Tucson’s first-ever professional football team has practiced five times since Sunday afternoon.
Sugar Skulls head coach Marcus Coleman is already hungry for a challenge.
Wednesday, he will get one: The IFL powerhouse Arizona Rattlers will travel to Tucson for a closed scrimmage with the Sugar Skulls. By Wednesday afternoon, Coleman will have a better idea of where his team stands. The Sugar Skulls will play their first-ever game March 3 against the San Diego Strike Force.
“You want that,” he said. “Training camp gets boring. To see some new faces and different schemes and to see some other guys go up against different talent level, it helps your team. It helps both teams to gauge where you are in regards to the talent you have.”
Wednesday’s matchup is a battle between brothers — or at least among family. Sugar Skulls owner Kevin Guy is also head coach of the Rattlers. Guy and his wife, Cathy, brought IFL football to Tucson in August. He has won three Arena Football League championships (2012, 2013, 2014) and one IFL title (2017). Guy and the Rattlers are the only team at the indoor level to have won championships in both leagues.
Since 1993, the Rattlers have missed the playoffs three times.
The Rattlers are “a top dog, to tell you the truth,” Coleman said. “It’s us chasing them and Sioux Falls. … Everybody is chasing them so we need to match their intensity, match their physical ability and match them schematically. That’s the only way we’re going to win.”
Think of Wednesday’s scrimmage as a matchup of frenemies. The most familiar foe of all Tucson players is running back Shadrach Thornton, who played for the Rattlers in 2017 and 2018. Before then, Thornton starred at North Carolina State, gaining 2,572 rushing yards and 21 all-purpose touchdowns. He was teammates with NFL quarterbacks Mike Glennon and Jacoby Brissett. He was eventually dismissed from the team after a pair of off-field incidents. Thornton had a brief training camp stint with the Raiders, then signed with the Ottawa Redblacks of the Canadian Football League. He returned to the states — and signed with the Rattlers — in 2017.
Guy, his former Rattlers coach, sold Thornton on playing in Tucson.
“He called me and told me that, ‘I think you’re a special kid, and I want you to go down in Tucson and play,’ ” Thornton said. “I’m my biggest critic so having him do that makes me want to up my game that much more.”
As a former Rattler, he is eager for the challenge and the benefits the Sugar Skulls will receive against top IFL talent.
“Iron sharpens iron,” he said. “We can go out there and see where we are as a team against a really good team. When you’re in this league, that’s what you want to do. You always want to put your best foot forward.”
On the defensive side of the football, Tucson native Cam Gaddis will be slotted in at cornerback.
LaTreze Mushatt will compete on the defensive line. He is a 6-foot-5-inch, 245-pound converted basketball player from Saginaw, Michigan. Mushatt played collegiate basketball at Murray State and was teammates with Minnesota Timberwolves guard Isaiah Canaan from 2010 to 2013.
Mushatt and MSU won two games in the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and 2012. He turned to football after rupturing his Achilles’ tendon as a college senior. He signed with the Saginaw Sting of the Champions Indoor Football League, where he initially played wide receiver. He eventually moved to defensive back, where he turned an interception into a score.
Now defensive lineman, Mushatt will go up against a Rattlers offensive line that features former Arizona Wildcats center Steven Gurrola.
For Mushatt and the rest of the Sugar Skulls’ 32-man roster, the scrimmage is a chance to get noticed — both by Coleman and Guy.
“They’ll be put together a little bit better than we are,” Coleman said. “We’ll try and see if guys — when the lights come on — can they bring what we taught them in the classroom and during practice, and can they translate it to game day. That’s really the only thing I’m looking for.”