It was your typical arena football game. 119 total points score with the lead changing hands three times in the final 52 seconds. When the clocked reached zero the Massachusetts Pirates had their first road win in franchise history, a perfect 2 – 0 record and a 63 to 56 victory over the National Arena League defending champion Jacksonville Sharks.
The night started with the Sharks unveiling their 2017 NAL Championship Banner. Three players later the Sharks were on the board as quarterback Patrick McCain found Antonio Vaughn in the right corner of the end zone with a 25 yard strike and Nicholas Belcher’s point after put the home team out front 7-0.
The Pirates answered with a six play drive. Quarterback Sean Brackett found Devonn Brown with a 29 yard pass down to the one yard line. Brackett ran three times with the last covering the final yard into the end zone. Ali Mourtada’s PAT tied the game with 7:51 to play in the first.
Massachusetts could not take advantage of an interception by John Hardy-Tuliau as the Sharks tackled Brackett for a two yard loss on a fourth and one at the 19. The defending NAL champs cashed in with McCain hitting Vaughn from 20 yards out and the Sharks led 14-7.
The ensuing kickoff was returned 27 yards by Orlandus Harris Sr. The next snap tied the game as Brackett hit Brown with a 23 toss and the first quarter ended 14 all.
The second quarter saw Jacksonville string together a seven play drive that resulted in a Derrick Ross two yard touchdown run but a missed extra point left the score at 20 to 14.
Both defenses stiffened as the Sharks stopped the Pirates on a fourth and goal at the four, only to lose three yards, giving it back at the one. Harris scampered in from a yard out and the Pirates grabbed their first lead of the half at 21 to 20 with 54 seconds remaining. Jacksonville responded in two plays as McCain found Sam Charles from 12 yards out for a short-lived 26-21 advantage.
The Pirates closed out the half as Lamont Bryant recovered an onside kick at the nine. He caught a nine yard pass from on the next play as the Pirates led 28 to 26. After an incomplete pass, Hardy-Tuliau picked off his second interception of the half and returned it 30 yards to the end zone as the Pirates took a 34 to 26 lead in to the locker room at the break.
JACKSONVILLE- The Jacksonville Sharks (1-1) lost to the Massachusetts Pirates (2-0) in the final seconds of the the 56-63 home opener in Jacksonville. This loss gives Jacksonville their first home opener loss since 2016.
The Sharks got the ball first in this game and almost instantly turned it into points as Quarterback Patrick McCain threw a 25-yard pass to Antonio Vaughan. The Pirates would soon strike back as Quarterback Sean Brackett rushed for a one-yard touchdown, tying the game up at seven. The Sharks and Pirates exchanged empty possessions, but the Sharks took advantage of that, as McCain caught the Pirates defense sleeping and threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Vaughan, their second each on the night. Brackett and the Pirates would not give up after allowing two touchdowns in the first quarter. Brackett found Wide Receiver Devonn Brown in the end zone for a 23 yard touchdown, tying the game at 14 with 44 seconds to go in the first quarter.
To start the third quarter, Nick Belcher makes his first deuce of the night, making the score 28-34. Damien Jacobs caught an interception and returned it for a touchdown, his first touchdown of the season. Belcher would then make his second deuce in a row, making the score 37-34 with the Sharks on top. After exchanging touchdowns, the Sharks took control defensively by giving the Jacksonville offense the ball.
The Sharks offense took advantage of that while, Derrick Ross rushed for a one-yard touchdown, making the score 50-41 in Jacksonville’s favor to start the fourth quarter. Quarterback Ryan Walker came into the game in the fourth quarter after the Pirates made it a 50-48 game. His first drive ended in an empty drive. Touchdowns were exchanged and Ali Mourtada gave the Pirates a 3-point field goal advantage over the span of two drives. With 19.9 seconds to go, Ryan Walker threw a 30 yard touchdown to Antonio Vaughan. The next play was a two point conversion, but it came out empty. The Sharks were looking to have a promising victory, leading 56-51. Massachusetts have a veteran quarterback who knows exactly what to do in this situation, and exactly that happened. The Pirates quickly scored a touchdown and failed to pick up a 2-point conversion. The Sharks got the ball back, but the field goal attempt with less than five seconds to go was blocked and returned for a touchdown, ending the game 56-63.
