ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The Albany Empire 2022 season kicks off Saturday night at MVP Arena. Though the atmosphere will feel like home, the new rules will be more foreign.

“New format,” explained wide receiver Darius Prince. “You’ve got guys going both ways. You can see who can play offense and defense. We’re going to see.”

The National Arena League is going back to the original arena football ironman format, where the majority of players will take the field on both sides of the ball.

Prince, who led the league last season with 108 receiving yards per game and 29 touchdowns, will also be tasked with stopping opposing wideouts. As a former college basketball player, he says he has the physical tools to get stops.

“I always guarded the best player,” said Prince, elaborating on why he’s up to the challenge. “Quick on my feet, quick hips, being able to reverse my hips, switch in and out.”

The quick feet and hips necessary, as are his ears at least early in the season.

“We really don’t know how it’s all going to play out,” said Prince. “Am I going in? Am I not going in? You know, that part. So just paying attention when you come to the sideline. Listening to the coaches that got the clipboard.”

One of those coaches is Jeramie Richardson, a first-year coach and former two-way player who helped the Empire win titles in both 2019 and 2021.

“I became an ironman because I was undersized,” said Richardson who played both mic linebacker and fullback during Albany’s championship seasons. “I learned to be more valuable playing both sides of the ball.”

He says that mentality kept him on rosters. It also helped land him his first coaching gig under head coach Tom Menas. Richardson wants to impart his wisdom on the current roster, and welcomes any questions that come his way like, “How do you step into the hole?”

Richardson has been going over basics of the game with many of the players who are unfamiliar with playing either offense or defense.

“One of the things that we’ve been working on a lot is the center, fullback relationship and rushing angles from the linebacker position.”

Five of the 21 active players every game are exempt from this format, including two specialists apiece on offense and defense and one on special teams. Everyone else, game on.

“It’s chess, not checkers.,” said Menas. He’s one of the few head coaches in the league — if not the only one — with experience coaching ironman. He has an established substitution strategy. But the players are just along for the ride.

“No one in the league knows what’s going on, what’s going to happen on Saturday night,” said Prince. “So we’ll see how it goes. I’m ready.”

Kickoff Saturday is set for 7 p.m. against the Carolina Cobras.

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