By Brice Burge
Head of Management
Old habits die hard, especially when you're bringing back a team from the grave.
Usually those old pitfalls would be why the team went extinct to begin with, but for the Orlando Predators, some things the team absolutely has to bring back for the history and the fans. For example, calling their field “the jungle”.
Problem is another franchise in the National Arena League already calls their home field that.
The Columbus Lions, a stable and consistent organization that has climbed up the ranks of indoor football to one of the more prolific leagues in the country, calls their arena “the jungle” too. The perfect place for a pride of lions, Columbus is the smallest market in the league. That hasn't stopped them from making last year's NAL championship game.
In a dilemma that would make Guns N Roses fans feel right at home, the opportunity to raise the stakes was taken by ownership, resulting in the Jungle War rivalry.
”We were in a Lions staff meeting going back and forth about the two jungles,” said Joshua Blair, owner of the Lions. “Then we came up with the idea of having a trophy that determined bragging rights for the jungle.”
For the Predators, they had to take the chance to defend their namesake.
“We were all for it,” said Purvis Adamson, Director of Multimedia and Assistant General Manager. “Everyone in arena football, they know the Orlando Predators have the jungle.”
In the first meeting between the two teams, it was the Predators that came out on top in a 42-40 victory in Orlando. It was the closest game in the NAL this season and the first game back since the original Predators folded.
“It was a historical moment. First year back, first year in the NAL and just to play the Columbus Lions made it more historical,” Adamson said.
To celebrate the victory, the Predators brought home the Schwarzenegger Knife, a wooden recreation of the large knife used by his character in the movie Predator. It was presented to the team by NAL Commissioner Chris Siegfried after the game.The idea to use the knife design as the rivalry trophy came from the Lions' front office staff. Social media coordinator Hayley Dukes suggested the design while manager Jared Goertzen hand carved the trophy.
The rivalry trophy is the only one currently in the NAL, but it does have people on both sides wanting to keep it in their own jungle.
“Now we get a chance to play them in our home, the real jungle,” said Lions defensive back Shattle Fenteng. “I'm excited about this matchup. The fans are going to see an exciting game and our defense is going to bring it.”
For Orlando though, they have no long term plans of giving up the knife.
“I don't think were going to lose it,” Adamson said. “We look forward to keeping it, if we lose it one game no big deal, because we’ll get it back and at the end of the season keep it.”
The Predators and Lions will face off Saturday, May 4 at 7 p.m. in Columbus. The game will be broadcasted on the NAL YouTube page.
Courtesy of Azari Images By Rob Disario
And just like that, the Massachusetts Pirates are back on their A-game. With the aid of last minute pickups: Lashard Durr, Jokobi Smith and Ishmael Zamora, Coach Payton and his previously shipwrecked buccaneers topped the expansion Orlando Predators. The highlight of Saturday's match-up was the Pirate defense who left the Florida team scoreless after the first half. Predator offensive line couldn't hold back the onslaught of pressure and quarterback Kyle Israel spent the game either on his back or on the run.
In an exclusive AFT interview, I asked Mass Pirates head coach Anthony Payton what he did differently to prepare for tonight's win. “You have to understand,” he said. “Carolina is the best team in the league…I have 18 new guys, coming from the outdoor game, they needed to adjust.” Payton went on to say the return of snapper Thomas Claiborne made a big difference in the pass protection.
I asked Coach Payton about Devonn Brown not playing tonight, “He’s banged up” he offered. “They ran him at the CFL tryout and he came back all banged up!” When asked whether Brown would dress for next week’s match-up against the sharks he said, “I don’t know…we’ll see how he does at practice.”
Coach Payton took his share of digital hits this week after two painful losses to the Cobras. But in extraordinary fashion, he kept himself and his players focused to not only finish with a win, but outscore the Predators four to one. The Jacksonville Sharks visit Worcester for week 4 match-up on Saturday, May 4 kickoff at 8:20pm.
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.