Columbus’ defense was the story of the game as the Lions limited Lehigh Valley to a mere 190 total yards in a 50-18 victory April 13th at the Columbus Civic Center. It was the season opener for both teams.
The defense did not allow a touchdown until the second half and sacked the Steelhawks six times. The Lions also recovered one fumble and intercepted a pass as well.
Meanwhile after a slow start, the Lion offense started clicking on all cylinders and ran up 285 yards of total offense with seven passing touchdowns.
“Going into the game, the Steelhawks had more veterans on their roster then we did,” said Coach Jason Gibson after the game. “But our defense played well the entire game.”
“I thought my big dogs stepped up their play and our new guys contributed like Greg Hall, Darius Rosser and Robert Sands.” Gibson added about his game defense. ”Before the game started, we didn’t know what we had and only game experience will tell you.”
Hall was credited with two sacks and a fumble recovery, Rosser had one and a half sacks and Sands had an interception in the end zone to deny the Steelhawks in the second half.
“I was very emotional during the game,” said a smiling Rosser after the contest.”I have not been in a football game in a year and a half and it felt really great being out there and playing the game I love.”
Rosser added that “we have a high standard and allowing just three points in a half is just a start, our goal is to not let the other team score, period. I wanted to get everything out of me that I can and get to the quarterback.”
Greg Hall was icing his foot after the game but was also feeling pleased about the team’ defense. “We wanted to show our defense was ready. I was happy that I could help the team with the fumble recovery and sacks and want to keep doing that the rest of the year.”
While the defense shut the door on the Steelhawks, the Lion offense starting putting up points as quarterback Mason Espinosa began finding open receivers and got a helping hand from new fullback Quayvon Hicks in the running game.
Although considered a passing league, the Lions rushed the ball for 55 yards and Hicks had 46 of those. Espinosa added 200 passing yards of his own with five touchdown passes before substitute Jeremy Johnson took over the offense and passed for a TD in the fourth quarter also. The 7th TD pass came on a halfback option throw by Triston Purifoy.
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- Pirates Steal Win In Jacksonville
- Sharks fall to Pirates in home opener 56-63
Home Game against the Carolina Cobras August 4, 2018
Jacksonville kicked off to start the second half and it was a 2:51 span that the Pirates would like to forget. Belcher nailed a duce. On a third and eight from the seven, Jermiah Price tipped a pass to Damien Jacobs who secured the interception and powered his way five yards for a score. Belcher then added the extra point, plus another duce to cap an 11 point swing. Before the Sharks offense took a snap in the third quarter they held a 37-34 lead.
The Pirates would answer. The Sharks pass rush was draped all over Brackett, but his Hail Mary found Devonn Brown. The play covered 45 yards and Massachusetts was back on top 41-37.
Jacksonville continued to roll as with 4:21 to play in the third, McCain found Vaughn for the third time on the night with a 24 yard strike to extend the lead to 44 to 41. The Sharks defense forced another turnover on downs as the third quarter came to an end.
The Sharks then decided to run the ball six times on a seven play drive that ended with Derrick Ross scoring on a one yard run to take a 50 to 41 advantage.
The Pirates would have say as they cut the deficit to three as it took just four plays for Brackett to lead the team to a score. Brown pulled in his third TD of the game and Massachusetts trailed by two. Jacksonville quarterback Patrick McCain was shaken up and could not continue. Backup Ryan Walker entered the game with 7:26 to play and went the rest of the way. Unable to mount a drive, Belcher attempted a 35 yard field goal that was wide left. With the door now open, Brackett used receptions by Brown, Bryant and Harris to get inside the five where the drive stalled. Mourtada came on to kick a 26 yard field goal, his first of the season, and the Pirates led 51 to 50 with 48 seconds to play.
Walker wasted little time as he hit Vaughn from 31 yards out to regain the lead. For Vaughn it was his fourth score of the game. Trailing 56-51, the Pirates had one last chance. It began with a 20 yard kickoff return by Demetruce McNeal as he got the ball to the Pirates 24 yard line. On the next play, Brackett went deep to Brown 26 yards for what proved to be the winning score with eight seconds remaining. A two-point conversion try was not good and Massachusetts led 57-56.
