Defensive specialist provides experience

Thursday, April 19, 2001 at 1:00am

As a defensive specialist in the offensive-minded Arena Football League Adrian Lunsford is used to new teams and new teammates.

In eight seasons in the league he has played for the Milwaukee Mustangs, Iowa Barnstormers, Minnesota Fighting Pike, New Jersey Red Dogs, Carolina Cobras and this season was a free agent signing by the Nashville Kats. He was briefly the property of the Orlando Predators before being traded to Carolina.

The Fighting Pike, one of the worst names ever for a sports franchise of any kind, lasted one year in Minneapolis and folded.

"The emblem was a fish with its fins bowed up and its teeth showing," Lunsford said.

The only place where Lunsford has played more than one season is with New Jersey where he spent three seasons. Even with his experience he knows that with every new team he is starting all over again.

"The Kats just wanted me to come in here and do my job," Lunsford said. "There is no guarantee about anything. I came in here with the attitude of simply trying to earn a position.

"There is a lot of parity in the Arena League. You don't really stay with a team for a long, long time unless you're an offensive guy like a quarterback or an offensive specialist. It makes it a little tough to bounce around a little bit."

Lunsford stressed that proving to his teammates he can play the game is more important in motivating him than proving anything to the coaches.

"You want to prove to your peers you can get a starting job," Lunsford said. "The first thing I said to the other guys when I got here was that my job is to come in here and play football and prove to them why they brought me in here.

"That's the whole thing. You can always bring guys in but they don't fit the system or for some other reason they don't work out."

Lunsford made his presence known against Orlando in Friday night's 50-25 season opening victory, with two interceptions, one for a touchdown. A third interception, which he also returned for a touchdown, was nullified due to a penalty. He knows that type of game will be difficult to duplicate Saturday night when the Kats travel to Florida to face the Tampa Bay Storm, another Southern Division foe. Game time is 6:30.

"This game teaches you that you can go up and then you can go down real quick," Lunsford said. "You can have a great game, and the next week you can do the same things you did the week before but you will be one inch away from getting beat for a touchdown.

"A thing I have really learned about this game is that you have to wipe out a bad play and move on with the next play. My favorite saying is on the next play, make a play."

He is sure his first game with the Kats earned him some respect from his teammates, but he doesn't want to be a one-game wonder.

"Consistency is what I strive for," Lunsford said. "I already know I can play the game. But I want to play well every week and make an impact. I just want to play solid. I don't want to give up big plays. I'll make an interception when I get the chance. If I get an opportunity to make a pick and I get it, that's what the game is about."

Much has been said about Lunsford's experience and savvy on the field. But he has learned at least one thing about being a defensive back in the Arena Football League. There is a fine line between being a hero and a goat. He uses the Orlando game as an example.

"The first interception I got, the ball bounced around and it bounced off of me and I caught it," Lunsford said. "I'm one inch away from the ball hitting the ground and the other team getting the ball back and scoring on the next play. The second interception I got was the one they called back. The last opportunity I got, when I scored the touchdown, the ball could have bounced off my hand or over my head. Anything could have happened."

Lunsford finds himself depending more each season on the experiences of his seasons in the league. But he doesn't think his skills have diminished with time.

"I've got fairly good speed and good anticipation," Lunsford said. "I probably don't rely on my skills as much as I do being savvy."

He thinks defensive players, especially defensive backs need to have short memories. It is always a question of the next play and dwelling on previous mistakes, or gloating over previous sucesses, is counterproductive.

"We have to understand what the other team is trying to do to us and where our weaknesses are," Lunsford said. "We have some holes to fix. We have to take the first game for what it was worth and look at it from the aspect of how to get better. We have to gell. We will get better. "

As with any good football player, preparation is a must. Lunsford spends a great deal of time in the film room studying the opposition.

"You have to have some savvy and understand what the other team is trying to do," Lunsford said. "It's not like the big field where there are three other guys in the secondary with you, or you can play a nickel or dime defense and get five or six defensive backs on the field at a time. Here, no matter what, the best you can get is three so you have to understand what is going on.

"Film study is the key ... watching tendencies and seeing what guys like to run. Some guys in this league can't run a slant as well as others. Some run deep routes better than others. You have to be prepared."

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