By Toph Kopchak Director of AFL Coverage.
We survived the offseason! With a new world of gaming, I thought I would list a “Who To Watch For” in Week 1.
WAS @ BAL Friday 7 ET NBC Sports Washington and Monumental Sports
“Superman” Joe Hills ($9,600) will get to show off his skills right away to his new Baltimore fans on opening night. The highest priced player on Draft Kings is a favorite to watch, but this week's steal could be on the other team. Valor Quarterback Arvell Nelson ($9,400) has the best legs among AFL QB's and scored over 6 more FPPG (fantasy points per game) than Hills last season, and also earned Arena Bowl MVP last season.
AC @ PHI Saturday 3:30 ET NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus and Monumental Sports
Dan Raudabaugh ($8,200) is not even priced with the top half of the QB's, something that will not bug this vet too much, but still how? I see good value here, especially if you pair him with one of the league's best rising receivers Darius Prince ($8,400). Aaron Wascha ($7,400) being banged up gives Prince more value.
COL @ ALB Saturday 7 ET WNYA My4 Albany, WSYX 6.2 Columbus and Monumental Sports
Tommy Grady ($9,200) has lots of value, but the Destroyers did load up on defense and with Hills no longer there it may take a couple drives to figure out a “Brigade” type defense first style, but it's sure tempting to double up with Malachi Jones ($8,800) who took AFL Rookie of The Year last season. Jones also had a look by former Destroyers QB and current Bears Head Coach Matt Nagy and also in Atlanta in the AAF. Cheaper than former Empire wideout Joe Hills, plus he scored more than him last season, plus having a quality FB in Mykel Benson ($4,400) will still free him up inside the 5 this season. However, his price and recent history makes him iffy for Saturday night.
By Toph Kopchak Director of AFL Coverage.
By Rob Disario
Three former Mass Pirates have joined forces on the AFL expansion team Atlantic City Blackjacks. In an age of expanding arena football leagues and teams it’s difficult to keep track of our favorite players. When the 2019 Mass Pirates roster was released I noted three of my top picks were suspiciously absent. I began my search and found Nick Haag, Cornelius Lewis and Kiante Northington in New Jersey. It’s unclear why they moved to the Garden State AFL team, but one may surmise its a bigger opportunity to play.
After the inaugural 2018 season, Pirate linebacker Nick Haag made a brief, off-season stop at the Carolina Cobras before signing with Atlantic City. Unfortunately for the Cobras, star wide receiver Tyron Laughinghouse also made the move to the Blackjacks.
Defensive Back Kiante Northington, who wore number 13 for the Pirates was the defensive lucky charm in 2018 with 12 interceptions for 136 yards with one resulting in a pick-six. The DB lead the team with 55 unassisted tackles and 17 assisted. Just a phenomenal all around defensive player.
Cornelius Lewis was a force on the front line. The loss of the veteran offensive lineman was felt in the Pirates first two games where QB Sean Brackett suffered from a lack of protection being forced out of the pocket on most plays against the Cobras. During the 2018 season, Cornelius Lewis played in 11 games with one reception for 17 yards and a touchdown. Not too shabby.
Many would contend playing in the once defunct AFL is a step in the right direction for these three former Pirates. Others would argue the money hemorrhaging AFL is one bad season away from closing its doors (…again). But, I think we’d all agree football fans are rooting for Haag, Lewis, Northington and the sport in general to succeed.
The Atlantic City Blackjacks are the latest in expansion teams of the Arena Football League. Their 2019 season is due to kick off Saturday April 27, 2019 in Philadelphia while the NAL Pirates play their third game at home against the former AFL team, Orlando Predators.
By RJ Ciancio
Director of NAL Coverage
With the New York Streets standing at two wins on zero losses after they demolished the Orlando Predators the main talk about the team is venue choice. In lieu of a lopsided game summary I figured now would be a good time to give my top five options for where I think the Streets could play in a personal worst to the best list. I don’t know about the team finances but, nevertheless here are my top five venues the New York Streets could play at.
