By Lisa Morgan

So, you say you love football?  You call yourself a fan of the game?

Well, I dare tell you — no highly paid NFL team is likely to hold a candle to the passion, drive, dedication and pure heart displayed by the surprisingly strong band of brothers known as the SoCal Coyotes.  This AAA professional football team, located right here in the Coachella Valley, is football in its purest form:  Highly skilled and developed athletes, blowing up national statistics, playing purely for the love of the game, whole-heartedly appreciative for the chance to play and earn the loyalty and support of their fans.  The SoCal Coyotes are Southern California’s team — a team that contributes in big ways to their community and an organization we can all stand behind and be proud of.

As a first-year franchise, behind great leadership and discipline, the Coyotes rose from relative obscurity to win the hearts of fans throughout the valley last season. As a direct result of an exceptional 9-1 winning season, the team’s fan base now spans 22 countries with a total Facebook reach of nearly 1.2 million.

On December 8th, the SoCal Coyotes and Arizona Flying Dutchman will make history when they become the first professional football game to ever play in Avalon on historic Catalina Island at 7 p.m.  Fans and players of both teams are invited to take the Catalina Flyer together to participate in this lifetime event where the SoCal Coyotes will also be ceremoniously receiving their hard-earned Pac West Trophy for 2012.

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The hungry Coyotes broke every first-year record for any expansion franchise in history before losing the FWFA national title 23-20 to the proud New Mexico Titans in Las Vegas, NV. The Coyotes were the first PWFL expansion team to win a championship, outscoring opponents 251-90. In 2012, the team beat the defending national champions, the defending league champions and a conference champion. Currently, the Coyotes hold every offensive record in the PWFL, and finished the year with a whopping 5,212 yards in total offense.

Leading the team is J. David Miller, Western Football News Coach of the Year.  Miller, who is also President and General Manager, has coached at every level.  He is the former Senior Vice President with the five-time World Champion Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League under Tim Marcum, the league’s all-time winningest coach.

Miller’s coaching record is 61-13, giving him a stunning .833 winning percentage. Miller played briefly under Western PA Hall of Famer Joe Haering with the Pittsburgh Gladiators in the Arena Football League during the 1987-89 seasons.  Miller is also an award-winning, best-selling author, with 13 books to his credit, and has worked with such notable NFL coaches such as Hall-of-Famer Hank Stram and Jerry Glanville, as well as Southern Methodist University’s June Jones.

Earlier this year he released Pressure Makes Diamonds, with co-author Ron Kule and two-time NCAA Coach of the Year Ray Tanner of the South Carolina Gamecocks, who won back-to-back national championships. Tanner is now the Gamecocks athletic director. In January, Skyhorse Publishing will release his next book, SUPERAGENT: The One Book the NCAA and NFL Doesn’t Want You to Read, with renowned agent and maverick millionaire Dr. Jerry Argovitz.

Miller’s extensive business background includes television documentaries and award-winning marketing campaigns, where he directed projects with Super Bowl champion Mike Ditka and Dr. Robert Voy, former chief medical officer of the United States Olympic Committee. Currently, he is producing two sports film documentaries, including The Mouse that Roars (www.themousethatroarsmovie.com).

Coach Miller is clearly the inspiration and driving force behind the Coyotes’ meteoric rise to success.

“If people are paying even $1 to watch us play,” Miller preaches, “then we owe them a major-league product. Our website, our playbook, our locker room is full of references to ‘the fastest expansion team to win a championship, to lead the nation in passing, rushing, and to make the playoffs.’  We put it out there for our players and coaches to realize we’re running a race against history, every day. We want to be the very best football team in America. Not soon, but right now. And I give all the credit for our success to our hard-working assistant coaches and the players who make up this great team.”

The Coyotes assistant coaches include Wayne Anderson Jr., who has been a professional coach in five different countries; veteran defensive coordinator and long-time desert resident Bill Meyers; “Big” Kyle Moore, a seven-time All-American; former Coyote star defensive tackle Tolo Ofisa; veteran assistants Zach Botich and Rich Botich; and Scott Boucher, a USFL and NFL veteran who protected the ‘blind side’ for NFL Hall-of-Fame quarterback Jim Kelly.

