Building An (Albany) Empire, Part 2 - Empire Ink 13 More Players

by Corey Mansfield

The Albany Empire continue to make a solid showing in AFL free agency, signing 13 more player to their inaugural roster today.

The Empire were able to fill their void at the Quarterback position signing Mike Fafaul and Chandler Whitmer.

Fafaul attended UCLA where he was a back-up for a majority of his college career. However, he got thrust into the starting role in 2106 when potential NFL top overall pick Josh Rosen went down with an injury. Fafaul stepped in and threw for 1,602 yards and 12 touchdowns with 11 interceptions that season. He attended rookie camps with the Baltimore Ravens and Washington Redskins

Mike Fafaul at UCLA (photo credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Whitmer, a native of Newnan, GA attended the University of Connecticut where he appeared in 28 games for the Huskies putting up 5,077 passing yards,  25 touchdowns, and 30 interceptions. He attended min-camp with the Philadelphia Eagles and had workouts with CFL and AFL teams previously but stepped away from the game for a brief period to coach football privately.

Chandler Whitmer with UCONN (photo credit: Michael Dwyer/AP)
One of the main targets Fafaul and Whitmer will be throwing to is De'Runnya "Bear" Wilson a wide receiver out of Mississippi State University. The former Bulldog ranks fifth in school history with 133 receptions, sixth with 1,949 yards, and second with 22 touchdowns. He took a season off from football last year to finish his undergraduate degree. 

De'Runnya Wilson with Mississippi State (photo credit:
Up front blocking for the Empire will be Jabari BuckleyHayworth Hicks, Sam Longo, and Kyle Steuk

Buckley, is a veteran of indoor football having played with Chicago Eagles of the Champions Indoor League and the Sioux Fall Storm of the Indoor Football League. The Storm running backs amassed 1,200 rushing yards behind an offensive line that featured Buckley. 

Hicks was an second-team All-Big 12 selection at Iowa State University 2011. After college he played on practice squads with the Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets, and Kansas City Chiefs before joining the Orlando Predators with current Empire coach Rob Keefe. The following season he made it to the ArenaBowl with the Arizona Rattlers. 

Longo started his college career at The Ohio State University before transferring to the University of Cincinnati where he earned second-team All-Conference honors. After college he signed as an undrafted free agent with Miami Dolphins and attended training camp with the Houston Texans. In 2015, Longo started his arena league career playing for the Portland Thunder. Last season he played for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League. 

Kyle Steuk, a native of Green Bay, Wisconsin attended Northern Michigan University where received numerous accolades. After his college career was over he attended an open try for the Green Bay Packers and was signed. He played for the Packers through their 2016 training camp and the preseason but was cut after he had setbacks from an injury. Steak also attended rookie minicamps with the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs. 

The Albany defense also had some major additions with the signings of defensive backs Brandon Fuentes, Mike McMillan, Al Phillips, and Brandon Stephens, as well as defensive lineman Nick Seither

Fuentes originally attended the University of Mount Union before transferring to St. John Fisher College. In 2016, Feuntes led the Empire 8 Conference with 6 interceptions. After his college career was over Feuntes played the 2017 season with the High Country Grizzles of the American Arena League. 

McMillan is a veteran of indoor football having played for the Sioux Falls Storm (2014), Trenton Freedom (2015), Portland Steel (2016), and Spokane Shock (2016). In 2015, he had eight interceptions for the Trenton Freedom and was named first team All-PIFL. 

Al Phillips is another veteran of arena football having had tours with the Spokane Shock (2010), Milwaukee Iron (2010), Utah Blaze (2011-2013), Pittsburgh Power (2014) Tampa Bay Storm (2015, 2017) and Arizona Rattlers (2016). In 2015,  he led the Tampa Bay Storm with 107 tackles and added 2 tackles for a loss, three interceptions and a single-season franchise record of 39 pass breakups.

Brandon Stephens attend the University of of Miami (OH) where he won a conference championship in 2010.  In 2012, he was briefly a member of the Detroit Lions practice squad. Stephens played for the Cleveland Gladiators in 2014 and, 2015, and the Baltimore Brigade in 2016 and 2017. 

After ending Georgetown College of Kentucky, defensive lineman Nick Seither attended mini-camps with the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, and Arizona Cardinals. He returned to his college alma mater after he went unsigned to coach but returned to the field in 2016 as a member of the Cleveland Gladiators. 

Nick Belcher with the Jacksonville Sharks in 2017 (photo credit:
Rounding out the free agent signees is kicker Nick Belcher. Belcher was an all-conference place kicker and punter South Carolina State in 2013. After college he attended mini-camps with the CFL and AFL before landing with the Cedar Rapids Titans of the IFL. Belcher has played for the Jacksonville Sharks of the National Arena League the last two seasons. 

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