Every year in the AFL, a new quarterback seems to pop up and assume a place among the AFL’s select few “solid starters.” In 2011 it was Tommy Grady, who finished third in efficiency rating after finishing outside the top 10 the year before. In 2012, J.J. Raterink got to No. 3 in the rankings as well. In 2013, Erik Meyer went from backup (okay, he spent the 2012 season, which was to be his first as a starter, injured) to league MVP. In 2014, Shane Austin jumped up from the bench and became the quarterback for a team that went 17-1 and made it to the ArenaBowl.
No one knows which quarterback will make the leap in 2015, but Thunder quarterback Danny Southwick is preparing for it to be him.
“I want to be a top player in this league. That means that you have to take every opportunity that you have to get on the field and improve and contribute to teams,” said Southwick. “For me, my approach has been that I’m always trying to get better every single year so that when my opportunities come, I can take advantage of them. That position is familiar for me now because I’ve been doing it the last few years.
“I think in the AFL in general, unless you’re a quarterback that’s been starting for a team for a number of years, it just seems like you don’t know what’s going to happen next week. Look at what happened with J.J. Raterink last year – he started for LA, then he’s starting for Iowa, then he’s the backup for LA, then he’s starting for LA – and J.J.’s been a starter for a long time. I think it’s just part of being an AFL player – trying to stay ready.”
The 2014 season epitomized that “always ready” attitude, as Southwick was a free agent when the season began before the Thunder’s struggles with two rookie quarterbacks to start their inaugural season left head coach Matthew Sauk seeking a veteran presence.
Southwick came in and played the team’s first road game at Los Angeles, then found himself back off the roster when the team acquired veteran Kyle Rowley, who had won an ArenaBowl as Sauk’s quarterback in Spokane. A couple of weeks later, Rowley got injured in the team’s first win of the season against the Jacksonville Sharks…and Southwick was on a plane across the country days later to lead the team to a win against Tampa Bay.
Southwick has other things going on in life – in addition to producing a couple of shows on Ora TV, he’s wrapping up a couple of master’s degrees – psychology through the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA at UC-Irvine. He and his wife are adding another challenge this season – they’re expecting the birth of their first child, a boy, on April 4.
When asked what the toughest thing about being a non-entrenched starter in the AFL is, Southwick mentioned the toll it takes on family. “The hardest thing for me is the family. The AFL is a high-turnover league and even guys that have been around the league forever, like an Aaron Garcia – he was on like 75 teams in his career. What’s that like for a family? So it’s been hard. My wife’s been great – we have our first boy coming in a couple of weeks, so that stuff weighs more and more.”
The constant shuffling of players throughout teams in the league also affects the quality of play, as Southwick sees it.
“The more cohesiveness that you can have, the better. For example, Cleveland had a lot of the same players on that  team. That’s one of the reasons they were really successful. San Jose usually comes back with a lot of the same players. Arizona has all the same players. And there’s a lot to that. When you’re moving team-to-team-to-team, it’s just like you’re perpetually in training camp. That’s the hardest part. There’s nothing you can do about it, so you just focus on what you have to do and you go out and play.”
For now, Southwick has found another home in Portland. He’s helping produce a web series with Brendon Burchard, a motivational and personal development guru, who lives in the area. The Southwicks’ doctor lives in Portland. For now, the Rose City provides a nice home base for Southwick, who has generally gone between Utah, Los Angeles, and Portland as far as where he likes to live in the offseason.
That opportunity to become a top player in the AFL, though, continues to motivate Southwick, especially after watching from afar as Cleveland became one of the league’s powerhouses.
“That was a funny situation – I was potentially going to sign with Cleveland last year, and I ended up not signing with them. Instead they signed Shane Austin. I was kind of leery of signing there because I thought, ‘Well, Chris Dieker’s going to be the guy.’ Sure enough, Shane Austin ends up being the guy and leads the team to the ArenaBowl,” said Southwick. “He got in a good situation, he was prepared, and did awesome.”
In 2015, a quarterback is going to surprise fans and become one of the better passers in the league. Be ready for him – he’s been ready for it for a while.