The Amateur to Professional Developmental Football League is considered one of the toughest in the world at this level, so it will be interesting to see how a first year team like the Alabama Steel performs right out of the gate.
The level of competition in the APDFL hasn’t swayed the young team’s confidence one bit.
“I trust my guys when they get out there,” Steel owner Jeffrey Eiland told Developmental Football USA. “This being the first year, I think we can get pretty deep. I believe we can go all the way, but it just depends on how we respond to the different offenses and defenses when we get into it.”
The Steel will face the likes of the Oklahoma City Bounty Hunters, Opelika Chiefs, and the Metro Atlanta Horsemen in their first year, so they will get a firsthand account of where they’re at versus where they want to be.
“It’s our first year and we’ve got the toughest schedule in the whole league,” Eiland said. “We play two of the champions. We’ve got Oklahoma City, we’ve got to play them, they just won the championship last year and we got another team that won the championship before that, the Opelika Chiefs. I’m looking forward to it and I believe we can go all the way. I don’t know about those other teams, but I know what we have. I’ve got faith in these guys and I know they can do well.”
Offensively, the Steel are feeling pretty good about what they bring to the table and, based on what certain players have shown at practice, they are expected to have a big year.
“We’ve got a lot of talent, we really got a lot,” Eiland said. “We’ll have a good running game. We’ll have several running backs that have a lot of potential, that’s going to show a lot of highlights. We got one, Nate Davis, he’s been going to arena football over in Birmingham, so he might have a spot over there.
“He’s got a lot of potential. He reminds me of Jerome Bettis. He’s got a lot of weight behind him, but he’s quick. He’s a big guy, about 230 pounds, but he’s shifty. I haven’t seen a guy that big that has so much control over his body that can move the way that he does.”
Big things are also being expected out of wide receiver Kyiewajtne Ward.
“I think he’s going to be an outstanding receiver this year,” Eiland said. “He’s got amazing footwork, his routes are crisp, and his hands are real good. His nickname, I call him ‘Feets’ because he’s pretty quick and he’s got some good footwork. I’m looking forward to him having a real good season. He’s going to be a big prospect that colleges can look and see him. He’s got a great head on his shoulders and he’s going to do great things.
“He’s going to have a lot of yardage, but it’s not just him. There’s going to be a lot of guys that are going to have a part in this. There’s going to be a lot of guys that are going to carry a lot of weight and carry themselves to where they need to be.”
Head coach Eddie Hall will run the offense for the Steel, but their production will be a reflection on the entire offensive staff who believes they will play at a high level.
“It’s all of the coaches that are coming together to make these guys greater at what they do and helping them get to where they need to be,” Eiland said. “It’s going to be a good season, but all of these guys are going to do great.”
Defensively, expect the linebacker unit to be a strength for the Steel, with both Ed McNeal and Zach Allen expected to have a big season.
“Ed McNeal, he’s like the brains and he’s really smart,” Eiland said. “He’ll read everything and know where everything is at. He’s a good guy and has a good head on his shoulders and he’s really fast. I know if I ask him to take care of something, he’s going to take care of it. He helps the other guys out, he’s a leader. He’s quiet, but don’t let that quietness fool you because he’s a head hunter.”
Allen isn’t quite as seasoned as McNeal, but his preparation for this season could catapult him into having a monster year for Alabama.
“He’s going to be good,” Eiland said. “We have a few things we’ve had to work with on him during the offseason, but he’s gotten a whole lot better and he’s going to be good at tackling. He’s a head hunter too and he’s going to have a lot of looks. He’s upped his speed a lot during the offseason and with the great coaching.”
Last, but not least, Eiland expects a big year out of veteran cornerback Rob Bender.
“He’s good, they’ll look at his size and think he ain’t about nothing but he’s a ballhawk,” Eiland said. “He’s a safety and a corner, he can play both of them.”
A developmental player himself for several years in Florida, starting up a team was something that had been on Eiland’s heart once he moved to Tuscaloosa and realized the city didn’t have a team.
“I saw the need for it,” Eiland said. “I wanted to play when I got here to Tuscaloosa and there was no team when I was here. I prayed about it and I saw what happened to UAB, they lost their program and I think God they ended up getting their program back, but that hurt my heart because I love football and I know those guys love football too.”
With the desire to provide a faith-based football platform for young athletes to get next-level opportunities, Eiland wanted to connect with the community further, so he chose a name that many in the area can relate to.
“I was thinking about a name I started thinking about the steel industry that hit here in Alabama and I did some research on the companies,” Eiland said. “It’s all different kinds of guys from different backgrounds and different communities to come together and make a strong metal like steel, which is made from metal and other compounds coming together.
“Our motto is: ‘As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.’ Our main focus is to focus on building these guys off the field because when your life is not right outside of football, it’s not going to go well for you on the field.”