BAFA National Leagues Preview | SFC1 East

The SFC1 East is a conference that can go in almost any direction.  With couple of teams who played in both Division 1 & 2 and one from the Premiership, there’s going to be a lot of unknowns this season.  At this stage I’m more interested in informing the #BritballNation what’s happening than predicting who’s going to win or lose it all.  I mean heck, that’s what the predictions articles are going to be about each week.  I had picked the Olympians as my Way Too Early Prediction, and obviously I’ll stand by that decision for the time being.  Having done some extensive research for this article though, I’m starting to see some other guys in this conference as real title contenders.  What I do believe about SFC1 East is that one of these teams will more than likely be playing in the Premiership next year.  Remember where you heard it!

SFC1 East - Grant Dean Lawless

Colchester Gladiator experienced challenging times in 2016. A change in management paired with a lack of experienced staff saw both players and coaches stumble to a 2-8 record with both wins coming against the hapless Hertfordshire Cheetahs. The off season saw HC Karl Bourke step down from his position and took up the DC mantle, whilst Luke Box has taken over as HC and will be running the offense.  The team understand that they’re in a tough conference but nonetheless will still be looking to challenge for playoff football.  They were in the same conference as the Exiles last year and lost to them twice.

On Offense, Coach Luke Box has been blessed with a fortunate problem: QB BATTLE!  With two quarterbacks who both could legitimately start week one against the Olympians. Long entrenched starter Curtis Bourke, has battled back from an off-season injury and has worked hard learning a new system. Whilst team newcomer Rob Wickham (York Centurions), a tall, rangy QB with a great arm, has been impressive from day one in Cambridge.  Jake Wickham, brother of QB Rob has impressed mightily throughout the offseason. A fast wide out, with great hands and a real knack for the difficult catch. It’s been noted that his ability to gain late separation makes him a very difficult receiver to cover.  It’s been a long road back for RB Casey Campbell who suffered a serious injury in the Gladiator’s title winning effort over a tough Gateshead Senators team in 2013. Campbell returned in 2016 but a niggling ankle injury side-lined him for most of the year. Campbell now has an eye on all-time club scoring and rushing records that are well within his talented reach.

Image courtesy of facebook.com/ColchesterGladiators/

Defensively, Coach Bourke has some work to do in order to reduce the amount of points conceded last year.  It was a whopping 297!  To help do that, the Gladiators have highlighted 2 players that are going to make a difference.  After a year out, Josh Milgate (DL/LB) one of the Gladiators premier pass rushers of the past few years, returns to the club. Line-backer Matt Thompson, a standout for the Essex Blades in recent years, is a second year player who come on strides in his rookie season with the club.  He looks to continue the form that, arguably, saw him become one of the Blades best players this past BUCS season. Thompson looks to anchor the defence at MLB with solid tackling and an ability to read the game quickly.

The more I look at the London Hornets, the more I start to ask myself: ‘how good can they be?’.  They went 10-0 last year in Division 2, and I like the look of this outfit.  I can see them turning some heads, and regardless of what I say, they’re going to be the underdogs.  We’re talking about a team that didn’t play competitive football until 2014 and forfeited their first one because they didn’t know they had a game scheduled.  Well this isn’t that same team.  This particular group of athletes are not messing around.  Watch this space.

Speaking to Head Coach Anthony Price, he was reluctant to single any one player as being the key to recent success of the Hornets, but described it as a team effort.  He pointed out that there are some great teams in this conference and that the Hornets merely want to prove they deserved to be here, competing, winning.  When asked how he thought they’d fare in the conference Coach Price made it clear that they have ‘no illusion of grandeur’, the focus on this season is to make sure they don’t become a yo-yo team; too good for Division 2, not quite good enough for Division 1.  I certainly don’t see that as becoming something they’ve got to worry about.

So why am I so hot for Hornets right now (#hotforhornets)?  Well, first of all they’ve bought in Pasadena native, Stephen Ramos as Offensive Coordinator (formerly HC of KCL Regents).  He’ll be bringing a wealth of experience to some very capable players, and it’s the capable players that excite me.  First off is Mexican QB Jose Kadala, not the biggest guy, but a decent football player who looks best when booting or running a read option.  The utility guy JP Argyriou, who might just be the best all round offensive player in the conference, last year played at both WR and QB; great hands and a true football brain, he is coming off an ACL injury but definitely one to watch out of both TE and slot.  Pete Kaminsky (Nottingham Outlaws & Tamworth Phoenix) is a guy that I’m probably going to be talking about a lot this year.  The standout RB will take a few guys to bring him down, he’s clearly been working hard in the off season and has some solid competition from Omari Hilton for the starting job.  Whoever starts, they’ve got a pretty solid Line to be running behind, buttressed by big Tackle Ibbz Ahmed.  Ahmed will quickly be recognised as one of the key pillars in this Hornets Offense.

