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.
Massachusetts Pirates star quarterback Sean Brackett will not play this Saturday August 4th against the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks. Word came late today from Pirate management that Darron Thomas will get the start at quarterback. After Brackett suffered a leg injury early in Saturday’s tilt against the Sharks, backup quarterback Darron Thomas threw for one touchdown and five interceptions. Pirates front office assures Pirate Nation Thomas will be ready to go Saturday!
Exclusive for Arena Football Talk from Massachusetts Pirates owner Jawad Yatim:
"Sean [Brackett] is dealing with a lower leg injury that he has been treating and attacking every day through rehab and rest. We expect him to continue to do the same and we are approaching this week to week. Darron will be starting this week, and with a full week of reps with the 1's we expect his timing to be more precise, and we look forward to Darron playing well for us."
Playoff positioning is dependant on how the Pirates finish the regular season and a win would improve their chance of the all-important home field advantage. Pirates face off against the Steelhawks in Worcester, MA this Saturday August 4th at 7pm broadcasted on YouTube Live!!
By RJ Ciancio
The 0-13 Lehigh Valley Steelhawks played host the Carolina Cobras in the Steelhawks’ final home game of the season. Lehigh Valley is still seeking their first win of the season while the Cobras were trying to further their chances of hosting a National Arena League (NAL) playoff game.
Carolina’s first drive looked weak at first as Charles McCullum couldn’t get the team past the first down marker. On fourth down McCullum was intercepted by Marquez Gollum. However, the play would be nullified due to an illegal defense penalty gave the the Cobras a new set of down. Marquez Gollum then spread the ball like around as he found Phillip Barnett and then Jordan Jolly for a touchdown reception. With Craig Peterson’s extra point, the Cobras lead 7-0.
Peterson’s kickoff split the uprights for a deuce, making it 9-0 Carolina. Caleb Walton began leading the Steelhawks down the field as Walton until a third and three play where he muffed the snap. Luckily for the Steelhawks Darrell Bogan was able to fall on the football. Spencer Hotaling nailed a 45-yard field goal making it 9-3 Carolina.
The Cobras then struck quickly as two plays into the drive, McCullum found Jolly for one-handed touchdown grab. With the extra point the score read 16-3.
Peterson’s kickoff went out of the endzone giving the Steelhawks the ball at their own 20. Caleb Walton once again struggled to move the ball. Part way through the drive Caleb Walton was hurt. On fourth down Spencer Hotaling converted a 41-yard kick making it 16-3 Cobras.
Hotaling’s ensuing kickoff was short, giving the Steelhawks the ball at their own 20. On first down McCullum found Jordan Jolly on a short pass that was knocked out by Dante Holmes and Lehigh Valley recovered.
Patrick Ryan took over for an injured Caleb Walton. Ryan rallied the team as he lead them to a touchdown. The extra point was blocked making it 16-12 Cobras. After the drive ended Caleb walton was able to return to the bench area.
Spencer Hotaling’s kickoff missed the deuce attempt and the drive started at the Cobras 20. McCullum continued to prosper. On 2nd and 10 McCullum found Fabian Guerra for an easy touchdown. With the extra point the score read 23-12 Carolina.
Craig Peterson continued to rack up points for the Cobras as he kicked another deuce making it 25-12 Cobras. Caleb walton returned to the field. The offense struggled as his pass was dropped by two different receivers and overthrew another one. On fourth down lineman Peter Borum was injured on the play.
After the turnover on downs, McCullum handed the ball off to Jugg Russell on first and goal for an 8 yard touchdown run. With the successful extra point the score read 32-12 with Carolina in the lead.
Peterson’s kickoff missed the uprights giving the Steelhawks the ball at their own twenty. On the second play of the drive Walton was intercepted and the pass was returned for the pick-six. The extra point was blocked by Donte Holmes, making the score 38-12 Cobras.
Peterson’s kickoff was just short of a deuce, giving the Steelhawks the ball at their own twenty. The drive was going well for the Steelhawks until Caleb Walton was once again intercepted. Darrell Bogan was hurt on the play.
The ensuing Cobras drive would start of their own twenty. On first and ten, McCullum’s pass was nearly intercepted. McCullum wasn’t able to escape his dangerous pases getiing close to the defenders as her was eventually intercepted by Saveon brown in the endzone. Walton was able to find Charles McClain for a 37-yard bomb for a touchdown. The extra point was good making it 39-19 Carolina.
Hotaling’s kickoff went for a deuce making it 38-21 Cobras. On first and 10 from their own 5 Jolly caught a short pass and then the Cobras let the clock run out to end the first half.
Craig Peterson’s kickoff to start the second half hit the scoreboard giving Lehigh valley the ball at their own twenty yard-line. Caleb Walton was able to bring the Steelhakws down the field and was able to lead the team to the endzone where he scored on a running play. With the extra point splitting the uprights making it 38-28 Cobras.
It was from that point on the Steelhawks defense was pummeled as Carolina scored 41 unanswered points. By the end of the game, both teams were tired and playing overall, sloppy football.
