Florida Tarpons Home Opener Saturday, April 14
LAKELAND, Fla. - For the Florida Tarpons, Saturday night's American Arena League home opener will be all about hitting the reset button.
After a disappointing road loss March 17 against the Atlanta Havoc, the Tarpons have been idle. Two bye weeks were already part of the Tarpons early season schedule. But a game March 24 in Boone, N.C. against the High Country Grizzlies was snowed out - after the Tarpons had made the long and costly trip there - meaning the team ended up having almost a month off between its first and second games.
"I think the mindset is we're starting over, like this is the first game of the year," Taylor said. "Our approach going in is this is like game one. Richmond is going to come in and be very physical so the key is going to be the match ups up front with those guys."
The game is a rematch of the 2017 American Pro League championship tilt. Richmond secured its title with an interception on the final play of the game, with the Tarpons potentially driving for the winning points. Florida, in its seventh season, has appeared in five league championship games, winning two.
Florida is hopeful the game will mark the debut of Joe Hills, one of arena football's all-time great wide receivers. In 2016, he was the AFL's Offensive Player of the Year with the Jacksonville Sharks, when he had 116 receptions good for 2,020 yards and 58 touchdowns. He accounted for 42 percent of the Sharks scoring that year. In 2017, with the Tampa Bay Storm, he was named AFL's Receiver of the Year.
Hills led the League in receptions per game (9.9), receptions (129), receiving yards (1,353), and receiving touchdowns (36). Hills broke a wrist in a car accident earlier this spring, and will play pending medical clearance late this week.
The 2017 season saw Hills climb the Storm record books. He currently ranks in the top-five of many franchise categories including: career receiving yards (5,194), career receiving touchdowns (129), and career receptions (129). His 228 points and 37 touchdowns scored are tied with Tyrone Timmons for third most in Storm single-season history. Hills now holds the top-three season performances in Storm history in receiving touchdowns (42-2013; 38-2014; 37-2017) and points scored (262-2013; 232-2014; 228-2017).
Florida quarterback Chris Wallace had three touchdown passes in the loss to Atlanta, who shut the Tarpons out in the second half. Receiver Justin Hilton had two long TD grabs, one of 30 yards and one of 29 yards.
Richmond comes in 3-0 with wins over the High Country Grizzlies on March 17 (34-19), Carolina Energy on March 31 (52-38) and the Cape Fear Heroes on April 7 (76-32). In that last game, quarterback Arveill Nelson had six touchdowns, along with two interceptions. Receiver Rashad Carter had seven catches for 113 yards and three TD's In two seasons with the AFL Cleveland Gladiators, Nelson threw for 6,489 yards and 131 touchdowns.
Florida has brought in reinforcements of their own, signing five players since the loss to Atlanta, including two offensive linemen and three for the defense.
Linemen Wondell Rutledge (6-2, 325) and Deveric Gallington (6-3, 315) are now in the fold. Rutledge played in the AFL for both the Orlando Predators and Tampa Bay Storm. Gallington played in college at Texas Tech.
On the other side of the ball, RoShawn Marshall, an 11-year arena football veteran, Chris Smith and Nate Keller have all be inked. Smith played for both the Tampa Bay Storm and Jacksonville Sharks, as well as appearing in three games in the NFL for the St. Louis Rams in 2011, credited with three tackles.
Keller is a graduate of nearby Webber International University where he closed out his career with 289 tackles, 16 sacks, 10 forced fumbles and two interceptions. In 2012 he was the Sun Conference Defensive Player of the Year, and has played professionally indoors with the Green Bay Blizzard and Cedar Rapids Titans.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at the RP Funding Center Box office by calling 863-834-8111, or at the RP Funding Center website. They will also be available prior to kickoff at the arena box office. The game will be webcast live on YouTube.
The Tarpons won't have any time off after Saturday's game as the second of four- straight home games will kickoff next Saturday, April 21, at 7 p.m. in a rematch against the Havoc.
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American Arena League Stories from April 12, 2018
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