Being at the top comes with a lot of responsibility.
First and foremost, there’s the responsibility among members of a team to stay level-headed and continue to do the daily steps that got them to the top in the first place. There’s the responsibility to make sure the organization makes the most of the added attention in the local community so the organization can continue to grow. Most importantly, there’s the responsibility for the team to prove daily that they’re worthy of the No. 1 ranking.
Being at the top isn’t new for the Orlando Phantoms, who went 13-0 this past season and added another United Football Federation of America Championship to their trophy case, which includes Florida Bowl championships in 2012, ‘14, ‘15, and ‘16, another UFFOA title in 2014, and six National Bowl Weekend championships.
“For me, the focus has been on building the brand and not worrying about just winning games,” Phantoms owner Michael Torres told Developmental Football USA. “Don’t get me wrong, I want to win and I’m highly competitive, but I’ve always put building the Orlando Phantoms name nationally first, before winning championships.”
The Phantoms kicked off their 2018 campaign with a National Bowl Weekend win over an undefeated Virginia Chargers team – another prominent organization, which has been around since the 1970s. Then, after mauling their way through the UFFOA unbeaten, they put the icing on the cake with a 16-point second half comeback over the West Coast Soldiers to win the championship 34-33.
This year will be different, as the UFFOA has dissolved and many of its former members have joined the Florida Champion Football League, or FCFL – a league that had merely six members one year ago and is now more than 20 strong.
“All of the leagues in Florida have been battling each other to acquire the best organizations,” Torres said. “It’s been crazy. The three Florida leagues all have their marquee teams that are strong. It’s no different than any other state that has teams that fight for the top spot in their state.”
Also in the FCFL are the defending champions, the Miami Chiefs, who come in ranked No. 4 in the state, the Soldiers who come in at No. 6 and the No. 11 Florida War Eagles, among others.
“Of course we believe that we are the best in Florida, just like any of the other three teams that might think the same,” Torres said. “We look to focus on getting stronger to make another run for another championship in 2019.”
The No. 1 team always has a target on its back and the Phantoms will be tested early and often in 2019. In fact, at this point we don’t know of a tougher three-game stretch in the country to open up a season.
On Jan. 19, the Phantoms will play the RIFL Champions, the Midway Marauders out of Chicago during National Bowl Weekend. This is the Phantoms eighth time being invited to NBW, where they have been victorious in six of their past trips.
The following weekend, the Phantoms are on the road against the Mississippi Dynasty, which is a consensus Top 5 national team on anyone’s board. The Dynasty have won back-to-back championships in the Amateur to Professional Developmental Football League.
“We’ve got our hands full right out of the gate,” Torres said. “We believe in playing champions from out of state. You can’t claim to be the best if you can’t play the best outside your state.”
After that pair of battles between champions, the Phantoms face the Soldiers to kick off FCFL play in a 2018 UFFOA Championship rematch. Then, in mid-season, they will get their shot at the defending FCFL Champions, the Chiefs.
With four elite programs on the schedule, anything is possible. At Developmental Football USA, we don’t do predictions, but if we did, the Phantoms would be favored in at least three of those games. Outcomes aside, expect the Phantoms to continue to advance their mission and build their brand.
“Most owners do it the wrong way by looking only to find the right player or stack their team for one season to win a championship, or bring on guys that are good ball players, but are cancers to the team because they feel they need them,” Torres said. “Those types of owners don’t last long or they struggle because they focus on winning and not as much on building their organization.
“I would never sacrifice the name on the front of our jersey for the name on the back of the jersey. Build the brand and you’ll get the right players and coaches on your football team. We at the Orlando Phantoms have a strict but fair Code of Conduct that all players sign to make them aware which violations will get them suspended or released from the Orlando Phantoms organization. We bring in the right type of player, not just the best.”
And they’ve got a lot of them, and they’re really good.
Offensively, look no further than quarterback Torrance Brown, who was last year’s league MVP. Joining him in the backfield is 5-foot-10, 185-pound running back Lashone Garnett.
“He is an explosive running back that will bring yet more firepower to a loaded backfield,” Torres said. “Then, our receiving core is loaded so to say one person’s name would not be fair.”
Look for the Phantoms’ high-powered offense to be even better in 2019 with the additions of 6-foot-5, 285-pound offensive lineman Myqual Spann and 6-foot-4, 325-pound Nikedel Pierre, both of which have years of experience playing on a higher level.
Defensively, keep an eye on linebacker Nick Rosamonda, who played for the Toronto Argonauts and Ottawa Redblacks of the Canadian Football League and defensive tackle Travonte Valintine – a 6-foot-4, 305-pounder who spent time at LSU. In the secondary, expect veteran cornerback Mike Davis to continue making plays, as well as hard-hitting safety Terrell White.
“To be honest, it’s not fair for me to name just a few because I could list all the guys and they would be well-deserving of being mentioned because we have a lot of talent,” Torres said.