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League’s All-Time Sack Leader Returns to Albany for 2019

ALBANY - The Albany Empire announce that 15 players have been assigned to the team roster on the second day of free agency. Per League and team rules, terms are not disclosed. Of the 15 players assigned, two were on the roster during the team’s inaugural season. The free agency signing period for the Arena Football League began on Monday, March 4.

“We are extremely confident that every player that we bring in during this free agency period puts us into the best possible position to compete for a championship,” said Rob Keefe, Head Coach of the Albany Empire. “The whole staff has been working incredibly hard and will continue to do so until we have achieved our collective goal of bringing the ArenaBowl trophy back to the Capital Region.”

Chris Black, Wide Receiver

A Jacksonville native, Chris Black played collegiately at the University of Alabama where he was part of two NCAA Championship teams with the Crimson Tide. Black eventually transferred to Missouri University for his senior season in 2016. After college, Black was brought into camp with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL. Black most recently spent time on the Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of American Football League.

Harold Brantley, Defensive Line

Harold Brantley, from Hershey, Pennsylvania, played college football with the University of Missouri and Northwest Missouri State University. He spent the first three years with the Missouri tigers, redshirting his freshman year. With the Tigers he was named to the 2014 AP All-SEC Honorable Mention list. In 2015, he transferred to Northwest Missouri State. In 2016 Brantley appeared in 11 games with 3.0 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and return for a touchdown. In 2018, Brantley spent time in the CFL with the Ottawa Redblacks. Brantley most recently spent time in the Alliance of American Football League  with the Arizona Hotshots.

Arkeith Brown, Defensive Back

Arkeith Brown returns to the Empire after joining the team for the final postseason game in 2018. Brown came up with a huge onside kick recovery with just over a minute remaining in the game while trailing by seven, giving the Empire offense a chance to go out and win the game. Brown brings a wealth of indoor football experience to the Empire. Beginning his indoor career in the Indoor Football League (IFL) with the Green Bay Blizzard in 2011, Brown made a quick impact as he led the League with 12 interceptions and was named Defensive Rookie of the Year. The veteran made the transition to the AFL and spent the bulk of his career with the Arizona Rattlers, winning three championships with the team.

Sean Brown, Offensive Line

A Uniondale, New York native, Sean Brown joins the Empire with a couple years of indoor experience under his belt. Attending Mississippi Valley State University, Brown was a team captain for two years after transferring in from Nassau Community College. During his time at MVSU, Brown started every game and only allowed a mere four sacks. After college, Brown played in the IFL with the Colorado Crush, Cedar Rapids Titans, and Nebraska Danger, giving him his first taste in indoor football. Brown most recently spent time in the Alliance of American Football League  with the Salt Lake Stallions

AJ Coney, Wide Receiver

Another Florida native to join the Empire, AJ Coney played collegiately at Akron University. As a member of the Zips, Coney saw action in 10 games as a true freshman. The receiver redshirt his second season, and came back to action as a sophomore in 2015 where he played in all 12 games. During his senior season in 2017, Coney was named Team Captain, Offensive MVP, and was awarded the Captain’s Award. He started in 13 games and was second on the team in receiving with 43 receptions for 551 yards and three touchdowns. Following college, Coney signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL.

Derrick Dyer, Defensive Back

Not having to travel too far from home, Derrick Dyer hails from Camden, New Jersey. Beginning his college career at Seton Hill University, Dyer earned Special Teams Player of the Year in consecutive years while also leading the team in rushing in his sophomore season before transferring to East Stroudsburg University. During his senior season, Dyer played all 11 games as a running back and on special teams, finishing with 41 carries for 210 yards and three touchdowns. After college, Dyer appeared in the RPFL and switched to a defensive back, while also spending time in the American Arena League. In the offseason, Dyer coaches at the collegiate level and owns Tier 1 Fitness, a gym located in New Jersey.

Seth Ellis, Defensive Back

Seth Ellis comes to the Empire with a year of indoor football experience to his name. After transferring to Lamar University in 2014, the Arizona native started 11 of the team’s 12 games. Ellis was fourth on the team in tackles, including a career-best 12 tackles in a game against Grambling State. He tallied 124 total tackles in his two years at Lamar, including seven for losses. Ellis spent last season in the NAL with the Jacksonville Sharks leading the team in total tackles with 57.5. Ellis has never been to New York before and is looking forward to his first visit. 

Mason Espinosa, Quarterback

Though he may be a rookie to the AFL, Mason Espinosa brings plenty of indoor football experience to the Empire. Espinosa played his college ball at Ohio Wesleyan where he was a four-time All-NCAC selection and Conference Player of the Year in 2012. He holds numerous school and Conference records including career passing yards (11,069), and total yards (10,839). After college, Espinosa had partaken in various Pro Days with NFL teams, as well as, a minicamp with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Shortly after his stint in the NFL, the quarterback joined the Erie Explosion of the Professional Indoor Football League (PIFL). He jumped from the American Indoor Football League, to the IFL before landing in the National Arena League with the Columbus Lions in 2017 and remaining there for the past two seasons. 