The Sharks could not move the ball past their own 15 yard line. With six seconds left, Belcher tried a 50 yard field goal for the win but Bill Vavau blocked the kick which was recovered by Toby Jackson who returned it five yards for a touchdown as the final horn sounded and the Pirates had secured their first ever road win 63 to 56. With the victory the Pirates are now 2 – 0 on the season and the Sharks drop to 1 -1.
After the win, Pirates Head Coach Ameer Ismail said they drew up the play to block the field goal during the final timeout.
“We have a ton of respect for Belcher, that guy is great,” Ismail said. We knew we had to get to him so we called on offensive lineman Bill Vavau to get some pressure up front. He’s the biggest and strongest lineman we have so he got the call and he made it happen.”
The Pirates will look to go to 3 – 0 next week when they continue their road trip Saturday night at 7pm at the Greensboro Coliseum when they meet the Carolina Cobras.
>> Lions Continued:
In fact one Lion scoring drive was one play, a 28-yard scoring catch by Fortson in the third.
“We have been working on stretching the field all camp. Last year we were good at hitting the short throw and moving the ball down the field but coach wanted us to be able to hit the long pass to add more to the offense and it was good to see it work,” said Espinosa after the game.
Veteran Jarmon Fortson led the team in receiving with nine catches for 85 yards and scored four touchdowns and returnee Durron Neal added six catches for 70 yards and two scores. Hicks showed his versatility as he also caught two passes for 25 yards and a touchdown.
The Steelhawks all-time leading receiver Brandon Renford had the only touchdown reception of the night for the visitors. The other score by Lehigh Valley was back backup Seth Higgins on a one-yard run with one minute left in the game.
Columbus led 15-0 at the end of the first period as Lindsey Wolfe had a two-pointer after Espinosa’s first TD pass was thrown to Fortson for a 15-yard score. Quayvon Hicks scored his first arena football TD as well on a pass from the Lion quarterback and it was 15-0.
In the second quarter, the Steelhawks finally got on the scoreboard with a field goal and the Lions countered with Espinosa hitting Fortson for the second time on a six-yard TD and Purifoy tossing to Fortson again for his third score. That made it 29-3 at intermission and the Lions were in control of the game.
Columbus came out strong in the third and made it 43-10 at the end of the period with Fortson getting his fourth TD score and Neal catching his first TD pass of the game, an 18-yard score.
Walden hit Renford for his only TD pass of the game in the third for Lehigh Valley’s only passing score.
That’s when both teams went to their bench with Jeremy Johnson taking over the offense for Columbus and Higgins doing the same for Lehigh Valley. Johnson threw a TD pass to Neal of two yards that had Neal doing a back flip and a 50-10 lead.
Higgins finally got one long pass to FJ Williams to the Columbus two and then ran twice for the score. Spencer Hotalings’ two-pointer on the kickoff in that last minute ended the scoring for the night.
Johnson then led the offense to two first downs and used up the clock to end the game.
Maine Mammoths Joins NAL
ATLANTA, GEORGIA – After announcing the league's latest expansion franchise in North Carolina yesterday, the Carolina Cobras, NAL Expansion team heads north to Portland, Maine. The team will play at the Cross Insurance Arena and be called the Maine Mammoths. Returning franchises include the defending Champion Jacksonville Sharks, Columbus Lions, and the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks with the previously announced expansion franchises Jersey Flight, Massachusetts Pirates and Carolina Cobras. With higher expectations and new requirements set in league bylaws, league officials set out to expand in new markets, with ownership groups and operators that reflected the league’s ideals.
The National Arena League is proud to announce that Portland, ME will join Carolina, Massachusetts, and New Jersey as expansion franchises for 2018. Portland joins Lehigh Valley, New Jersey and Massachusetts as the league’s fourth franchise in the Northeast United States and second in the New England area. A rivalry has already sparked between the newly announced Massachusetts Pirates franchise and the Portland franchise.
“To be announcing three expansions franchises in less than 60 days is quite an honor but has also been a monumental accomplishment, stated NAL Expansion Chairman Jeff Bouchy. Portland, completes our plans for expansion for the 2018 season and allows us to move forward with the release of our NAL schedule. Maine has an untapped potential for a professional football atmosphere and it is no doubt that Portland is the perfect location to bring the state’s first professional arena football team.”
