Like many developmental football teams around the country, the Alabama Blackhawks are eagerly awaiting the kickoff to their 2018 season. Headed into what will be their fourth year, the Blackhawks are looking to hit a higher mark than they ever have in their young history.
As successful teams know, to do that in the Amateur to Professional Developmental Football League, every game matters and a hasty exit from the APDFL Playoffs one year ago has lit a fire under them all off-season.
“I’ve got every game circled,” Blackhawks owner James Fletcher told Developmental Football USA. “We’ve got all of them circled, because we’ve got something to prove. We got into the playoffs last year – we were the seed before the bottom seed and ended up against the Opelika Chiefs in the first round. Every game is circled in my book, we need all of them.”
In an American Conference that features three of the leagues Top 5 teams, the Blackhawks will have to bring their A game week in and week out to bust their way through the pecking order and land at a higher spot come season’s end.
“There’s a lot of teams I haven’t really seen play,” Fletcher said. “I’ve heard about them, but I haven’t seen them play. I know who they’ve beat, but I haven’t seen them with my own eyes.
“The Prattville Patriots is a very solid team and the Mississippi Dynasty is a solid team. Prattville, we played them year before last and beat them. I’d say those are the top two teams since Opelika is not in the league this year.”
For the Blackhawks, who have always fared better on defense than on offense, things are already looking up for 2018.
“This year has been different because of the consistency,” Fletcher said. “Everything is a little different this year. We’ve always played good solid, sound defense, we’ve just never had a sound offense. I think it may start a little show with the timing and getting used to the contact, but after that, I think everything will kick in and we may shock a few people.
“I think (APDFL Commissioner) Bernard (Hunt) will notice. We’ve always been in games until the end but it came down to us not being able to score points. I think this year will be a lot different.”
One reason for the positive offensive outlook is quarterback Chris Calhoun.
“This year we finally have the opportunity to practice offense like we should, because we have a quarterback that’s consistent,” Fletcher said. “He brings a lot of leadership and consistency and that’s something that we didn’t have on offense was a quarterback.”
Last year, one of Alabama’s top athletes, Kelly Marsh, filled the role behind center, but with Calhoun now in the picture, he will be able to play his true position of wide receiver.
“He is a big receiver, runs great routes and is a great athlete with great hands,” Fletcher said.
Defensively, the Blackhawks will continue to look for big things out of veteran linebacker Corey Wells.
“He brings a lot of leadership and consistency and he’s been with me for awhile,” Fletcher said.
One of the league’s top ballhawks returns to lead Alabama’s secondary in cornerback Jeremy Little.
“He’s a good corner, a good solid corner,” Fletcher said. “He’s a very experienced corner and you can tell he played at a different level. He’s not very vocal, but he leads by example.”
As any team at this level that’s lasted more than a few years knows, giving back to the community is essential and impacting lives is always bigger than football.
“We do a lot with the youth football and this year we are adopting a youth football park,” Fletcher said. “We’ll volunteer to help do stuff around that stadium, help work the chains and do stuff like that.
“We just try to mentor a lot of these guys and help them make better decisions. I don’t want them to make the mistakes I made when I was a young man, having to go through some of the stuff I went through when I was that age. I didn’t have the guidance that they have. Even if I just reach one of them, that will be good.”