At number five we have the Barclays Center. Currently the arena holds around 15,795 for hockey games and 17,732 for basketball. With the New York Islanders, Brooklyn Nets and the Long Island University Blackbirds (who use this as an alternate venue) as tenants it’s clear to say that this relatively new venue is a popular one. With the Streets practice facility in Brooklyn, some people would advocate for this to be higher on the list. I think that since the facility has no past of hosting an arena football team before combined with the fact the Streets don’t have a deal with them and the large capacity that could plunge the team into debt if they don’t draw well is reason enough to not play at the venue for a bit.
For number four we have the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a very well respected venue in the arena football world. The venue hosted the New York Dragons from 2001-2008 and currently hosts the New York Islanders, Long Island Nets, New York Open tennis tournament and will start playing host to the New York Riptide of the National Lacrosse League (NLL) next season. With around 16,170 seats for hockey the venue might be to big for the Streets for now.
Number three is a true oddball as I’ve chosen the Staten Island Pavilion. The Pavillion hosted the Staten Island Xtreme of the National Indoor Football league in 2004, giving and example of a past team playing arena ball in the facility. With 3,000 seats (around the same amount the Westchester County Center currently has for team games) this could be a nice stepping stone venue so the team can get acclimated to playing in the Big Apple.
At number two we have the granddaddy of all sports arenas in the world, Madison Square Garden (MSG). The venue holds approximately 18,006 seats (for hockey) and is the current home to the New York Knicks, New York Rangers and St John’s Red Storm. With the team already agreeing to play multiple games in MSG this season and with MSG Network covering the games the Garden seems like a natural fit. The big question is will the Streets be able to afford the venue full-time? Maybe if they draw well when they play there this year we will have a better idea of how it all works.
My top pick for where the New York Streets should play their home games is the Westchester County Center. I imagine some people aren’t happy about this pick. My big question is why would the team switch venues so quickly. They are already playing in MSG this season and they are under contract to play In Westchester. Unless there is a buy out clause (and we don’t know how much that would cost) why not let it be for a bit as the team grows? I imagine we all want them in the Big Apple but patience is key when running a business and that’s what we need to have with the Streets.
By: Toph Kopchak Head of AFL Coverage
One of the final pieces was just set as the Columbus Destroyers get ready to head to Albany NY this Saturday to kickoff the new season. Columbus just added one of the most accurate legs in all of football in Craig Peterson, but we will let him tell you the rest:
My name is Craig Peterson. I was born and raised in Albany, New York and went to Burnt Hills Ballston Lake high school. Last year I played for the Carolina Cobras and our team won the National Arena League championship. After winning the championship, I received special teams player of the year and first team ALL NAL. I also had a team high of 154 points which was good for 3rd in the league. This year, I had an opportunity to compete against 4 other kickers for the job in Columbus. Drew Basil and Tyler Durbin were among the kickers I was competing against. Both had gone to and played football at Ohio State University. Here I was the only kicker there who had never played high school or college football. I was eager and excited to compete for the job against such a talented group of kickers. After 4 long, consecutive days of competition, I came out on top! Every day I went in, I just focused on hitting my ball and being consistent. I was statistically at the top of every category consisting of extra points, field goals, kickoff accuracy and onside kicks. After meeting with the coaching staff afterwards and being awarded the job, I was ecstatic!
How you feel about being in Columbus?
Now that I’ve been here in Columbus for a few weeks I’ve had a chance to go out and explore the city a little bit. I like it here and the fact that Ohio State is right around the corner makes it even more of a football city which I love. Last week I was able to attend a class at Schoenbaum hall at Ohio State with Fred Whitfield, chief operating officer of the Charlotte Hornets, and Eddie George, 9 year NFL vet and former Ohio State running back, speaking to the class about their stories of how they got to where they are today. That’s why I feel as though there is so much to do in Columbus so I’m excited for the upcoming season. It would be ideal if we could bring an arena championship here to this city as the Columbus Destroyers are finally back in the AFL. So I’m blessed to be able to be a part of this great organization and will do everything I can to help this team win football games! #TheReturn.
In 2015 you made 85 XP 11 tackles and a forced fumble…sure you're a Kicker??
Playing in Tampa Bay for the Storm in 2015 was my first year playing football. I had been with the Ottawa Redblacks of the CFL only in training camp during 2014 but prior to that I had no football experience. For never playing in a game before, my first season with the Storm went very well. I feel as though I’m not an ordinary kicker standing at 6 foot 3 weighing 225 pounds, but I also like to make big plays like hitting game winning field goals, making tackles, forcing fumbles and hitting bar balls. Everyone always counts the kicker out on the kickoff returns but when I’m on the field it’s always 8v8. Making a big tackle on special teams is exhilarating and forcing a fumble can change the momentum of a game.