“We are excited to partner with the National Arena League to bring something new to the city of Portland. We are looking forward to continue working well with the league as we prepare for the upcoming season this Spring. The Spectra team and the Board of Trustees for the Cross Insurance Arena continue to push for year round events and becoming the home for the Maine Mammoths does just that” says Matt Herpich, Spectra General Manager at the Cross Insurance Arena.
“In only our second year, the NAL is poised for a breakout season” stated NAL Commissioner Chris Siegfried. Our returning teams, coupled with these additional new markets will continue to build upon the firm foundation of the sports premier arena league. April can’t come soon enough to showcase what we have accomplished this offseason.”
Carolina Cobras Set to Play in NAL 2018
ATLANTA, GEORGIA – After announcing the league's newest franchise, the Massachusetts Pirates last month, the NAL now sets it’s sights on Greensboro, North Carolina for the next team to join the NAL in 2018. The team will play in the Greensboro Coliseum and be called the Carolina Cobras. Returning franchises include the defending NAL Champions Jacksonville Sharks, Columbus Lions, and the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks with the previously announced expansion franchise Jersey Flight and Massachusetts Pirates. With higher expectations and new requirements set in league bylaws, league officials set out to expand in new markets, with ownership groups and operators that reflected the league’s ideals.
“We are extremely proud to be bringing a franchise to North Carolina. Greensboro has been prime target for NAL expansion with their connection with its neighboring cities Winston Salem and High Point, stated NAL Expansion Chairman Jeff Bouchy. We believe Greensboro’s community is well deserving of a arena football franchise and it’s region will be a strong foundation for a rapid growing fan base with an electric atmosphere to bring to the impressive Greensboro Coliseum. The growth that we are having this year is a testament to our league’s strength and will be a reflection of our success to come in the future years”
"We are excited to have arena football return to the Coliseum and look forward to working with the NAL and the Cobras' ownership group and staff," said Greensboro Coliseum Complex managing director Matt Brown. "Arena football is an exciting, high-energy sport that will add another family-friendly live entertainment option to our schedule for Triad residents to enjoy beginning in the spring of 2018."
“In only our second year, the NAL is poised for a breakout season,” stated NAL Commissioner Chris Siegfried. “Our returning teams, coupled with these additional new markets will continue to build upon the firm foundation of the sports premier arena league. April can’t come soon enough to showcase what we have accomplished this offseason.”
Massachusetts Pirates Begin NAL Play 2018
The Massachusetts Pirates, the newest team in the National Arena League [NAL], will play their games in the DCU Center beginning April 2018.
League that played at the then Worcester Centrum, but folded due to low attendance numbers.
An arena football field is only 50 yards long [half the length of an NFL field] with walls along the sidelines.
The NAL was formed just this year and is made up of six teams: Jacksonville Sharks, Columbus Lions, Lehigh Valley, Steelhawks, Jersey Flight, Monterrey Steel and Georgia Firebirds. However, according to insidethearena.org, the Steel and Firebirds have yet to commit to the 2018 season.During the 2017 season, each team played 12 regular season games — six home games, and six games on the road.
During the 2017 season, each team played 12 regular season games — six home games, and six games on the road.
John Gregory has steps down as the Commissioner
ATLANTA, GEORGIA – In an announcement made today by the National Arena League, John Gregory has stepped down as the Commissioner of the league. Gregory, whose football acumen spans many years of faithful service to the sport, leaves a legacy in the league by being its first ever Commissioner, and serving with dedication and honor. He will be succeeded by Chris Siegfried, whose resume in the business side of professional sports and arena football in particular is among the best in his field.
“I have been proud to be the Commissioner of the NAL and am proud of the accomplishments made by the League in its Inaugural Season,” stated Gregory. “This was accomplished because of the dedication and commitment made by the owners, managers, coaches and players. Thank you for allowing me to have been a part of it.”
