Coach Reggie McAvoy Shipp

By Jay Luster

Coach Shipp with the MAIFL Divisional and Championship trophies

Like almost all sports arena football requires a great deal of player development.  That void is filled by what is considered semi-pro leagues and teams.  While the level of football can be decidedly lower than what fans have come to expect from teams like the Jacksonville Sharks or Iowa Barnstormers, it is an extremely important step for many of the players who will eventually fill up their rosters. Oftentimes great football players don’t get to play college ball but they refuse to give up their dreams.  Entities like the Mid-Atlantic Indoor Football League give them a place to broaden their experience and continue to participate in the sport they love.  On this level it really is for the love of the game.  

In Richmond, Virginia, a city dominated by the APF Champion Richmond Roughriders, there is another team, The Capital City Reapers.  The Reapers actually played and won more games this season than their professional brethren from across town, and like the Riders, they too won their league championship.  Coach Reggie McAvoy Shipp is the founder, owner, and head coach of The Reapers.  Under his guidance the team finished their season 10-0 and on June 17, 2017, they defeated the 7-3 Maryland Eagles 40-22 to capture the league crown.  I had an opportunity to catch up with Coach Shipp a few minutes before the game and he even gave me a couple of moments immediately following the trophy award ceremony.

JL

Coach, thanks for giving me a couple of minutes.  Tell me what you have going on today?

Coach Shipp

We have the Maryland Eagles coming in and they are the #2 ranked team in our league and they’re their conference champs.  The unfortunate thing for them is we’ve already beaten them twice during the regular season, here and there.  The first game we played them we had to go into overtime.  We came out a little sluggish but we got the job done in the end but the second time it was a totally different story.  We came out on top and never looked back.  We’re expecting the same thing today.

JL

It’s hard to beat the same team 3 times in one season?

Coach Shipp

That’s what they say, but when you have athletes like we have with The Reapers it makes it easy.  We have a former A1 player, LB Julius Gregory, he played with the Washington Valor and he’s now with us.  We have Kelvin Irving, a wide receiver we picked up from the Savannah Steam,  Jamahl Street, our amazing QB, he played at Georgia Tech.  He’s been leading the way. Then a young man Ty Washington, he’s a total animal at LB.  Those guys make it easy for us.

JL

What’s your experience?

Coach Shipp

I’ve been coaching arena ball for three years.  I was a defensive assistant and assistant defensive coordinator for the York Capitals in 2015 and we won the AIF championship.  Last year I coached another developmental team which is now defunct called the River City Thunder and we went to the conference championship but lost 37-30 to a very experienced and undefeated Reading Raptors.  Now I’m here as the President and Head Coach of the Capital City Reapers.

JL

How’d you decide to start the team?

Coach Shipp

Well, it’s my passion.  I wanted to see indoor developmental ball done right and give guys in Virginia an opportunity to showcase their talent.  I’ve noticed, over the years, that a lot of guys go to indoor tryouts and they don’t have any idea what the concept is so they don’t fair well against the veteran players who do know what the game is all about and how it’s played.  I want to give them the opportunity to develop their skills so they can be successful on the next level.  

JL

It’s football, but there’s so many differences.  What do you teach them?

Coach Shipp

There’s so many nuances to the indoor game.  The linebackers have to stay inside the box, one has to vacate and one blitzes, one has to go but 7 yards into coverage. You have a high motion man.  In outside ball you go sideline to sideline but now you’ve got a guy going full steam ahead at you, it makes it difficult for a defensive back to cover and get used to that concept.  There’s a lot of nuance that needs to be picked up on and that’s why we’re here to teach them.

JL

With indoor rules bent so dramatically towards the offense how do you coach defense?

Coach Shipp

It’s an offensive game and the rules are built towards scoring points.  The defensive players need to have a short memory on every play.  I tell my guys, if you make a mistake, make it at full speed and I won’t chew your stuff.  Then you have to forget about it and move on to the next play.

JL  

So tell me about this season.

Coach Shipp

The season has been amazing.  When we started out I never expected us to go undefeated

Developmental leagues are fundamental to the future of all arena/indoor football

but the competition we’ve played against, some of it has been great, but some of it has been not so great.  It’s like that in any league you play in.  Even if that’s the NFL, CFL, or even A1, you’re going to have top caliber talent and then you’re going to have some not so good talent and not so good coaching.  This year has been nothing but spectacular.

JL

What’s the game plan for today?

Coach Shipp

Well, the game plan is to be very physical and very fast and to play smart.  Our game plan going into every game is to play intelligent football.  We want to learn from our mistakes and adjust as the game goes along and come out with a win.

JL

It seems as if your team is led by the defense?