The Cobras were able to rout the Steelhawks en route to the NAL Playoffs. With only one week left in the regular season Billy Back will have to make the hard choice of how to approach the final week of the regular season as the Cobras currently are currently the NAL’s number three seed as they fight to be the host of a NAL playoff game.
Lehigh Valley is now trying to avoid becoming the team with the worst record in NAL history (that current title is held by the 2017 Corpus Christi Rage who went 0-9). All that's left to to do is end the season and get a fresh start for the 2019 Season.
By Aaron Castete
Recently the Atlanta Havoc of the American Arena League announced they'd be leaving Buford, Georgia , which is located about an hour from the center of Atlanta, and that they'd be moving to Florence, South Carolina. With the Havoc's move to a new city, Atlanta is now a wide open market for the National Arena League to add to their high caliber league. Before the Atlanta Havoc formed, there was rumors that the NAL could have been looking into the Atlanta/Gwinnett area, but backed off when the Havoc came about.
In a business standpoint, the city of Atlanta would geographically fit perfect in the mix of the teams on the East Coast. Also National Sports Ventures LLC, which owns the Carolina Cobras and the Maine Mammoths of the NAL, is based in Atlanta. Could the National Sports Ventures group add a team in the city they are based in? It would be a logical move for the group.
Atlanta is a perfect market for the game of arena football. With the NAL rapidly growing and having so much success, a market like Atlanta would only help them grow even more. In the past, the AFL had a franchise called the Georgia Force in Gwinnett (a suburb area of ATL). The Force played in the Arena at the Infinite Energy Center from 2002-2008 and 2011-2012. The team's ownership used an excuse to the team suspending operations citing: "Atlanta is simply not a football town". The statement made was very untrue and fans new it. The NFL's Atlanta Falcons are such a very successful team, the Georgia Tech football program is improving, youth football is gaining interest; the city of Atlanta is for sure a football town!
The Havoc failed for many reasons, one being their small town not in Atlanta:
You may be wondering why should the NAL go to this market if there was recently an AAL team there. Well here's the thing, the Atlanta Havoc technically didn't play in the City of Atlanta, they played an whole hour away from Atlanta actually! The games were played in a small town named Buford, Georgia in a 3000 seat high school venue. The small market posed many issues for the team as they struggled with money and attendance. First off if a team wanted to be successful in the long run, extensive marketing would have been done, and a better venue in a higher populated location would have been chosen.
What venues could be potential homes for a NAL team?:
If the NAL does come to Atlanta, there are two venues where the sport of arena football could be extremely successful., they are the Phillips Arena (home of the NBA Atlanta Hawks) or the Infinite Energy Center.
The Phillips Arena can hold 18, 545 for arena football, whereas the Infinite Energy Center can hold 11, 355, Financially, the Infinite Energy Center would be way less expensive for the NAL to choose from, yet the venue is 42 minutes from the heart of downtown. Even though Gwinnett is almost an hour from Atlanta, it is a market that has proven it can support teams, draw crowds, and be successful, whereas Buford's small populated city could not. Gwinnett county has a great successful population of sports fans who support a minor league baseball team, minor league hockey team, and a professional arena lacrosse team. All signs point toward the success of another arena football team in Atlanta, and it hopefully will be a matter of time before the NAL compromises on the opportunity at hand.
By Aaron Castete
About a month ago, a website and Facebook page surfaced in the arena football community, when arena football coach Rick Marsillo posted on Facebook about a NY Streets tryout. The tryout took place on June 23rd at the NFL's New York Jets practice facility. Slowly but steadily, the team's legitimacy grew, as the team's owner, head coach, and director of player personnel were revealed on their website. As the weeks went by, more activity was taking place on their Facebook page, including interviews and tryout footage.
The Streets are committed to joining the National Arena League for 2019, and have already gotten an early start on tryouts, staff, and social media. Normally the league tries to keep expansion news quiet, but the Streets organization appeared to want an early start advantage above other potential expansion sites.
The Team's Staff:
The New York Streets have 3 staff members listed on their website, and we will break down each of the three.
Corey Galloway (Owner)
-He founded Legacy Growth Partners, LLC, a private investment firm with investments in entertainment, manufacturing and real estate. In the past, he does have experience with team ownership. as he owned the Harrisburg Stampede who played in the PIFL. With the Stampede, he aided in the facility negotiating, built out financial models, produced games from the floor and dealt with merchandising.
Rick Marsillo (Head Coach and Assistant GM)
-Rick has a great history in Arena football operations and coaching. He was the Head Coach of the York Capitals during 2015 and 2016 when the team moved to Harrisburg, Pa and competed as the Central Penn Capitals. After he made major adjustments to the team, they went on to undefeated season (10-0) leading the league in every stat, as they made their way to the American Indoor Football (AIF) Championship. Also he worked for the Harrisburg Stampede in the PIFL for a total of 8 seasons in numerous positions. He worked his way up in the organization and was involved with the following roles combined over his 8 seasons: Assistant General Manager, Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator.