Chris Siegfried now steps into the role as League Commissioner after serving as the NAL’s Director of Football Operations in its inaugural campaign. He has a long history in the sport having over 12 years of coaching experience in the Arena Football League and arenafootball2 league. As a Head Coach, Chris compiled a 90-59 win-loss record over nine seasons, and received the honor of 2006 af2 Coach of the Year as well as being named the 2006 Inland Northwest Coach of the Year while guiding the Spokane Shock to the ArenaCup Championship. Additionally, he coached the only expansion team to play in the ArenaCup in af2 League history.
In addition, Siegfried spent three seasons as an Offensive Coordinator helping his teams to a combined 32-19 win-loss record. Siegfried was the Offensive Coordinator for the expansion Jacksonville Sharks in 2010, a team that went 12-4 in the regular season and earned top seed in the American Conference playoffs. He joined the Sharks following a stint as Head Coach of the af2’s Arkansas Twisters. Siegfried was the second most “winningest” coach in the league’s ten year history. As the first former af2 player to be named Head Coach in the league, Chris tasted coaching success immediately when named Head Coach of Cape Fear for the 2002 season and guided the Wildcats to a 12-4 regular season record. He finished 38-16 over three years at Cape Fear, and lead the franchise to three playoff appearances and two division titles.
Siegfried played his college football at Division II Millersville University (PA) and earned a degree in Business Administration.
“I am thrilled to be named as the new Commissioner of the National Arena League,” stated Siegfried. “We started something great in 2017, and look to take the league to new heights in our second season of play. There should be some exciting announcements made here over the course of the next couple weeks that are made possible by the efforts of all our league members and staff.”
The league is in its final stages of expansion for the 2018 season, with new team announcements to be made in the coming weeks, followed by a league schedule.
STEELHAWKS SIGN "WRECKING BALL" HENDRIX
The Lehigh Valley Steelhawks have signed former High Country Grizzlies fullback Undra "Wrecking Ball" Hendrix II for the 2018 season. Hendrix rushed for 298 yards and 12 TD's with High Country in his first National Arena League season, good enough for second in the league. Lehigh Valley Head Coach Chris Thompson said, "This is a very exciting day for us and our fans. Signing a guy like Undra, who not only was named second team All-NAL a year ago, but knowing what he can bring to the table at fullback for us in our offense is very exciting,” Along with RB Wyreaz Bradley who rushed for 241 yards and eight touchdowns last year, Lehigh Valley might become the dominant rushing team in the NAL.
NAL Championship Game
By Jay Luster
In front of an enthusiastic home crowd of nearly 9800, the Jacksonville Sharks capped off their season by winning the NAL Championship game. The NAL has been in business for only one season and already is emerging as one of the more important leagues in all of arena/indoor football. That is due in part to good marketing of the league and its top franchises, but also because their game play has been mostly high quality. It has had its peaks and valleys, and last night's game reflected both the strengths and weaknesses of the new league.
The game was a hard-fought affair with both sides playing to their strengths and preying on each other's weaknesses. Jacksonville opened the scoring with a short run by Derrick Ross. After that the game became a kind of slow and ugly slog featuring fumbles, picks, penalties, and missed connections. The Jacksonville defense pressured Columbus QB Mason Espinosa all night, and their defensive backs did a great job taking away the Lions biggest threats. The back end pretty much shut down 6’8” receiver Michael Reeve, and the front took away Columbus’s running game completely. On the other side of the ball Jacksonville wasn’t as crisp. Derrick Mason lost two fumbles inside the ten, and Damien Fleming had two passes very nearly intercepted. If not for the fumbles, it’s likely, the Jacksonville lead would have been at least three scores at halftime.
Columbus played great defense all night which kept the Lions in the game. In the first half they forced the Mason fumbles and recovered them giving the Columbus offense extra opportunities. With Jacksonville playing lights out defense they simply couldn't capitalize on the gifts. One of the bugs in the Lions game was the snap. Twice in the first three-quarters the snap scuffed along the floor forcing Espinosa to dive on it. Late in the game, down by six, that bug would come back to bite them. Inside the one-minute warning, with the ball deep in Jacksonville’s end of the field, Columbus ran a series of QB sneaks
purposely using up the clock. The tactic was deployed to prevent Jacksonville from having enough time to kick a game-winning field goal or score another TD. When Columbus finally decided to try and score, Espinosa's passes misfired twice into the end zone. Then, with just a few clock ticks remaining in the game the snap bug bit them again. This time Jacksonville made the recovery. With just four seconds left in the game, the Lions lost the ball and with it, the game.