At the offensive forefront of the Coyotes record -breaking team is National Player of the Year and quarterback Nate Lewis, who orchestrates the Coyotes’ high-scoring and entertaining Run ‘n’ Shoot juggernaut, which was created 50 years ago by based on the teachings of Darrel “Mouse” DavisMiller mentor, coaching legend and Coyote consultant Darrel “Mouse” Davis.

The 6-5, 235-pound Lewis had considered hanging up his cleats before he found his desire and skills rejuvenated with the Coyotes and their wide-open, no-huddle attack this past season, in which they scored 50 points twice and 40 points four times.  In one game alone against Las Vegas, Lewis directed scoring drives on every possession and finished with 624 yards and seven touchdowns.

“We’ve got a guy in Nate Lewis that is absolutely phenomenal,” smiles Coach Miller.  “Pulling the trigger on the ‘Run ‘n’ Shoot’ requires a guy who is intelligent, as well as incredibly accurate with the football. We throw the ball 60 times a game. Nate could throw a donut down a chimney from 70 yards away.  We don’t spend too much time in Nate’s helmet anymore.  He knows this offense backwards and forwards. Coach Anderson and I coach him Monday through Friday, but come Saturday (game day) we trust him with the keys to the car.”

Among 800 AAA professional minor-league teams, Lewis set national records with 228 completions and led the nation in every category, including an astonishing 15.2 average yards per completion, 466 yards per game and 35 touchdowns.  “More than just being a great player, he’s a tremendous leader,” said Miller. “You can’t say enough about him. He shows up at every function, whether it’s signing autographs, helping kids, or delivering Christmas trees. He’s the best quarterback I’ve ever coached, he is the face of this organization, and he never, ever complains.”

While it’s common knowledge that great quarterbacks sell tickets, Nate Lewis is fully aware that his achievements are a direct consequence to the team around him, both on offense and defense. “I know Coach always gives people my stats and all that kind of good stuff, but without the guys around me, I’m just another guy,” Lewis says. “Those guys definitely have helped me become the player that I am.  It starts with my line and my receivers, but also our defense that gets the ball back to me, giving me these opportunities.” On the flip side of this humble and gracious overachiever, Lewis has also been heard saying, “I am a fighter. I fight where I am told, and I win where I fight.”

Lewis and Miller led the West All-Stars in The Gridiron International All-Star Game to a stunning 26-6 upset victory in Las Vegas in early November, where Lewis earned Player of the Game honors behind a captivating 351-yard, three-touchdown performance – two to the Coyotes Rashad Roberts, who was Offensive Player of the Game.

Also blowing up statistics is Coyote running back David “The Diesel” Cathcart, who finished the season with a 5.9 yards per carry average and set the Coyotes single-game rushing record in the playoffs with 209 yards, which also broke a Run ‘n’ Shoot record set 27 years ago by Todd Fowler. “This team is inspired by sacrifice, and courage,” says the legendary Coyotes veteran and All-American running back. “If you’re not a fighter, don’t step foot in our huddle. We never mistake activity for achievement.”

Wide receiver, Rashad Roberts also set a league record with 19 touchdowns, and led the nation in average yards per catch. “Rashad is the fastest receiver in the country,” Miller says of the 4.2 (in the 40) receiver. “His blinding speed enables Nate to stretch defenses vertically, which unlocks our entire offense.”

On defense the Coyotes have who they affectionately call their “Samoans.”  This key group is led by linebacker Pika Ofisa, an “absolute beast” according to Miller, who points out that Ofisa led the nation in sacks.  The Coyotes also have the best defensive back in America, Bo “Night Train” Bovain, who “never gets beat,” says his coach. “Every game, Bo, Dashawn Carr and Montrell Brown teach our opponents that they can’t legislate contact.”

“Besides my family, football is what I live for,” states Ofisa. “It’s a dream that is now my passion. I love playing ball. I love the brotherhood of the team. We are all working together towards one goal, no matter what we are going through in our personal lives! Once we step foot on that field, we go to work! My dad taught us as kids that if your gonna play the game, you give everything you’ve got … you give 100 % … and if you can’t do that, then get off the field! To this day I always give 110%! There is no other way! This is football! This is life! Time to go to work!”

