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MEMPHIS SPORTS SCENE

MEMPHIS SPORTS SCENE

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XPLORERS SIGN BIG TALENT The Memphis Mid-South Xplorers, the area’s Arena2 football team, has a new coach. His name is Dan Barto, and he was a standout defensive player for the University of Memphis. That was way back when the school was called Memphis State. As defensive coordinator for the squad last year, Dan watched his squad go through a league-worst record. As head coach, he decided to do something about it. He went out and found himself some football players. “We’re going to call these guys the ‘Big 3,’” Barto announced at a Desoto County Civic Center press conference Wednesday afternoon. Of ‘The Big 3,’ Russell Copeland and Deumaine Reeder are new to the squad. The third member of the triad is Johnny Lopez, who played offensive specialist for the squad last year. “No body can match our skill level right now,” Barto boasts. And he may be right. Lopez came late to the team last year and ignited a stagnant offense. By the end of the season, Lopez led the team in many offensive categories. This season, Barto hopes to use Lopez’s athletic abilities by allowing him to play both offense and defense. Last season, in only ten games with the Xplorers, Lopez tallied 2341 yards offense and 14 touchdowns. “If you guys watched last year’s games, this guy is a phenomenal talent,” Barto says. Reeder played last season for the Chaleston Swamp Foxes. In 2000-2001, Reeder received 112 passes for 1,526 yards, and 25 touchdowns. Reeder led the Swamp Foxes in scoring, receptions, yards, and receiving TD’s. “He’s a local guy, from Memphis,” Barto says of Reeder, who played for the University of Tennessee at Martin. “[Last year,] he dominated this league. These guys are going to give everyone match-up problems.” And then there’s Russell Copeland, a teammate of Barto’s at Memphis State, and later a receiver for the NFL. Copeland played for the Buffalo Bills (1993-1996), the Green Bay Packers (1998), and finally for the Philadelphia Eagles (1998) before finding his way down to Southaven playing indoor football. In his best year, Copeland caught 42 passes for 646 yards and a touchdown, and averaged 15.4 yards per catch. That was with the Bills in 1995. Oh yeah, and Copeland played with that team in the Super Bowl. Of course, Buffalo lost, but Copeland still played in the “pinnacle of our sport,” as Barto puts it. Barto plans on capitalizing on his players. “We’re going to throw the football,” Barto said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference at the Xplorers home Desoto County Civic Center. “If we get the ball 50 times, we’re going to throw it 48 times. We’re going to put points on the board.” Last year, the Xplorers featured a running attack, a virtual oddity in the league of 50 yards and massive scores. This year, Barto wants an offense heavy on the attack and light on the caution. His goal is a simple one in theory if not in execution. “This team’s goal is to win a championship,” he says. “We want to put a ring on for this area. It’s been a long time since anyone in this area has done that.” Big words from a big guy playing for a small team in a small arena. But then, every league has to start somewhere, as do all coaches. Barto certainly has the talent on his side this season, and time will tell if his words will come true.

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