Difference from NAL to AFL?
Being in the NAL was a bit different last year compared to playing in the AFL. That league had the deuce rule on kickoffs which meant that if you kicked the ball through the uprights your team was awarded 2 points. Essentially it’s a 58 yard field goal off a 1 inch tee. This made the kickers in the league that much more important as you could score a touchdowns worth of points just by hitting deuces throughout a game. I had shattered the previous record of 21 deuces in a single season when I recorded my 30th deuce in the NAL championship game. The only other difference in the kicking game is the NAL doesn’t have the bars and nets along the back of the end zones. I missed the bars because getting a bar ball off of a kickoff can be crucial in turning the game around for your team, so I’m excited to have them back. I can’t wait to get this season started!
copyright Azari Images By Rob Disario
The return of Massachusetts WR Devonn Brown coupled with the loss of Carolina WR Fabian Guerra made no impact on Saturday’s nightmare in Greensboro. How could that be? you might ask. Unfortunately, Pirate QB Sean Brackett failed to connect to Brown with DB Michael Green breathing down his neck. Add Brackett’s overthrows, missed snaps, interceptions and flags for false starts, the Pirate offense continues its abysmal course into obscurity. One offensive highlight where performances by WR’s Thomas Owens, Mardy Gilyard (2TD) and Lavon Pearson (1TD) who made the game somewhat watchable.
What confused this analyst, was the fact the Pirates made no attempt to alter their offensive approach after a painful first quarter. Albert Einstein once said “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the very definition of insanity.” The Pirate play-callers repeatedly tried the “2018 Brackett-to-Brown” long bomb when their focus should have pivoted to their short game. By the third quarter they seemed to learn this, hitting Owens, Gilyard and Brown along the boards for short gains. Quayvon Hicks' running game was again deployed helping keep Cobra defense in check. But at this point it was too late.
Massachusetts’ frustration was clearly visible when OL Mitchell Bell was ejected in the third quarter for a penalty saved for a high school, JV team. The last thing anybody needs is stupid penalties created by frustrated linemen. Alas, the Pirates drop to 0-2 and return home on April 27 to face the 1-1 NAL expansion Orlando Predators. Only time will tell whether the Cobras are really that good, or if the Pirates are really that bad.
An all-new episode of AFT Buzz hits the airwaves this week with two star players appearing on the show.
Columbus Lions' star wideout Bones Bagaunte comes on the show to discuss his impressive opening week with the team, why he decided to play in Columbus this season and how the team is evolving every moment into a tougher opponent, especially when they host the Jacksonville Sharks this weekend.
West Michigan Ironmen defensive end/linebacker Nick DeKraker also joins the show before their big matchup with the West Virginia Roughriders. DeKraker talks about what it was like to play football again after his hiatus, the buildup for the game this weekend and what it will take to win.
Host Brice Burge also discusses why Oakland is a risky location for IFL expansion, the familiar face that will be Omaha Beef's new quarterback and regular segments like the Pick6 and Facebook Question of the Week.
AFT Buzz is available on multiple networks and available as a podcast after initial broadcast.
Where to listen:
920 WON The Apple: Fridays, 7 p.m. Eastern https://live365.com/station/920-WON–The-Apple-a09178
Action VR Network: Saturdays, 3 p.m. Eastern http://mixlr.com/action-vr-network/
Western Reserve Radio: Wednesdays, 6 p.m. http://edge1-a.exa.live365.net/a60106
By RJ Ciancio
Director of NAL Coverage
Arena Football returned to the Amway Center for the first time since August 6th, 2016 as the Orlando Predators hosted the Columbus Lions in the Predators first National Arena League (NAL) game.
The Orlando kickoff bounced out of the endzone as the Columbus Lions got the ball at their own five. On The first play of the season Luke Collis was intercepted for a touchdown by Robert Brown Jr! With the extra point Orlando lead seven to zero .