Tony Goodman, Defensive Back

Another rookie to join the Empire for the 2019 season, Tony Goodman adds more depth to Albany’s defensive backfield. Attending Chowan University, Goodman was named to the CIAA All-Freshman team, was a two-time All-Conference player on special teams, a two-time preseason All-American, and was named the Most Outstanding Male Athlete of the school during his tenure. After college, Goodman participated in the 2014 Super Regional Combine for the NFL. Goodman spent 2017-2018 in the Rivals Professional Football League with the Atlantic Sharks. Goodman most recently spent time in the Alliance of American Football League  with the Arizona Hotshots

Elijah Marks, Wide Receiver

Hailing from Arizona, Elijah Marks remained close to home and attended Northern Arizona University. As a true freshman, Marks appeared in 11 games, including an astounding 10 catches for 127 yards in his first career start. By the time he was a junior, Marks was named to the All-Big Sky team and received the team’s Offensive Competitive Greatness Award. The receiver broke out in his senior season in 2017, hauling in 71 catches for six touchdowns in 10 games. After graduation, Marks spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL.

Devante “Speedy” Noil, Wide Receiver

Devante “Speedy” Noil was rated as the nation’s top athlete recruit as a star high school player in New Orleans. Attending Texas A&M University, Noil led the team in all-purpose yards as a freshman. Noil partipicated in rookie minicamp with the Green Bay packers before being signed to the Seattle Seahawks for training camp. Noil tested highly at the NFL combine and is sure to ‘wow’ Albany fans at the Times Union Center. Noil most recently spent time in the Alliance of American Football League  with the Salt Lake Stallions.

Giovanni Pascascio, Wide Receiver

Another Arizona-born rookie to join the Empire, Gio Pascascio played at the University of Louisville, catching passes from Heisman winner Lamar Jackson and serving on special teams. After going undrafted in the 2016 NFL draft, Pascascio was signed by the Tennessee Titans for training camp. After his stint with the Titans, Pascascio participated in mini camps with the Chicago Bears and the New York Jets. Pascascio has worked out with current NFL quarterbacks such as Sam Darnold, Mitchell Trubisky, and Josh Rosen. The wideout most recently spent time with the Arizona Hotshots of the Alliance of American Football League.

Prince Shonola, Wide Receiver

After beginning his collegiate career in junior college, Prince Shonola transferred to Rocky Mountain University for his final two years of eligibility. The quick wideout set the all-time school record for 40-yard dash time with an astounding 4.33 seconds and is confident that he can run it even faster. Shonola participated in a couple NFL Pro Days as well as two CFL tryouts before earning a private workout with the Cleveland Browns. The wideout recently spent time with the Arizona Hotshots of the AAF through training camp and preseason.

Sebastian Smith, Wide Receiver

Adding another rookie to the mix, Sebastian Smith played collegiately at Ohio University where he started every game from his sophomore to senior year and served as the team’s leading receiver. After his junior and senior seasons, Sebastian was named to the All-Conference team. During his junior season in 2015, Smith made a diving catch that appeared later on SportsCenter’s “Top 10 Plays.” Following college, Smith had brief stints with the New England Patriots and Washington Redskins. Smith is looking forward to coming to the Capital Region and getting out into the community to give back to the fans.

Joe Sykes, Defensive End

The greatest of all-time at the defensive end position, Joe Sykes returns to the Empire for his second season as the League’s all-time sack leader with 61 career sacks to his name. Last season with the Empire, Sykes dominated opposing offensive lineman on his way to a League-best 7.5 sacks. Sykes has a natural ability to poke the ball loose, also leading the League with four forced fumbles in the Empire’s inaugural season. Sykes has made a home here in Albany and was frequently out in the community throughout the entire offseason. Entering his sixth season in the AFL, Sykes is determined to see his already best of all-time sack number continue to climb.

Fans can secure season tickets for the Albany Empire by calling 518-533-2200, by going to, or by stopping by the Empire office located in the Times Union Center. A limited number of great seats are still available! Want to bring your organization to a game, fundraise, or perform on the field? Group experiences are now on sale. Call 518-533-2200 for additional information.

Albany Empire 2019 Season Presented By CDPHP.

About Albany Empire

Season memberships for the 2019 season are on sale now. For tickets, contact the Albany Empire sales department at (518) 533-2200 or by going to . Follow the team on Facebook at  and Twitter at

About the Arena Football League

The Arena Football League enters its 32nd season in 2019. Since its inception in 1987, the AFL showcases a fast-paced, exciting game to millions of fans in a myriad of markets. With the addition of two new teams in Atlantic City, N.J., and Columbus, O.H., the League totals six teams for 2019: Albany, Atlantic City, Columbus, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. Each team will play 12 regular-season games in 2019. One can find the League can on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook using the handle @OfficialAFL.

About Times Union Center

Albany’s Times Union Center, formerly Pepsi Arena, continues to have great success. Renamed in January 2007, the Times Union Center is “Upstate New York’s Premier Sports and Entertainment Facility. Owned by Albany County and operated by SMG, the world’s largest private management firm for public assembly facilities, the Times Union Center has an adaptable seating capacity between 6,000 and 17,500. Since Frank Sinatra christened the building on January 30, 1990, more than seven million patrons have walked through the turnstiles. As a multi-purpose facility, the Times Union Center has hosted a variety of events, including concerts, family shows and sporting events, averaging 165 events each year. 

About CDPHP®

Established in 1984, CDPHP is a physician-founded, member-focused and community-based not-for-profit health plan that offers high-quality affordable health insurance plans to members in 26 counties throughout New York. CDPHP is also on Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Pinterest , and Instagram .

About Transfinder

Founded in 1988 and headquartered in Schenectady, New York, Transfinder is a national leader in intelligent transportation systems, providing transportation management systems and services to school districts, municipalities and adult care facilities. Transfinder, an Inc. magazine “fastest-growing company” for the past eleven straight years, has offices in Austin, Texas, and Shanghai, China. The software company develops and supports routing and scheduling solutions for optimal transportation logistics.

Albany Empire Partners

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