Their team has not yet played a game — the first game for the Tucson Sugar Skulls’ Indoor Football League’s existence is Sunday night at San Diego — but the owner and coach included the word “playoff” when speaking to fans and sponsors tonight at a kickoff event at the Desert Diamond Casinos and Resort.
“I guarantee you this team right here is going to be a playoff team,” said owner Kevin Guy to applause from the crowd at a ballroom at Desert Diamond that included season-ticket holders and sponsors.
“Keep the foot on the gas pedal,” he continued as he looked at the coaching staff, including head coach Marcus Coleman.
Coleman, the defensive coordinator of the United Bowl champion Iowa Barnstormers last year, later took to the podium, agreed with Guy’s “playoff” assessment and told the fans they “will be very proud of what we’re putting on the field.”
First things first, the Sugar Skulls, with their recently trimmed 30-player roster, head to San Diego to start their journey to success that could rival the magic of what the Vegas Golden Knights achieved last year in their inaugural season in the NHL.
The 14-game schedule extends into mid-June, providing Southern Arizona sports fans an outlet to the start of summer, especially with the void of minor-league baseball affiliation with MLB.
Former Canyon del Oro standout Robert Metz, a linebacker with the Sugar Skulls, said upwards to 100 family and friends might attend each game at Tucson Arena. He is convinced he made the right decision coming home instead of playing elsewhere, such as Green Bay, where he was one of the top players last year.
“Everything has surpassed my expectations,” Metz said. “They are very professional of what they do. I am actually kind of blown away.”
Metz is one of four local players on the Sugar Skulls’ roster. The others are linemen Antonio Rosales of Tucson High and Alex Rios of Sahuarita and defensive back Cam Gaddis of Santa Rita.
Rosales was literally at home with Wednesday’s event happening in the Tohono O’Odham Nation, where he is originally from.
“Growing up on the reservation, growing up with that culture, that culture and those ways, with everything that happens on the reservation, you don’t see it anywhere else in the city,” Rosales said while signing autographs for fans. “I’ve been gone for a long time (playing college football at San Diego State). Coming back, kind of being grounded in my roots, where I’m from, is nice.
“Being from the nation and being a professional at this level gives kids and everybody else from the reservation somebody to look at because there’s not many of us from where we’re from as good examples. To be a good example as somebody from our reservation means a lot.”
Some other highlights of the event at Desert Diamond Casinos:
OUR OFFICIAL 2019 SUGAR SKULLS JERSEYS pic.twitter.com/tBDwoju9JJ
— The team’s uniform combination — white, black and gold — were introduced earlier in the day during a media event. “Sick … they’re sweet to look at,” Metz said.
— One fan reminded all the Sugar Skulls players during the autograph-signing portion the importance of their nickname to the culture of many in the Tucson area. “Being from the area, I know what it means (with Dia de los Muertos),” Rosales said. “Pretty soon, all of my teammates will know.”
— The Sugar Dolls, the dance team, also greeted the fans. Every one of them are either from Southern Arizona or attended the University of Arizona. Two members were once part of the Wildcats’ dance team while attending Arizona. The names and backgrounds of the team members will be unveiled individually on social media leading up to the home opener March 10 against Bismarck.
— Coleman told the crowd that one of his traditions with the IFL is eating popcorn provided by fans seated by the coaches during games. “Somebody do me a favor and, because I like popcorn during the games, could somebody have a bag stashed away somewhere so I can get my hand in there during the game?” he asked.
Head coach Marcus Coleman @Patchmc42 at the @sugarskullsfb preseason tailgate party hosted by @DiamondCasinos. Thanks to our sponsors and season ticket holders for a great evening. pic.twitter.com/NkDHGLl4NR
— Coleman also said fans should prepare themselves for players winding up in their laps if they are sitting close to the field. “I’ll have you know, those of you who have your beers, coming Sunday (March 10), you may want to buy a backup,” he said. “There might be somebody on your lap, just letting you know, whether it be our guys or somebody from the opposing team.”
— Guy said that two hours before games at the Tucson Arena, a family-friendly event will be held outside with live music with food and beverages.