Austin Larkin, Logan Woodside on Commanders’ rematch with Fleet

Commanders linebacker Austin Larkin at practice Friday as the team prepared for Sunday's game against the San Diego Fleet. - photo by Joe Alexander
Commanders linebacker Austin Larkin at practice Friday as the team prepared for Sunday’s game against the San Diego Fleet. – photo by Joe Alexander
The San Antonio Commanders opened the season with a feel-good 15-6 victory over the San Diego Fleet at the Alamodome.

Two weeks later, it will be the Fleet who have the home-field advantage when the teams meet again Sunday (7 p.m. Central time) in San Diego.

Two themes were being repeated around the Commanders this week:

First, the rematch is always tougher.

Second, the Commanders are confident.

“The saying is that it’s hardest to beat a team twice in one year,” Commanders linebacker Austin Larkin said. “Obviously it’s going to be a challenge. They know what we do. We know what they like to do.

“We got a little taste of one another the first week. Hopefully we can improve on our game plan from previously and come out here and beat them again.”

The Commanders had four scoring drives in that first meeting. The concern was that only one of those was a touchdown. And the Fleet, with veteran offensive-minded coach Mike Martz, figure to have improved on offense themselves since then.

“It will be a big challenge for us,” Commanders quarterback Logan Woodside said. “Really good on defense. Good on offense. Got a great head coach in coach Martz. So it will be a big challenge. First game on the road, so we’ve got to be locked in.”

In the first season of AAF, every week has its own firsts. This will be the Commanders’ first road game, first game outdoors, first game on grass, and first game coming off a loss.

“You’ve got to come out with the right mindset,” Larkin said. “You’ve got to be confident. You’ve got to be poised. You’ve got to be just ready for anything.

“The road is obviously a bit more challenging than being at home. We’re comfortable here, but I think we’re up for the challenge and I think we’ll be ready.”

One thing the Commanders won’t have on their side is the throng of screaming Texas natives that turned up the volume in the Alamodome in the first two games in San Antonio.

“Oh my, that was WOW. That was insane – 30,000 people just screaming,” Larkin said. “I think we’ll be amped up enough just to face San Diego again. We’ll create our own energy if the fans are against us out there. But we’ll definitely miss them.”

A more personal challenge for Larkin and his defensive teammates is putting on a strong pass rush. Two weeks into the season, the Commanders lead the league in quarterback sacks. They had six sacks in the season opener despite the Fleet’s game play to hold them off.

“For me personally they like to max protect a lot,” Larkin said. “That’s kind of annoying getting to the quarterback. I have to take advnantage of those one-on-ones. They do like to get a lot of guys in protection make sure their quarterback is safe.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to get through a few times and get him down again. We’ve got some rushers on this team. The whole D line. The outside linebackers. We’ve got some guys we know will get there. We’re confident and ready for it.”

Larkin comes from a family that knows about athletic challenges. His Michael played linebacker for four seasons at Notre Dame. His uncle Barry, the best known of the Larkins, was a Hall of Fame baseball player and a member of the Cincinnati Reds’ 1990 World Series Championship team.

Austin Larkin played some baseball growing up, but found chasing down quarterbacks and running backs more fun than hitting baseball. At 6-foot-2, 259 pounds, the former Purdue linebacker looks the part of a pro football player.

“I grew up most of my life playing baseball but honestly I kind of bored of it when I got to right before high school,” Larkin said. “It just wasn’t the sport for me. I had fun with it when I was young.

“Having those roots, it gave me something to look up to. I wanted to accomplish that level of greatness in my own personal life. It was really cool to have that be a part of my family.”

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