By Rob Disario
When I received my season tickets in December, 2017 the Massachusetts Pirates were a mere concept. They were an idea from local businessmen who loved football and wanted to bring it back to Worcester, Mass. With no players, staff or fans the Yatim family sold their idea to the National Arena League and the local community. On November 15, 2017 the Mass Pirates held a news conference announcing their idea to the arena football world.
Oh, how far we’ve come! As an arena football fan first, and AFT Network contributor second, I can say with much confidence the inaugural season for the Mass Pirates was a complete and utter success!! The Pirates were able to get fans excited and get them to buy tickets before the turf was even cut for the floor of the DCU Center.
So, what did we see during the 2018 season? The first couple of weeks we saw wins against the Maine Mammoths and then the defending champions Jacksonville Sharks. The Pirates first loss came against the Championship bound Carolina Cobras. Pirate Nation attributed this defeat to the last minute loss of their star quarterback Sean Brackett and phenomenal wide receiver Orlandus Harris who were invited to the CFL mini-camp in Saskatchewan. This gave the opportunity for two fill-in QB’s Danny Southwick and Robert Kent. During that game, Pirate Head Coach Ameer Ismail was ejected from the game. Coach Ismail and I would share a laugh about this later when I interviewed him regarding the upcoming rematch with the Cobras.
The following week Brackett was back to distribute his magic to the masses. Also, the addition of Mardy Gilyard to the roster proved they were about to raise the bar in the National Arena League. For example, in week five, with the score tied at 30, Brackett felt the pressure from Lions defensive line and scrambled. The Pirate QB retreated 11 yards and throws an OMG from his back foot to Mardy Gilyard who falls over the boards. Gilyard maintains possession in the Lions bench and its ruled a touchdown. Wow.
However, the season was not without its surprises. In week 12 London Crawford was suspiciously absent from the Pirates roster for their win over the Steelhawks. The news broke three days before gameday when Crawford posted on National Arena League News Facebook page that he was moving on from the team.
The following week Sean Brackett and the Pirates pulled off an amazing, last minute win against the Cobras. With Devonn Brown in motion around Brackett and up the middle, Brackett took two steps back and unloads a high-ball deep into the far corner of the DCU Center to a wide open Brown for an “OMG, DID HE JUST CATCH THAT?!” touchdown. A greater sight in football I can't recall.
But then, the unthinkable. In week fifteen against the Jacksonville Sharks, Pirate quarterback Sean Brackett suffers an awkward tackle in the second quarter. He would be helped off the field and not return the remainder of the game. Darron Thomas would come in to finish the game and the season for the swashbucklers. Ironically, Thomas would suffer his own ankle injury in the playoff game against the Lions. Apparently quitting is not in Darron Thomas’ vocabulary because he kept limping back to the huddle. He showed grit and strength the likes of which I’ve never seen from any other professional football league. The Pirates would ultimately lose to Columbus, but not because of lack of effort or lack of talent.
To say the inaugural season of the Massachusetts Pirates was a success would be an understatement. The owners, staff and players should be proud of what they created and what will surely be a dominating team for years to come.
Gregg Fornario, owner of the Richmond Roughriders, has announced he will be starting a new arena football league called the Northern Arena Football league in March 2019. The league will have teams in the North / Northeast US with the goal of lowering travel costs for the teams who participate in the league.
The NAF plans to have 6-8 teams participating in the 2019 Inaugural Season. According the website, the league will make sure teams go through extensive background checks, and make sure the teams have the right finances for a stable long-term future. As for scheduling, the NAF will play "a 8 to 10 game schedule, depending on what the team owners vote on."
The NAF Board of Directors currently includes:
Gregg Fornario (President and Commissioner)
Jesse Heninger (Director of Marketing, Operations, Brand Strategy)
Trey Braid (Operations, Creative Services & Information Technology)
Andrew Germann (Gameday Operations Coordinator)
As for Gregg's Richmond Roughriders, he announced his intentions to keep his team in the AAL for 2019. As of now, the team is still currently exploring relocation sites due to the fact that the Richmond Coliseum is likely to be torn down.
As for the rulebook, the NAF website states that the league will play under a set of unique rules.
The following information is listed on the NAF Website:
AFT Vice President Aaron Castete sat down with Gregg Fornario (NAF President) and asked a few questions regarding the league.
Aaron: "How will the NAF separate itself from the other leagues and build a unique brand?"
Gregg: "We will be a regional league that will make teams save on travel and players not have to dread the long bus rides."
Aaron: "When exploring cities for franchises, what are some of the key components you look for with the city, venue, and potential ownership group?"
Gregg: "We are looking to keep the NAF from Pennsylvania and north of there, there are alot of commadating arenas in the New England area that we will like to see that be the center point of the foot print. And all ownership groups will have a financial background checks. I know what it takes capital wise to get a team going, so I can advice through the process so ownerships know the realistic terms."
Aaron: "As for markets, will the league plan to have teams mostly medium sized markets?"