Looking to redeem themselves Collis began his second drive but the Predators were not going to make it easy for the ground game. With that in mind Collis targeted Bones Bagunte multiple times as the Lions beacon prowling down the field. Orlando defensive back Dallas Jackson broke up a sure touchdown putting pressure on the Lions they committed multiple delay of game penalties on the drive. The Lions began showing how vital Mason Espinoza was last season as Collis couldn’t lead the team inside the redzone.
Orlando took their first offensive drive and began a slow attempt at a drive. Instead of settling for a field goal attempt the Predators went for a kill. It succeeded as Kyle Israel found LJ Castle for the first down. A deep pass drew a flag in the endzone giving Orlando a first down. Israel was called for an umpire pick, negating a touchdown. On first and goal a screen pass to John Brown got them within the ten. One a crucial third and goal from the one the Lions stuffed Israel shot of the endzone. Going for it on fourth and goal was a gutsy move for Orlando and it backfired as the pass fell incomplete.
Columbus began its second drive right before the end of the first quarter. Once again the Lions struggled as it took them until fourth down to get yardage. With the first down the Lions had some breathing room as Collis once again found Bones Bagunte, this time for the Columbus score from 16 yards out. The Lions made the two point conversion making it eight to seven with the Lions in the lead.
The Predators offense needed to make something happen as the offense was yet to score. This was helped out by Edward Victorian who returned to ball in to Lion territory. Orlando was giving a gift with a Lion penalty resulting in a first down. Kyle Israel was dropped for a loss as the Predators were forced to use their second time out. All of a sudden the once red hot Predators looked frozen as they were forced into a fourth down. The Predators once again turned the ball over on downs.
Things looked better for the lions as Collis began finding Bones all over the field. A pass interference flag move the Lions deeper into Predator territory. Orlando was cut a break after the Lions were caught on illegal formation. Collis continued his game by once again finding Bones Bagunte for the score. Feeling confident, the Lions once again went for two but were stuffed on a run attempted. With the failed conversion the Lions lead 14 to seven.
With 3:01 left in the second quarter the Predators had time to make something happen. With the ball starting at their own 20 due to an out of bounds kick. Kyle Israel continued to target LJ Castle as the two continued to build chemistry. On second and goal Orlando found the endzone. With the extra point the game was tied at 14.
Bones returned the ensuing kickoff to their own seven. The Predators began forcing the Lions to settle for the little yardage given to them. Dallas Jackson intercepted Luke Collis on the next play swaying the momentum even more.
LJ Castle continued to be Kyle Israel’s big target getting the first two passes of the dive being thrown his way. A third and short became a third and medium due to a false start. A bad pass lead to the Lions getting the ball back via an interception with 13 seconds left in the half.
Now it was the Lions turn to make something happen. With four seconds left on third down a long pass was broken up in the endzone with the score 14-14 as the team returned to their locker rooms.
The kickoff from the Lions went out of bounds ging the Predators the ball at their own 20. LJ Castle and Kyle Israel continued what looked a game of catch in the front yard as the Predators once again found the endzone. With the extra point the Predators lead 21-14. Orlando followed that up with a deuce making it 23-14 and a two score game.
On first and 10 from their own five Collis began looking for anybody to get the team some breathing room. A man who could help with that was the Lions top target, Bones Bagunte for the first down. Chris Sanders Mccollum got a few balls thrown his way as the Lions got into the red zone. Collis dove in from one yard out giving the Lions a score himself a headache. The two point conversion was broken up as Orlando lead 23-20.
The Predators set themselves up at their own 10 as they began their drive but the Lions defense was beginning to bring some heat as Kyle Israel was forced out of the pocket multiple times. A fourth down pass was dropped by Castele giving the Lion..
By Rob Disario-The 2019 NAL season started just as the Carolina Cobras planned in Worcester, Massachusetts. During the off-season, Cobra management worked diligently to acquire new talent and retain last seasons playmakers. NAL champion quarterback Charles McCullum and wide receiver Fabian Guerra returned to put the hurt on the Mass Pirates to begin the season.
The game started as many expected with the well orchestrated, well staffed Pirate defense at the top of their game. After making a goal line stand, the Cobras got a second chance after a defensive “out of the box” penalty. Nevertheless, the new Pirates defensive line was poised to make a bold statement. But that was not to be.
