The LA KISS will begin their third Arena Football League season Saturday night by playing host to the Jacksonville Sharks at Honda Center with a nearly all-new roster, a new coach and more emphasis on football in its game presentation.
Just five players return from last year’s team that went 4-14, the league’s second-worst record. Receiver Donovan Morgan is the only player on the KISS roster who played with the team during its inaugural 2014 season when it was 3-15.
“Starting from scratch — that’s basically how myself and the staff are approaching this thing,” said Omarr Smith, who will be making his debut as the KISS coach. “It’s exciting, but it’s a lot of work ahead of us.”
Smith described his team as a “really good group of guys with high character.”
“That’s something that’s important,” said Smith, who was raised in Torrance and attended Torrance and Bishop Montgomery high schools. “This thing is about football, but you want to have good human beings that try to do the right thing off the field.”
Smith was hired in November to succeed Bob McMillen, who resigned after coaching the KISS to a 7-29 record over its first two seasons.
Smith has five seasons of AFL coaching experience, three with the Arizona Rattlers as defensive coordinator and the past two as assistant head coach of the San Jose SaberCats.
Among the newcomers are quarterback Nathan Stanley, who will start for the KISS after being the backup for the 2015 Arena Bowl champion SaberCats.
“He’s a hard worker,” Smith told City News Service. “He always comes in wanting to get better.”
Stanley said he decided to join the KISS less than a week after Smith’s hiring was announced on Nov. 4.
“I had a good relationship with Omarr in the two years I was in San Jose and being able to come and play for him this year is another great opportunity,” said Stanley, who had become a free agent.
Commissioner Scott Butera announced on Nov. 12 that the SaberCats owners had notified him that for reasons unrelated to league operations, they would no longer continue as members of the AFL.
The 24-player KISS roster includes two USC alumni — kicker Andre Heidari and fullback John Martinez — and one from UCLA, offensive lineman Shannon Tevaga. Two others played at high schools in Los Angeles County — defensive back Fredrick Obi (Morningside) and receiver D.J. Stephens (Kennedy).
Jacksonville was 10-8 last season, then upset both the South Division champion Orlando Predators and East Division champion Philadelphia Soul in the playoffs to reach ArenaBowl XXVIII, where it lost to San Jose, 68-45.
Sharks quarterback Tommy Grady was the AFL’s MVP in 2012.
Arena football is played by eight-player teams on an artificial turf field that is 50 yards long and 85 feet wide with eight-yard end zones. Punting is prohibited, prompting teams to try field goals on fourth down from any spot on the field.
Rebound nets 30 feet wide and 32 feet high are on the back of each end zone. Balls hitting the nets remain in play.
The AFL has several rules aiding the offense, including allowing receivers to go forward in motion before the snap of the ball.
During the KISS’ inaugural 2014 season, the team’s then-president Schuyler Hoversten promised fans a “non-stop sensory experience” that included go-go dancers on platforms suspended above the field and BMX bicyclists doing backflips during breaks in play.
Joe Windham, who became the team’s CEO in March 2015, said “in the first year, sometimes you kind of get starry-eyed and I think they went way overboard on the entertainment side of it.
“The reality is football is our product,” Windham said. “This is a great game. That’s what we’re focusing on.”
The team, whose owners include two members of the rock band KISS, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, will still have a rock music element, with a house band playing as the players warm up before the game and “a great show to do player introductions with fireworks,” Windham said, but “after that, we get down to football.”
KISS will play an unplugged and unmasked pregame concert for season ticket holders and will also perform at halftime Saturday night.
—City News Service