Next season the NAL will likely lose three of the teams. The Dayton Wolfpack were unable to secure a home-field arena and after surviving for a while as a road team they folded. The Georgia Firebirds, and Corpus Christi Rage are also not returning. That will cut the league to five teams slated for return. However, the league has already announced the addition of The Jersey Flight. They have secured The Sun National Bank Center in Trenton and are committed for next
year. In my interview with Jeff Bouchy, the Operating Manager of The Jacksonville Sharks, he confirmed there are four applicants for admission to the league. While he wouldn’t divulge the name of the teams, one of them is believed to be The Richmond Roughriders. In 2017, the Roughriders won the Arena Pro Football Championship going end to end without a defeat. Their owner, Gregg Fornario, has only said he is keeping all of his options open for 2018. It’s not a denial of their application, but it wasn’t a confirmation either. After that the rumors are swirling about players, and possibly teams dropping out of the AFL. If that league folds the likely landing spot for their teams could possibly be the NAL. In the meantime, congratulations are due to the Jacksonville Sharks for their remarkable season.
WORCESTER — Adding to the city’s professional sports scene, arena football is returning to the DCU Center.Jawad Yatim, a 2008 Shrewsbury High graduate and football standout, will officially announce the Massachusetts Pirates as the newest member of the National Arena League at a 3 p.m. press conference Wednesday at the DCU Center’s Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Pavilion. Yatim is the Pirates’ president, while his father, Hassan Yatim, is the team’s owner. Jawad Yatim said Monday he will attend Wednesday’s press conference, which will also be attended by Mayor Joseph M. Petty, City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr., DCU Center general manager Sandy Dunn and members of the professional sports community, according to a press release titled “Exciting Sports Announcement for the City of Worcester.” The announcement will mark the return of professional indoor football to the city for the first time in a decade. The New England Surge called the DCU Center home in 2007-08 as a member of the former Continental Indoor Football League.
Prior to the Surge, the Mass Marauders of the Arena Football League played one season at the then Worcester Centrum in 1994. The Pirates would be the NAL’s sixth team, joining the Columbus (Ohio) Lions, Lehigh Valley (Pennsylvania) Steelhawks, Monterrey (California) Steel, Jacksonville Sharks and New Jersey Flight. The National Arena League was founded in 2016 and played its inaugural season in 2017. Last year, the league played its games from March through June. According to a Sept. 28 statement on its Facebook page, the league was in “the final steps of lease negotiations in five new markets.”
The NAL is firm on their expansion process
By Jay Luster
With the recent announcements by the Richmond Roughriders and the High Country Grizzlies to forego the NAL and join the AAL, I thought it would be a good idea to reach out to the NAL. Jeff Bouchy was nice enough to give me a few minutes and below are the highlights of our conversation.
Hi Jeff, thanks for agreeing to speak with me. I’d like to ask you some questions to help the fans understand how the NAL screens it’s teams for expansion?
Jeff Bouchy: First, I want people to know we have a very stringent process that some teams are unable or are unwilling to meet. There are various expansion fees and every team must post a $100k letter of credit and that is non-negotiable for our league. There is no place in our League for financial irresponsibility and it will not be tolerated. The fans, players and the other owners need to know the we have good partners and stability. We left the AFL because of poorly managed teams that we had to pay substantial amounts to and we are not going to allow that to occur in the NAL. This single factor destroys leagues and has plagued arena football over the years.
What are the fees for joining?
The expansion fee is nominal but it is painful enough to ensure that you’re serious. Depending upon market size it’s $25k to $100k. A market size of less than a million, but over 500k people, the entry fee would be $50k. We won’t pre-approve a team if they don’t vet out financially. The NAL’s primary goal is to have quality owners in our league and our requirements are the same for everyone. We’re still going to have a good four good expansion teams joining us.
Tell me about how the league is shaping up for next year.
Corpus and Dayton are gone. We have six teams right now. Before expansion we’ve got Columbus, Lehigh Valley, Monterrey, Georgia, Jacksonville, and Jersey. I feel confident that we’ll have eight teams this year, and maybe ten if we can get the arena leases. The last two are taking forever, but we’re close. Until a lease is signed it’s still not done.