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Image by Phil Hutchinson / Phil Hutchinson Photography https://philhutchinsonphotography.net/2016/08/14/london-grid-iron/

With a fiery Defensive Coordinator like Coach Paul Holmes, don’t expect to see any pulled punches.  In 2016, Hornets boasted one of the stingiest defences in the second tier.  With a ferocious looking Line and a strong core of Backers, you won’t want to look away for long as somebody is about to get lit up.  And when you have the experience of former NCAA Div. ii Safety Keaton Engel, flying around the field; that’s always going to be a danger.  Expect to see Engel used in a variety of roles, including taking reps at RB.  The Defensive backs unit will complement the big guys in the box with impressive speed and shutdown ability of Emmanuel Sackey and Dwight Rouse. 

Kent Exiles, in my opinion, have one of the best set ups in Britball at the moment.  They’re not only competing at every level in British Football, but they’re being successful at the same time.  Coming off of an 8-2 record, losing only to the Saints in the regular season; Exiles are being hotly tipped to walk away with this conference.  They haven’t suffered with many players leaving, whilst bringing in several key players on transfers and a few graduates from their impressive Junior program.

Photography by Kieron Hyams, courtesy of KentExiles.co.uk
Photography by Kieron Hyams, courtesy of KentExiles.co.uk

Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator John Moore, has experienced QB Zak Ritchie under centre calling the shots.  With a strong arm, Ritchie has an impressive 10,000 career yards with the exiles and will look to further his legacy by repeating last year’s 20 TD season.  Ritchie will be looking over his shoulder for the first time for a while though; Junior National Championship winner and GB Lion: 18-year-old QB James Cook.  Cook is one of many young QBs around the league this season and will be waiting patiently for his opportunity to shine.

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In the backfield, Coach Moore has a really difficult decision. Go with the experience of ex-BUAFL all-star RB Dan Excel or the big play capability of George Eghartor following the departure of Gabriel Quartey (Kingston Cougars) who was good for a thousand yards last year. At receiver you’ve got some experience in Adam Lillis and end zone target James Bertram-Smith looking to pull in anything that’s thrown their way. Also listed on their roster at WR is ex Birmingham Lions star A-Jay Crabbe. With a roster boasting several linemen in excess of 350 lbs, expect the Exiles Offense to be competitive again this season.

Jason Pearson heads up the defence with a lot of weapons in his arsenal.  A powerful Defensive Line, led by the immovable veteran Emeka Anyaegbu, will cause problems for Offensive Line coaches this yearIf you attend any of the Exiles’ home games, a name you’ll be hearing from their commentary team is Joe Alexis.  The Line-backer broke the single season tackle record last year, with a tidy 120.  The Exiles DBs again look pretty sharp:  Jay Henderson lead the team with 10 interceptions followed closely by Matkins and Mayer with 7 & 5 respectively.  They’ve bolstered that unit with a transfer of Olympians player Hanif Ogunbambi.   

The London Olympians had a disaster in 2016. One of the winningest teams in Britball history were unable to complete their full set of fixtures and were relegated from the premiership.  A complete change of guard at Olympians has sees ex NFL-Europe safety Neil Edwards become HC and DC.  He has brought with him one hell of a coaching set up, including some of the biggest names in British football history.  If these experienced coaches (Norman Navarro, Victor Muhammad, Stephen Hutchinson, Mark Adjei, Francis Hatega, Micheal Mainoo, David Drane & Shola Goppy) can pass on half of their experience, this team could be in with a real shot of immediately bouncing back into the Premiership.