NAL MVP Sean Brackett had a solid start, picking up where he left last season. On first down of their second possession, the skeleton crew breathed a collective sigh of relief when Brackett launched a thirty yard, end zone bomb to Mardy Gilyard. Thus, the “Brackett to..” story began….or so we thought.
The two offenses traded first half touchdowns and the contest remained competitive. The turning point in the game came late in the second quarter when Cobras defensive back Michael Green intercepted Brackett. This set up Carolina to improve their lead by two touchdowns. The half ended with Brackett unable to connect from the five yard line and turning the ball over on downs. The teams went back to the locker room with the Cobras on top 27-14.
For Pirate fans, the second half was like having Captain Hook perform a prostate exam. Fundamental mistakes by the Mass Pirates gave Carolina the easy win. Brackett had no protection in the pocket, being knocked down more times in the second half than all of last season combined. Add the missed snaps and fumbled balls, Sean Brackett didn’t have a chance to launch one down the field. Meanwhile, Carolina Cobras struck blow after blow essentially ending the game in an “OMG, shut-the-scoreboard-off” Cobra 54-22 win.
So, hats off to Billy Back and his Cobras. A win well deserved to set a new standard in the National Arena League.
By Scott Mulis
Arena Football is Back at the Arena in Jacksonville here in the River City. It is reminiscent to a party and a football game rolled into one. The New York Streets came into Jacksonville, FL to battle the Jacksonville Sharks. When the Game started it looked like the Sharks were going to roll as Jacksonville's New QB John Bane hit WR Jarmon Fortson for a 12 yard Touchdown pass to start the scoring to give the Sharks and early seven to nothing lead. QB John Bane played well most of the night with his trio of receivers all catching Touchdowns including Receivers Fortson, Gilchrist and Devin Wilson. I believe Bane has good magic or chemistry with WR Devin Wilson. A nice crowd saw the opener in Jacksonville. However, the other side of the story was the New York Streets offense which proved to be more consistent with scoring, making the most of their opportunities. The New York Streets also scored a couple of deuces on safeties if you will on Kickoffs by tackling Shark kickoff returners in the End Zone as the Streets kicker was working the Nets. The Biggest key to the Game in my mind even though, there was some good tackling by Sharks Linebacker Cody Saul at times, but the Sharks could not hold up on all 4 downs on 2 different goal line stands where the Sharks could not hold up Defensively. The bottomline is The New York Streets were more consistent offensively than the Sharks as New York outscored the Jacksonville Sharks 52 to 41 in a hard hitting National Arena League game. This was a big win for the very competitive first year New York Streets. The Sharks will attempt to rebound in game number two in Columbus, Georgia against the Lions next week. The Streets will go for two in a row against Orlando next week in the Streets home opener. Despite their Generic looking uniforms, New York played pretty well for an inaugural Game.
Fan Favorite Thomas Claiborne By Rob Disario- We all remember how the 2018 Massachusetts Pirates season ended: NAL MVP quarterback Sean Brackett injured in week 15 essentially ending the teams’ inaugural season championship dream. It appears Pirate ownership learned a valuable lesson and signed all-conference QB Alejandro Bennifield. After finishing his 2016 collegiate season with the second most single season touchdown passes in Tennessee-Chattanooga history, Bennifield attended mini-camp with the New Orleans Saints before signing with the Memphis Express of the now defunct AAF. It appears Bennifield will fill a much needed vacancy in the swashbuckling offense.
In an exclusive AFT interview, Pirates owner, Jawad Yatim was excited to talk about his recent quarterback add: “Having Alejandro here in Mass. is a big plus for our organization. The security of having 2 QB's on the roster that you fully believe in is an ideal component of a championship team. We still have to go out there and execute week in and week out, but we feel great about where our QB situation is at the moment.”
On the other side of the ball, team management has gone out of their way to assure their defensive roster dominates the NAL. They signed explosive players such as Georgia Tech DB Lawrence Austin, former New England Patriot defensive lineman Joshua Augusta and Massachusetts local DB Jason Matovu. This defensive roster is sure to keep opposing teams points at a minimum.
Check out the Pirates v. Cobras opener on Saturday, April 13, 2019 at the DCU Center in Worcester, MA or streaming 7pm on Youtube Live.