Even before High Country left there was a rumor of a team starting up in Greensboro NC. Can you comment on that?
(Laughter) That’s a good rumor, but is is a great market
Does the league have some type uniformity standards for each of its member teams?
About a month ago our owners voted for uniformity standards for the entire league. We want a certain minimum standard on playing fields, we’re going to all use the same uniform company. We make our teams go through our branding process. You can’t just show up and do your own logo. We have designers we want you to use because we want the brands to look professional. For example you can’t have a name going through your logo,as that is very minor league. If we’re going to be a professional league then you can’t just go do what you want, you need to do what’s best for the league
So you’re establishing a list of preferred manufacturers?
We’re working on it now. We’re in the process of finding referred manufacturers for our playing fields and your signage has to be a certain size on your dashers and on your field. Doing what you want as individual teams does not attract national partners and it just doesn’t look good on TV whether it’s broadcast or streaming
Do you have a national broadcasting contract?
No, but we feel the future is in streaming and we loved our games on YouTube last season and expect to offer the same this year at a minimum.
What about Boston and Providence?
We’re pursuing numerous markets in expansion but we don’t know yet. We feel we’re close. We have phenomenal ownership groups so we’re very hopeful.
What makes an ownership group successful?
Successful arena teams are a two part deal. You have to have owners with the wherewithal, some money to get started. You should be able to turn a profit and get that cash back. Then step two is you need someone who knows how to operate an arena football team. That is part of our process. So along with our uniformity process, our logo branding we also make new ownership groups come to Jacksonville for two days of training. They send their operator down and we help them learn about pricing, ticket sales, telemarketing all that kind of stuff. It’s a requirement of our expansion process.
The fans see the AFL, NAL and AAL as competitors. Not that the teams will be playing against each other, but rather as to which league has the highest quality play.
We don’t see ourselves in competition with either of those leagues. It’s our job to get our lower tier teams to be better than the best teams in those leagues. This is one of the reasons why we’ve created these uniformity standards for fields, in signage, in training, in logo branding, It’s just part of the process of making the NAL the best league in the country. We’re very serious about this.
During the interview I asked Jeff specifically about both Richmond and High Country and he declined direct comment. Instead he turned our conversation to the team screening and branding processes. He said he believed and respected that those ownership groups did what they believed was in the best interest of their teams and fans. While it’s obvious he bears no personal animosity towards either the Riders or the Grizzlies, it was equally clear he believed they made a mistake seeking the greener pastures of the AAL. Considering he is one of the founders of the NAL and the Operating Manager of the reigning league champion it would be surprising if he felt differently. At one point in our conversation we talked about an article in which the journalist got some of the facts wrong. It was plainly obvious he was more upset by that then anything either Richmond or High Country was doing. The bottom line really is his ambition to help the NAL become the preeminent arena league in the world. Other than his family, team, and fans it is where his focus is.
Finally, I emailed Jeff and asked him for a comment about the High Country Grizzlies joining the AAL. He sent me the following,
"The National Arena League has certain minimum standards that must be met in 2018 to be a member in our league. These standards include, but are not limited to financial obligations, playing surfaces, game operations, uniformity in our presentation of our product and abiding by the rules of conduct by team employees."
Once again I’d like to thank Jeff for giving me yet another great interview. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I had doing it and putting it together.
Warren Smith Jr. Wins NAL MVP
Warren Smith Jr, Quarterback for the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks has won the 2017 National Arena League MVP. This is Smith's second MVP Trophy. His first was captured in 2014 while with the Trenton Freedom of the PIFL. Ironically Smith played the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks twice during the regular season and came away with a home and home split. Trenton took first place in the PIFL North Division with a regular season record of 8-4. Unfortunately The Freedom lost in the first round of the playoffs to Lehigh Valley. That season Smith accounted for 59 TD's, 46 passing and 13 on the ground. This past season he played with the Steelhawks in the newly formed NAL where he led them to a 9-1 regular season record which was good enough for second place in the league. They lost a very close game in the playoffs to the Columbus Lions, but Smith Jr. finished the season completing 169 of 256 passes for 1,953 yards, 56 touchdowns and 8 interceptions which dominated the quarterback stats and made him the easy choice for MVP.