“We’ve got weapons everywhere you look,” Coach Miller points out.  “We won the Pac West last year, and we’re already 10 times better than we were when we lined up for that game.” Miller raves about his All-American superstars who “earned their place in history with gallons of sweat and blood on the practice field.” These also include slotbacks Josh “The Flyin’ Hawaiian” Asuncion, Demario Brown, defensive end Mene “Mo” Faleafaga, and linebacker Devion Brown. “But honestly,” Miller says, “When you lead the nation in everything, it’s hard just to single out one guy, because we are so deep in talent. I could spend hours praising all of our guys. They deserve all of the attention they are receiving, but they remain humble and continue to seek ways to serve their community.”

Players like Richard Blaney, Will Fisher, Cliff Brown, Cyle Tisdale, Art Cruz, Derrick Miller, Cedric Cox and Brian “Porkchop” Gollnick, in addition “to being great, consistent performers on the field, never let us down off the field,” says Miller. “They are always the first to raise their hands when there is work to be done.”

Catalina Island is bristling with excitement as December 8th draws closer.  Catalina.com reports, “The Avalon VFW will host a beer garden at this event, and the stands are sure to be packed as it’s been some time that our island has seen athletes of this caliber.” To ensure that you don’t literally miss the boat, make your reservations as soon as possible. In order to reserve your seats with the special rate given for the Pac West Catalina Kickoff Classic, you must call the Catalina Flyer directly at (800) 830-7744 and reference code name “Coyote.”  d reference code name “Coyote!” Please be sure to call as quickly as possible to get your seats reserved. Being that this is the only way to the Island at this time, these reservations need to be made ASAP.

As per their mission statement, the Coyotes offer “affordable family entertainment to fans across the nation, deliver high impact visibility for corporate sponsors, reach our local youth through mentoring and football programs; mentor and help advance our players, coaches and staff both here and abroad; instill a sense of community pride using local talent; and honor God in all we do.”

This gracious team is extremely fan-friendly and interacts like no other with fans and the community.  The public is invited to watch practices on Tuesdays at Big League Dreams at 6:30 pm or at Freedom Park on Saturdays at 7 a.m. On Thursdays, after watching game film at The Stadium Club and Bistro in Rancho Mirage, the players stay to meet and greet fans with a golden opportunity to truly get to know these exceptional athletes.

Behind the tireless efforts of Senior Vice President Laurie Beth Miller, the team frequently volunteers with numerous local charities. The Coyotes most recently participated in Mobility Madness, where they raced in wheelchairs with physically challenged children and taught them how to play baseball, football and golf.  When the Coyotes return from Catalina, they will assist Baseball Buddies, a program for physically and emotionally challenged kids where each player has a ‘buddy’ who assists them in playing the game.  The kids will wear replica Coyote jerseys matching the number of the player who supports him or her.

The Coyotes also host a Men’s Prayer Breakfast every Friday morning at 7:30 a.m. at Sunshine Café at 36815 Cathedral Canyon Drive.

Fans can join the Coyotes on December 1st at Las Casas Apartments in Coachella, where the team will be working with 250 volunteers to build a playground for local youth. That week, players will also fan out through the Coachella community to give away 50 decorated Christmas trees to those less fortunate.

Next year, the team will be out in force for the American Cancer Society’s ‘Relay for Life,’ and all of the players will ‘walk’ on behalf of the sister of Coyote defensive back Rob Smith, who died recently from cancer.  On February 17th, the Coyotes will host the First Annual Coyote Golf Classic at the Palm Desert Country Club.

Following the Kickoff Classic, the Coyotes will break for the holidays, then return to begin their official regular season on January 12, 2013.

For a full schedule of games and community events, follow them on Facebook at Facebook.com/TheSoCalCoyotes or contact Coyotes Senior Vice President Laurie Beth Miller at 727.348.6060.

“The best thing about the SoCal Coyotes,” concluded Miller. “Is that nobody here is a hostage. They are here because they love the game, they love this community, and they love playing for our fans. If you come see the Coyotes play one time, we guarantee you’ll be hooked.”

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