Wolfpack, howl! Everett’s arena football team

The Wolfpack prepare to sack Oregon’s quarterback during the May 18 game at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett.

The Wolfpack prepare to sack Oregon’s quarterback during the May 18 game at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett.
Jim Scolman

EVERETT — There is a new player in the Snohomish County sports landscape as the Washington Wolfpack started competing this spring in the Arena Football League (AFL). Their home games are at Angel of the Winds Casino Arena in downtown Everett.

Arena football is an action-packed, condensed version of the outdoor game. The arena’s loud and the cheers roar. Eight players battle it out on a 50-yard turf field with hockey boards. The nine-foot-wide field goalposts sit in the middle of two huge suspended nets that players can field “rebounds” off of for kickoff returns. 

The Wolfpack players have been embracing the environment that the passionate fans bring. 

“I love the crowd, especially the last game (against Oregon). Towards the end, they had that stadium rocking, and we were nowhere near capacity, so I appreciate our fans and the ones we will acquire. Confident that the next home game will be eventful,” said Vincent Wilkerson II, a Wide Receiver with the Wolfpack.

The original AFL had roots in the late 1980s but ceased operations in 2019. The revived AFL is in its first season. There are 11 teams (the season started with 16, but a reorganization this month condensed the league). In the West Division, the Washington Wolfpack is joined by the Oregon (Salem) Blackbears and teams in Billings, Montana, and Rapid City, South Dakota. Other franchises play nationwide in three divisions, with teams in Kansas, New York and the Southeast.

Earlier this year, the league experienced some turbulence. However, a leadership change in the commissioner’s office and reorganizing and consolidating teams aims to get things back on track. 

The Wolfpack plays a balance of home and away games. Fan attendance grows inside the Angel of the Winds Arena each game, becoming quite the game day atmosphere. 

Even the opposing players have acknowledged the environment. 

“Honestly, when we all heard AFL, this was the game and the experience we had been waiting for. The crowd was super loud at the end of the game. We ‘false-started’ three or four times in a row because it was physically impossible to hear the snap count and barely the play in the huddle. It was an experience I will never forget. They definitely have a good thing going on in Washington, and we look forward to competing against them for years to come,” said Brandon Tate, an Offensive Coordinator with the Oregon Blackbears that challenged the Wolfpack May 18. 

Elora Draper attended her first Arena Football game on May 18 with her family and children.

“The arena is smaller than a typical football field, which allowed us to feel a part of the entire game regardless of what side of the field the ball was on. This was especially important for keeping my young boys engaged for the duration of the game. It’s an inexpensive way to see a fast-paced and exciting football game in a family-friendly atmosphere,” Draper said.

She added it was a refreshing experience compared to going to games in Seattle to battle traffic, pay for parking and pricey tickets. 

For players and coaches, the Washington Wolfpack and the AFL present an opportunity for players looking to move up through the pro ranks or to keep playing the game they love.

Tank Brewster played at Canada’s Simon Fraser University (SFU) and didn’t think he’d get a shot to play again after college. 

He got here after a friend told him of a scout combine for the Wolfpack last winter.

“I took a shot and performed well enough to get a call back from the coach saying they had a spot for me on the squad. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity. After the team shut down at SFU I didn’t think I’d have another opportunity to play at the next level but I was willing to do whatever it takes,” exclaimed Brewster.

Brewster has also enjoyed being in the community.  

“Special things area happening north of Seattle and we are excited to keep building a foundation for generations to come,” he added.

Melissa Strother is another player thrilled with the opportunity.  She is regarded as the first woman to play in the AFL. The kicker started with the Minnesota Myth. After that team ceased operations she returned to California and started reaching out to teams, that’s when Washington called her and gave her a shot. Prior to the AFL she spent time playing semi-pro women’s football and internationally with Team USA in IFAF Women’s World Championship play.

“I want to pave the path for others who wish to follow. I want to be out in the community inspiring others to follow their dreams. Plain and simple I love this game. I want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to play, and this league is a phenomenal opportunity for athletes to showcase their skills,” Strother said.

Brandon Wellington is a Wolfpack player with local Seattle-area ties. He won back-to-back State Championships at Eastside Catholic before going on to play at the University of Washington, where his team won the PAC-12 Championship two times during his tenure. 

“From 2020 to 2023, I did not play football but was itching to get back out there,” Wellington said.  

The Wolfpack players practice regularly in the Snohomish Sports Dome, an indoor sports facility. Jamie Bialek, the facility’s owner, has enjoyed the partnership, calling the players and staff “some of the nicest people you would ever meet.”

Through their relationship with the dome, the Wolfpack have gotten opportunities to be part of the Snohomish community.

“I have had them come out for a guest appearance at the Snohomish (Farmers) Market, and they will also be part of the Snohomish Soccer Dome/Sky Kids Zone at the Snohomish Block Party” this August, Bialek said. “We are trying to get their name out there.” 

The Washington Wolfpack has arrived, offering a fun and affordable outing. 

The team’s next home game is June 29 versus Billings.

You can follow the team at www.washingtonwolfpack.com

  photo  Wolfpack Defensive Back JR Nelson, at right in blue, possesses the ball during the May 18 game at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett.
 Jim Scolman photo