Image shared via https://www.facebook.com/london.olympians
Image shared via https://www.facebook.com/london.olympians

The Offense is headed up by another NFL-Europe star Mike Dunston (RHUL Bears HC).  His main focus will be on rebuilding an offensive line that was a little leaky last year, but I guess they won’t be coming up against the Warriors or Blitz Defensive Lines this year.  Behind that line we see veteran quarterback Aaron Griffiths come out of retirement following the departure of both of last year’s QBs.  Speedy wide outs Rory Golding & Jordan McKenzie are bolstered by French receiver Antoinne Sand’Homme, and TE Steve Kimmins (Manchester Titans).  At RB Olympians have some decent depth, expect to see them pounding the ball.  The starter could be a toss-up between Adrian John, Dan Asare or Ben Amoaka, all backs run with intent and have a few moves in their pocket.  But the potential breakout star could be second year RB Andy Owusu, who rushed for 11 TDs for Coventry University Jets this winter.  Look to see him be thrown into the mix when he gets up to speed with the playbook.

If I know anything about Neil Edwards, I know this: he will build a defence that goes hard.  There’s going to be some monstrous hits coming from this defence.  WR’s BEWARE!  LB Jonathan Cobham is looking like a difference maker this year, playing only a handful of games last season due to injury, Cobham has healed up and ready to go, supported by veteran LB Ivo De Greif who will be pummelling downfield meeting opposing RBs with force.  Former GFL Lineman and second year Olympian Jamal Johnson (Kirchdorf Wildcats) will dominate in the trenches using not only his incredible strength, but fantastic technique. The Defence is rounded off by two of the best DBs in the country: Tendayi Dabengwa and Ashton Campbell, they will be able to defend most balls thrown their way and will be good for several INTs.

Rounding out the conference we’ve got the Cambridgeshire Cats. They’re the other team who gained promotion from Division 2, losing twice to the Hornets in close affairs, only to come up trumps and beating them in the playoffs. Eventually losing to the Oxford Saints in the Final.  The Cats will need to up their offensive productivity from 2016 where they scored 2 Touchdowns or less in 8 of their full season fixtures.  Last season, we saw a migration of players following the withdrawal of Peterborough Saxons.  Coming in at short notice, they made a positive impact on the team and I’m interested to see how the Cats will play now these guys have been fully integrated into the setup.

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Like Colchester, Offensive Coordinator, Jonathan Smith has a QB BATTLE! on his hands.  Experienced former Cat and Hertfordshire Cheetahs QB Martin Brown, who played some LB last year, and ex UEA Pirate Mark Rivett, both have thrown their hats into the ring.  A player to look out for would be RB Johnny Rodgers, who transferred in from the 0-10 Ipswich Cardinals where he rushed for a thousand yards.  If the O line can open up a few gaps, expect Rodgers to go for some long runs.  But, following their scrimmage with the Nottingham Caesars, we’ve heard reports of an undersized line which could cause trouble for them against some the big boys in this conference.  Coach Smith has another strong RB on his roster through ex Peterborough Saxon Bobby Amissah who will be splitting reps with Rodgers.  I’ve been advised that Cats junior graduate WR Andy Williams can make big plays, but whether he’ll be able to repeat last season’s successes against bigger, stronger and more experienced defensive backs; time will tell.

Ray Palmer, Defensive Coordinator has a positive attitude going into 2017.  Describing the 2016 defence as ‘the backbone of the Cats’.  Some extensive conditioning early in the off season and good performances against Bury Saints and Nottingham Caesars, Coach Palmer has playoffs in his sights and is looking to cement their place in Division 1.  Expect to see Double Coverage: Division 2 South Defensive MVP Tom Carr to pick up where he left off; spending his offseason polishing his offensive knowledge: playing QB for the Cambridge Pythons.  That’s right, DL/QB; my favourite of all the hybrid positions!  Other notable standouts include Former Saxons Trio of CB Jonathan Creek, Safety Zac Sanders and MLB Russ Polson.  Polson, the defensive captain and natural leader on the field, will look to continue the Cats’ reputation of having a stout defence.  If the offense can put up 3 scores a game, the Cats should fare well.  It’s worth noting that the Cats schedule is an unenviable one: four home games on the bounce, against each of their conference rivals.  If they can maintain a healthy squad, they’ll compete.

 

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Rob Amor

Rob somehow fits Britball around a hectic life of work, newborns, and rare, blissful, moments of quiet in which to nap. Rob stepped down from the Birmingham Bulls committee at the end of 2016 and walked away after 10 years at the club. He leads DC’s Adult league coverage and dabbles in a bit of BUCS. Follow him on Twitter – @RobAmorDC