Many of the teams in their first year of the Amateur to Professional Developmental Football League are simply shooting for a winning season and a playoff appearance, but that’s not good enough for the Atlanta Venom.
“We’re looking to win it all,” Venom owner Sam Spencer told Developmental Football USA. “Our first season in the league and we’re looking to win it all.”
Spencer, who started the Venom at age 25, led his team to the second round of the World Developmental Football League playoffs in each of their first two seasons. Now with a bolstered coaching staff accompanying the move to the APDFL, the Venom are looking to go even further in 2018.
“My expectation is winning a ring, as should everybody’s be,” Spencer said. “I feel like I have a more experienced staff now and more quality, willing-to-work players and I feel like our chemistry is above that of our previous seasons’ already.”
Ranked No. 21 in the official APDFL Pre-Season Polls, reaching their goals will mean climbing up 20 spots, all the way to the top. Time will tell if the Venom’s low ranking was merely out of unfamiliarity, or if they are in for a rude awakening.
“I could say we’re underrated, but we haven’t competed with the level of competition in the APDFL,” Spencer said. “We have competed with a lot of top teams. We’re coming in as a new addition to the APDFL, so that was expected, that we would have to come in and prove ourselves.
“It’s pre-season rankings, but no hard feelings. It’s just going to look better at the end of the season when we’re No. 1. I really wish we were last right now, honestly. That’s nothing but motivation to make my guys work hard. We’re going to go ahead and change that quick.”
With upcoming games this season against the pre-season No. 19, No. 17, No. 7, No.6 and No. 2 ranked teams, the Venom will have plenty of opportunities to move up the list.
“Right now everybody is circled,” Spencer said. “It’s our first season in this league and I’m ready to play everybody. It’s basically us versus the world. That’s how I feel. We don’t look at one team more than the next team, everybody gets treated equally.
“As an owner, I’m very competitive and we’re starting at No. 21 right now. It’s like playing a game, it’s like playing Madden franchise mode on the system. At the end of the season, you want to be No.1.”
Last year, the Venom really leaned on their defense, which was ranked No. 2 in the WDFL, Spencer said. Lately at practice, it’s looking like the unit could be even better in 2018.
“I feel like our defense is going to be No. 1 in the APDFL,” Spencer said. “We had to tighten up on offense and at the quarterback position and I feel like we’re where we want to be.”
For one explanation as to why the Venom defense has fared well in the past, look no further than middle linebacker Jasper Mason, who wears No. 43.
“The man is an animal,” Spencer said. “He is in on just about every tackle. The man knows how to plug a hole, he’s not scared to take on fullbacks and lead blockers. He is an animal and the heart of our defense.
Another spotlight player for the Venom defense is safety No. 8, Jamari Gordon, who led the WDFL with 12 interceptions last season.
Offensively, a duo of dynamic receivers look to put up some points for the Venom on offense.
“Anthony Autry played at Norcross High School, he was an All-American there and went on and played at Georgia Tech,” Spencer said. “He has a lot of D-I experience as a receiver. Also, we have a 6-foot-5 receiver, a young boy at 22 years old, Sammy Johnson. It’s going to be incredible. It’s going to be a show to see – a nice, nice show to see.”
If the Venom are to succeed in their plan to take over the No. 1 spot in the league this season, that will mean surpassing several nationally known teams.
“Of course the Mississippi Dynasty that just won the championship,” Spencer said. “Prattville is one, the Crescent City Kings and a new addition, the Augusta Ducks.
“I heard the Alabama Tigers were supposed to be pretty good this season. I know we have them on our schedule. We get a chance to play the Metro Eagles and the Crescent City Kings. I feel like that’s the only real competition to me. But just like the NFL, any given Sunday, we’ve got to come prepared and never underestimate anybody.”
For the past two years, the Venom have been a summer team, but the draw to what is considered one of the best leagues at this level, was too much to pass up in the APDFL.
“I wanted to be a part of something legit and I know the APDFL is definitely legit and definitely elite,” Spencer said. “A lot of teams run away from travel, but I actually like to travel and be around cameras with the film aspect and interviews and I feel like the APDFL is great for exposure purposes and they have a lot of teams, right around 30 teams this season.
“The APDFL always does rankings, predictions and stats every every game and those are some of the main reasons I wanted to come over. I always do a lot of film and statistics for my own team, but if the league isn’t doing it, then what’s it for? When the league does it, it makes everyone put in more work and makes it mean more.”
Last year, eight players from the Venom’s summer team went on to the college ranks and six signed arena or indoor contracts, Spencer said.
In addition to helping players get to the next level, the Venom also makes it a priority to give back to the Atlanta community.
“We do a clothes drive every month,” Spencer said. “We go downtown and setup tables and pass out clothes, kid clothes, toothpaste and things of that nature.”