Coach Shipp

Yes. we have a very strong defense.  We’ve given up only 60 points all season.  I coach the defense so I have a defensive minded mentality.  I’m very aggressive and I’m adamant about playing man coverage. If guys can’t play man coverage they can’t play for me.  You can play zone, you just have to disguise it well.  I’ve been able to carry on  from York because we had four games that were shutouts.  I’ve learned from other defensive minded coaches along the way and picked up a few tricks of the trade and incorporated into what we have this year and you can see the end results up to this point, we’re 10-0

JL

You sound like you’re proud of your team?

 

MAIFL Champion Capital City Reapers

Coach Shipp

I’m very proud of the team.  I tell guys all the time it’s not me, it’s the guys I have on my roster.  Being a first year team you don’t have a choice of veteran players because most veteran players are playing on the higher levels.

JL

Tell me about the MAIFL?

Coach Shipp

We’re considered a developmental league.  We’ve had three guys from our team move up to the High Country Grizzlies this year.  I tell my guys as long as you do well, as long as you keep at it  and progress along the way you’ll get moved up.  

JL

Isn’t a 10-0 team better than what would be considered developmental?

Coach Shipp

I would say that, but these guys are still learning.  They have a lot to learn about the game and a lot of understanding that needs to be had in regards to the different concepts and the way the game is played.  On the next level, like anything, when you go from high school to college the speed is different.  It’s a totally different beast.  Just like my guys that went down to High Country and played against an AFL1 team, Jacksonville, they learned the hard way.  What they learned they’ve incorporated it into practice over the last week and they’re like hey Coach, now we see exactly what you’re talking about, thank you.

JL

What’s your plan for next year?

Coach Shipp

Next year we’re looking to go pro. We’ve talked to a couple of pro leagues and we’re going to let the chips fall where they may.  We’ll have further discussions once the season ends.  We’ve been courted by the AAL and by the SIF so we’re looking at quite a few options.

JL

You have a WWE Championship Belt with you, tell me about it.

Coach Shipp

I had it made and it speaks for itself.  To be a champion you’ve got to wear a belt. We’re the undefeated heavyweight champion and you’ve got to let them know the champ is here.  I don’t mind being a bad guy, sometimes.  It’s a mental thing.  When they see you walk out with the belt it instantly invokes some sort of intimidation and it makes them like ok, are they really serious?  That’s the thing, we are serious.  Every week I’ve worn the belt and every week we’ve won the game, so it speaks for itself.  

The Belt.

JL

Sort of quiet trash talk?

Coach Shipp

Yes Sir.  

After the game, as you can imagine, the scene was chaotic.  The team and fans were on the field celebrating when couple of the players dumped a bucket of Gatorade on him. I was standing close to him when he accepted the trophy and asked him how he was feeling.  He said, “I’m feeling amazing right now,”  Then he turned back to the team and said, “For everybody that said we couldn’t do it, for everybody that said this moment wouldn’t happen, these boys stuck together, they played hard, undefeated season.  There can be only one first time Mid-Atlantic Indoor Football League Champion and that is your Capital City Reapers.”  He stopped to collect himself for a moment and his players surrounded him and started cheering.  Then he said, “First of all I’d like to thank all of the fans that supported us throughout the year.  We couldn’t have done it without the fans.  All of the guys on the Eagles, the Reapers thank you for a good game.  The important thing is this is our inaugural season and we got through it and we got to the championship game.  This trophy goes to an undefeated champion. Reapers, congratulations on your year, congratulations on winning the trophy.  We didn’t just do it for ourselves, w

e did it for every fan that supports this organization, that supports these players, that stand behind the sacrifices these players make on a daily basis to pursue their dreams and aspirations of becoming pro’s.  My players deserve this belt because without you, I am nothing!”

Coach Shipp is an interesting guy.  During the season he poked at the owner of the Richmond Roughriders through Facebook.  He challenged them to a game and kind of aimed some trash talk in their direction.  When I asked him about it he explained that he actually had a lot of respect for the Riders

Coach Shipp accepting the Coach of the Year Trophy from MAIFL Cimmissioner Ric Guy

and for what they were accomplishing but he needed to raise awareness of his team in the region.  Football is a business, and while the semi-pro level may be the least expensive way to own a team, it’s still an expensive proposition.  His goal was to try and get the press to pay attention and to hopefully get some of the Riders fans on board with the Reapers. The ploy worked and attendance at Reapers games rose towards the end of the season.  The coach said himself that he doesn’t mind being the bad guy, and if you think of him as the pro-wrestling heel that people love to hate you begin to see the method to his madness.   Next year his goal is to move the team up to the pro ranks and with that in mind he has hired Antwun Williams to be the next head coach of the team.  No longer splitting his time between coaching the team, and running the organization, he will now be free to concentrate on the business of growing the Reapers brand.