NAL Announces All-NAL Offensive Honors-Sharks Lead Way with 5 Selections
ATLANTA- The National Arena League announced today its selections for the 2017 All-NAL Offense. The All-NAL First and Second Team Offensive selections are players from around the league that have been recognized for their achievements during the 2017 regular season. In addition to the offensive players recognized, the league released the 2017 All-NAL Kicker Returners.
The Jacksonville Sharks led the way with five total All-NAL offensive selections. The Columbus Lions and the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks followed in second with four total offensive selections each.
In their first year in the NAL, Jacksonville finished their regular season going 11-1. The Sharks’ offense led the league in total points scored (697) and total offensive yards (2928). After topping any other player in the league in rushing yards and touchdowns, Derrick Ross earned an All-NAL First-Team Selection. Other First-Team Selections included Offensive Linemen Cornelius Lewis, Mo Ruffins, and Center AJ Harmon. Wide Receiver Maurice “Moe” Williams earned Second-Team All-NAL after leading the league in yards per catch.
The Columbus Lions paved their way to the NAL Championship game as well and placed four players on the All-NAL First and Second Offensive Team Selections. Wide Receiver Michael Reeve led the league in three different categories earning his first All-NAL First-Team Selection. Reeve finished the year with 73 receptions, 809 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns. Reeve wouldn’t have gotten so many catches without the help from Second-Team All-NAL selection quarterback Mason Espinosa, who leads the league in pass efficiency (109.7). Wide Receiver Triston Purifoy and Center Ryne Holland earned their spots as Second-Team All-NAL as well.
The Lehigh Valley Steelhawks had an outstanding season led by Quarterback Warren Smith and Wide Receiver Darius Prince who both earned First-Team All-NAL honors. Smith led the league in passing yards, pass attempts, and passing TDs. On the other end of the ball, Prince had 57 receptions for 718 yards. Steelhawks’ Second-Team honors went to wide receiver Brandon Renford who was second in the league in all purpose yards, and Offensive Lineman Brett Piekarski. Renford also received First Team All-NAL honors for Kick Returner.
Two other teams each placed one or more players on the All-NAL offensive teams in 2017.
The Monterrey Steel’s Wide Receiver London Crawford was the leader in many of the league’s offensive stats including: all purpose yards, scoring TDs, receiving yards per game, receptions and TDs. His performance during the 2017 season earned him an All-NAL First-Team selection. The Steel’s Offensive Lineman Colin Madison earned Second-Team All-NAL honors.
The High County Grizzlies placed fullback Undra Hendrix, who is third in the league in rushing yards, rushing attempts and touchdowns behind the Sharks’ Derrick Ross, on the All-NAL Second-Team offensive roster. Kick Returner Daron Clark also earned Second Team All-NAL after topping the charts in kick returns and kick return yards.
FULL LIST OF FIRST AND SECOND TEAM ALL-NAL OFFENSIVE PLAYERS BELOW
First-Team All-NAL Second-Team All-NAL
- Quarterback: Warren Smith (Lehigh Valley)
- Fullback: Derrick Ross (Jacksonville)
- Wide Receiver: Michael Reeve (Columbus)
- Wide Receiver: Darius Prince (Lehigh Valley)
- Wide Receiver: London Crawford (Monterrey)
- Offensive Lineman: Cornelius Lewis (Jacksonville)
- Offensive Lineman: Mo Ruffins (Jacksonville)
- Center: AJ Harmon (Jacksonville)
First-Team All-NAL Kick Returners
- 1st Team: Brandon Renford (Lehigh Valley)
First-Team All-NAL Second-Team All-NAL
- Quarterback: Mason Espinosa (Columbus)
- Fullback: Undra Hendrix (High Country)
- Wide Receiver: Brandon Renford (Lehigh Valley)
- Wide Receiver: Moe Williams (Jacksonville)
- Wide Receiver: Triston Purifoy (Columbus)
- Offensive Lineman: Brett Piekarski (Lehigh Valley)
- Offensive Lineman: Colin Madison (Monterrey)
- Center: Ryne Holland (Columbus)
Second-Team All-NAL Kick Returners
- 2nd Team: Daron Clark (High County)