DL Eric Scott and Demetrius Derico, quarterback of the secondary, have also returned to Huntsville. Scott led the squad with 17.5 sacks while Derico paced the Vipers with 79 total tackles, nine interceptions and 17 pass breakups.

Desmond Foster is another quality defensive back who chose to come back for another season the Vipers. In 2008, Foster ranked second in tackles with 66.5 while adding three interceptions and seven pass breakups. Two new additions to note are WR/LB Bradly Chavez, the 2008 af2 Ironman of the Year, and LB Keller Speaks. Chavez, honored as being the league’s top two-way threat a year ago, led the Manchester Wolves in receptions (86), receiving touchdowns (28), total touchdowns (33) and scoring (202) and finished third on the squad in receiving yards (1,147). The 6-2, 205-pound standout also lined up at the Jack Linebacker position for the Wolves in 2008. On defense, Chavez led the team in fumble recoveries with three (one return TD) and finished second in tackles with 38 (34 solo, 8 asst). He also placed second on the squad in forced fumbles (3), tied for second in interceptions (2; 1 return TD) and ranked third in tackles for loss (5). Speaks, who played last season in Louisville, had 30.5 tackles, six sacks and three forced fumbles in 15 games played with the Fire.

Last year’s Tennessee Valley team was a surprise. This year’s edition won’t sneak up on anyone. The Vipers, boasting extreme talent and experience on both sides of the ball, could very well end up in the same position they were in last year – the ArenaCup championship game.