06/28/2014 9:30 AM
Barnstormers' Dynamic Duo Enjoying Historic Season
By CHRIS HOPKINS
Via Arena Football League
The Iowa Barnstormers possess one of the best passing attacks currently in the League, thanks in large part to their dynamic receiving duo on the outside consisting of the Marco Thomas and Darius Reynolds.
Few tandems in the League have more combined receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns. In fact, they could become the first pair of teammates to rank in the top 10 in all three categories since Chris Jackson and Troy Bergeron of the Georgia Force finished the season that way in 2007.
Thomas, a six-year AFL veteran, leads the League in four receiving statistical categories while posting 121 receptions, 1,556 yards, and 33 receiving touchdowns through 14 games.
Despite entering his sixth season and turning 30 last November, Thomas is putting together his best AFL season.
At this point he has already surpassed his previous career-high in receiving touchdowns and is on pace to set career highs in receptions and receiving yards, as well.
By way of Western Illinois University, the battle-tested Thomas feels that he is just hitting his stride.
“Even though a lot of time has passed and I’ve had some injuries, I feel that I’m still getting faster,” Thomas said. “It all depends on how well you keep your body in shape and despite all of my nagging injuries, I’ve been able to keep my body in good shape. “
Thomas’ career season and veteran presence has had a large impact on the offense particularly his running mate, Darius Reynolds.
Reynolds is in his third AFL season, all of which have been with the Barnstormers and all of which have been played with Marco Thomas.
“I look up to him [Thomas] because he is a little older than me but he still goes out every game and gives his all and it’s motivation for me,” Reynolds said. “Watching him motivates me and he’s obviously the best receiver in the game right now.”
The apprentice is not far from the master.
Reynolds has already exceeded his former season career-highs this year with 92 receptions, 1,333 yards and 25 receiving touchdowns. He ranks seventh, third, and tied for ninth in each of those categories, respectively.
A large factor for Reynolds’ success this season is his health.
Prior to this season, the most games he played in a year was 11 and he’s already played 14 in 2014.
“My mindset going into camp was a little different—last year going into camp, I was a little bit banged up and I ended up missing some games during the season,” said Reynolds. “So this offseason, I trained hard and I was working to have a good season this year. Coming out of camp, Coach Ho [Head Coach Mike Hohensee] told me that it was one of the best camp performances that he has ever seen and he could tell that I was really dedicated to winning this year and he ended up making me a captain.”
Reynolds, who played college ball at Iowa State down the road from the Barnstormers’ headquarters, has handled his newfound leadership responsibilities valiantly, especially given the circumstances of the Barnstormers season.
Iowa has seen three different starting quarterbacks under center, thus far this season. In Week 9 against Jacksonville, Reynolds had to take the reins of the offense after the two quarterbacks on the roster were both knocked out of the game.
Reynolds completed one of his two pass attempts for six yards.
“It’s all about winning, no matter who’s going to be your quarterback, you have time to prepare,” Reynolds said. “Obviously the Jacksonville game we didn’t have time to prepare for both of our quarterbacks going down but going into the week leading up to the game, the coaches give you a heads up of who’s going to be the quarterback.”
Thomas, who has had to adapt a leadership during these times of crisis, agreed with Reynolds. He added that the communication among the team, which is said to be better than last year, has been a big reason the team has not stalled despite the lack of a consistent voice in the huddle.
“In the meetings there is a lot of communication going on especially when different quarterbacks are coming in and most of these quarterbacks have been in the system at one point or another so they know the system,” said Thomas.
One of those quarterbacks who’s familiar with the Barnstormers system is J.J. Raterink.
Raterink, who spent the past two seasons in Iowa before signing with the LA KISS this offseason, was sent back to the Barnstormers on May 12 in a three-team trade.
Since coming back to Iowa, Raterink has posted solid numbers: completing over 61 percent of his passes for 1,053 yards while tossing 18 touchdowns with only one interception.
Raterink and the other Barnstormers quarterbacks have benefited greatly from the Thomas-Reynolds combination on the outside.
Having the third best passing attack in the League while showcasing three different starting quarterbacks is really a testament to what Thomas and Reynolds are doing.
At this point in the season, the two receivers have combined to haul in just under 76 percent of the teams total passing yards and just under 83 percent of the team’s passing touchdowns.
Defenses know where the ball is going to likely be thrown yet they are still unable to game plan accordingly.
“It takes a lot of pressure off of us because there’s no way to game plan when you have two of the best out there,” said Reynolds.
And being two of the best receivers in the game, Thomas and Reynolds have been able to keep Iowa in the playoff picture.
Having to play in the ultra-competitive East Division is difficult but Iowa has kept their head above water and are only two games behind the Tampa Bay Storm who currently hold the fourth and final playoff spot in the American Conference.
On Saturday, the Barnstormers will go up against their East Division rival Philadelphia Soul who own the same record as Iowa and won their previous matchup in Week 7.
The Soul, who rank near the bottom in pass defense, will need to find a way to silence Thomas and Reynolds or it could be a long day for their secondary.