DeValle Ellis (Director of Player Personnel)
-Ellis is a former NFL player who played a total of 3 seasons in the league, as he played for the Lions two seasons, and the Browns in one season. His last season. which was in 2009 with the Browns, abruptly ended when he was waived on July 26, 2009. As a native of Brooklyn, Ellis returns to peruse helping the Streets team succeed.
Potential Other Involved
-Could Marques Colston be involved with the franchise? As a former owner of the Harrisburg Stampede, he could re-unite with Marsillo and Galloway to make this Streets team successful. Consider this though, Colston is an owner of the Albany Empire and the Philadelphia Soul who are in the Arena Football League. Could this mean that Colston will leave those teams to join the Streets as an owner, will the Soul and Empire make a switch to the NAL, there are so many scenarios. Marques Colston was spotted on an interview on the Streets Facebook page at the tryout event.
Brooklyn appears to be the team's destination:
-There are so many things that point us to the direction that the Streets will reside in Brooklyn. First off, look at the team colors; they match up with the colors of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets and their venue the Barclays Center. Secondly, the team staff has mentioned Brooklyn many times as the team's home, and Galloway and Ellis are both from Brooklyn. Also the team announced their own new practice facility at PacPlex in Brooklyn, NY, which is another reason that points towards Brooklyn being their home. It would be logical that Galloway wants to return home with Ellis to start this new franchise, which is destined for success.
More NAL Expansion and Eastern & Western Conferences rumored?:
-As you may remember, a trademark was filed on Monday May 21st by National Sports Ventures LLC which is the National Arena League. The trademark was registered as "Nashville Kats", which confirms arena football is headed back to Nashville and the Kats are returning, but this time it'll be in the NAL. National Sports Ventures LLC had registered the Maine Mammoths and Carolina Cobras names months before the team's names were announced previously in 2017. Since 2017, Nashville has been one of many rumored markets to join the league. Sources reported that the Nashville team was on the brink of playing in 2018, but decided to hold off for more preparation.
Nashville and New York are the two known expansion markets at this time, with lots more in the works, such as one in Florida which is rumored to be Tampa or Orlando. Also the Monterrey Steel are set to potentially make their return in 2019, as it has been hinted at by the team's dance page which has told fans the team will return in 2019.
New York Dragons still in the mix?:
Last off-season the AFT staff was the first group to discover the New York Dragons trademark that the NAL filed. Geographically, two New York area teams would pose for a huge rivalry, and big success for the league. Could the New York Dragons still be in the works, or is this the group that was trying to bring them back but decided to go with a different name? There are lots of possibilities with this situation, and either way it has a positive connotation for the NAL.
If the Dragons are still in works, the home of the team is clear, and the venue is known. The team would undoubtedly play at the newly renovated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which was the former home of the team.
With the Duke City Gladiators recently being crowned champions in the Champions Bowl, the off-season leading into the 2019 season is now in full swing.
During the back half of the CIF season it was announced that the West Michigan Ironmen will be re-joining the CIF in 2019. Now there are reports that the CIF is going to expand to Oklahoma City.
In a press conference posted on the Champions Indoor Football Facebook page, the Oklahoma community welcomed this brand new football franchise. This is the first time since 2018 indoor football has came to Oklahoma. Back when there was the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz from 2004-2010.
More information still to come on what will the team be called and which players will be added to the team roster. Stay tuned with Arena Football Talk with more information.
In what can only be described as a miracle on the blue turf, the Massachusetts Pirates pulled off a big win over the Carolina Cobras. I’ll forego the specific details in lieu of my recommendation to fire up the computer and watch it for yourself.
Sean Brackett and the Pirates have pulled off some amazing last minute heroics in their debut season, but this one will go down as the best. With only a minute left in the game and down by 3 (50-53) Brackett and company march down the field. From the 9 yard line and 5.8 seconds left-a pass to Levon Pearson gains 2 and a half yards. This leaves Bracket with 1.7 seconds just inside the 7 yard line. Does Coach Ameer Ismail go for the game tying field goal? Yeah, right! This is the Pirates…
Brackett breaks the huddle and turns to the so-called 9th man (the hysterical Worcester fans) and pumps them up with a couple of arms waves. He returns to the far hashmark, with Mardy Gilyard on the near side boards, Brown on the far side and Pearson in the middle. Brown goes in motion, around Brackett and up the middle. After the snap, Brackett takes two steps back and unloads a high-ball deep into the far corner of the DCU Center to a wide open Devonn Brown for an “OMG, DID HE JUST CATCH THAT?!” touchdown. A greater sight in football I can’t recall.
Kudos to the boys in blue who keep us Arena Football fans on the edge of our seats with big plays and big wins!! Next week, the Pirates travel to Jacksonville, Florida for a faceoff with the Sharks as the number one team in the National Arena League. Tune into NAL Youtube channel at 7pm for all the action!