Gregg: "Markets will be up to the franchise owners as long as it is in the footprint and arena is approved by NAF"
Aaron: "After owning a team for two seasons so far, what are some of the things you have learned and will use to shape your league?"
Gregg: "Well the motto is "Get in where you fit in" And being geographically correct is huge. Being a owner for two seasons I have now learned how to cut corners in a professional manner and I plan on sharing that with all teams in the league to keep the league a success. We plan on starting a league in the south in 20' and have the winners of both leagues play in the East coast Arena Bowl."
By Rob Disario
Sunday’s win by the Maine Mammoths over the Jacksonville Sharks confirms what Pirate Nation knew all along: The Massachusetts Pirates are the best team in the National Arena League...for now.
The Pirates secured the number one seed giving them home field advantage throughout the playoffs, (as long as they win). Their first battle is this Saturday, August 11th when they face off against the Columbus Lions in Worcester, Massachusetts.
But the question on everybody’s mind is WILL SEAN BRACKETT PLAY? Immediately following the game on Saturday, I met with Coach Ameer Ismail and asked aout the star quarterback. His exact words were “We’ll see!” Further pressure by this analyst produced nothing more than “We’ll see” from the leader of the Pirates. He went on to say that even if Brackett doesn’t play, Darron Thomas will be ready to go and ready to win.
Not wanting to aggravate the coach any further, I inquired as to the Pirates’ missing receivers: Bones Bagaunte and Devonn Brown who did not dress for Saturday’s win over the Steelhawks. Coach Ismail reassured me that their lack of participation was a coach's decision to rest them and not the result of any injury or inability to play. Later, I caught up with #0 (Bones Bagaunte) and asked if he would be ready for Saturday’s first round game. Bones cracked a mischievous smile and replied, “I’ll be ready!” No wonder he’s a fan favorite.
In addition to answering player inquiries, Coach Ismail wanted to give a shout out to the players and coaching staff of the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks. He said Coach Barto and his team faced several challenges this season, but played with heart week in and week out.
Thus, the NAL playoffs shake out like this: Columbus Lions travel to Worcester to face off against the Massachusetts Pirates on Saturday August 11th; and the Jacksonville Sharks travel to Greensboro on Tuesday, August 14th to play the Carolina Cobras. Both games kick off at 7pm.
By RJ Ciancio
The Massachusetts Pirates played host to the 0-14 Lehigh Valley Steelhawks who were playing to avoid having the worst single season record in National Arena League (NAL) history. Darron Thomas started for the Pirates as Sean Brackett was out due to injury. However that made little difference to the Pirates as on the first drive of the game Massachusetts marched down the field as Von Pearson caught a long bomb and was tackled inside the Steelhawks one. On first and goal Thomas handed the ball off to Dashawn Johnson who plunged in from a yard out for the touchdown. With Ali Mourtada’s extra point the score read 7-0 Pirates.
Mourtada’s kickoff was taken out to the Steelhawks 14. With an injured Caleb Walton, Patrick Ryan got the start. However, Ryan struggled as the offensive line was pushed around and the offense went three and out. Spencer Hotaling’s field goal attempt was no good.
After the teams traded unsuccessful field goals, Thomas found Mardy Gillyard for a touchdown reception. With Mortada missing the the extra point the score read 13-0 Pirates. On the ensuing kickoff Mortada’s kickoff split the uprights for the deuce making it 15-0 Massachusetts
Patrick Ryan struggled to lead the Steelhawks offense as the offense slowed down. Luckily for the Steelhawks were given a first down after the Pirates committed Illegal hands to the face penalty. Lehigh Valley wasn’t able to capitalize on the drive as they turned the ball over on downs.
Throughout the rest of the half the Pirates were able to continue the slaughter as they were able score fourteen unanswered points making it 29-0 Pirates by the time the first half ended.
The Steelhawks stumbled out of the gate as their first drive on second half ended as RJ Roberts strip-sacked Ryan and Roberts ran the ball into the endzone for the Massachusetts touchdown. With Mortada missing the extra point the score read 35-0.
Massachusetts continued to find the endzone and hold the Steelhawks scoreless until the 8:55 mark in the fourth quarter on a fluke play where the snap was botched and fumbled by many players before it was recovered in the endzone for the Steelhawks touchdown. With the Spencer Hotaling nailed the extra point giving the Steelhawks their only points of the game. By the time the final whistle sounded the scoreboard read: Pirates 67, Steelhawks 7.
The Pirates enter the playoffs on a high note. Massachusetts can also rest easy knowing that Darron Thomas is ready to step in for Sean Brackett if he gets hurt. If the Sharks lose their final regular season game the Pirates will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs and will get to host the NAL Championship Game. If the Sharks win the Pirates would still get to host at least one playoff game. Massachusetts is riding high going into to postseason.
Lehigh Valley’s season is over. After setting a NAL record for the worst record in league and team history. The Steelhawks will have to rebuild for next year, but if they do well in the offseason they could have a rebound year in 2019.