By Dave Hart
MUSKEGON – Things seem to change every year for the West Michigan Ironmen.
But one tradition the Ironmen have established through all the changes is consistent winning, and that could very well continue this season, with the return of many players from last year’s championship squad.
The Ironmen will open the 2019 season on Saturday against the Illinois Renegades at 7:15 p.m. at L.C. Walker Arena. The Renegades do not belong to the same league, but the game will count in the league standings for the Ironmen.
West Michigan will be competing this season in the American Arena League, a 15-team league that’s largely centered in the eastern United States. The team will play an eight-game regular season schedule, with five at home, beginning Saturday and ending June 1. The next game after Saturday will be March 30 at home.
The Ironmen will compete in the Central Division of the AAL, along with the Indianapolis Enforcers and Chicago Aztecs. They with play their division rivals three times apiece, along with one division crossover contest against the West Virginia Roughriders at home.
Last season the Ironmen won the championship in the Midwest Professional Indoor Football League. In 2017 they played in the elite Champions Indoor Football League, when they posted their only sub-.500 record and missed the playoffs. In 2016, their inaugural season, they advanced to the championship game of the American Indoor Football League.
Overall the Ironmen are 18-10 in their three seasons of existence. Another title is definitely the goal this season, according to Ironmen General Manager/Coach Nate Smith.
“We want to win rings,” Smith said. “The goal every day is to compete for a championship. We want to get better and prepare for greater competition.”
Smith will take over on the bench for longtime coach Ty Lynk, who had been the head coach since the team’s inception.
“I am excited about coaching this season,” said Smith, who is also the head coach of the Fruitport High School football team. “Camp has been an awesome experience and the players and staff have a great connection.”
The Ironmen’s strength coming into the season will be experience and team chemistry, with many players from last season returning to the squad.
“Many of our players are dedicated to playing for Muskegon,” Smith said. “Some of these guys have had a chance to play elsewhere and have chosen to stay.”
Veteran Alex Carder will return to the Ironmen for his fourth season at quarterback. Returning in the offensive backfield is Dakota Smith, who was the MPIF Running Back of the Year last season.
Muskegon High School alum Corey Johnson will also be back for his fourth season at wide receiver, along with Carrington Thompson Sr., who was the Offensive Rookie of the Year in the MPIF last season.
A key newcomer on the offensive side of the ball is former Western Michigan University tight end Jeremiah Mullinax, who could also see time on defense.
On the offensive line, Jesse Somsel returns to the Ironmen after being named MPIF O-Lineman of the Year in 2018.
The Ironmen will also returning many on the defensive side of the ball. Ryan Armstrong, Nick DeKrakker and Derek VandenBosch will be back from last season’s squad, while Kyle Connors returns to West Michigan for his third year after not playing for the team last season.