In the past six seasons, the Vipers have won league championships in three different leagues, with the 2015 MPFL Title being the most recent, in addition to two national championships. When looking at their success on paper, you’ll notice a trend that makes 2017 a season to keep an eye on.
“We’ve got five championships, and there’s not too many owners that can say that, in a span of five to six years,” Austin Vipers owner Hank Morris told Developmental Football USA. “All of our championships have come on odd years: ‘11, ‘13, and ‘15. Who knows, ‘17 might be another one?”
Since beginning play in 2009, the Vipers have an overall record of 97-18 and have only lost a total of ten games over the past six seasons. After winning the MPFL in 2015, the Vipers finished as semifinalists one year ago.
In the previous eight seasons, their roster has included former players from the Canadian Football League, the Arena Football League, the University of Texas, Texas Tech University, Mississippi State University and many more.
“The mentality of these guys is to win it all,” Morris said.
That type of track record at this level puts the Vipers on the watch list of any league they’re in, in any year. For 2017, much of the Vipers’ destiny will rely on how quickly their rookies get adjusted and how healthy their veterans can stay for the course of the season.
“Every year for the past five years, we haven’t picked up too many new guys, but this year we’ve got a lot more new guys because some guys have walked away from the game,” Morris said. “The majority of my guys are in the mid to late 30s, so for some of them, this might be their last run. Anything less than a championship isn’t acceptable for these guys, and the league championship is in Austin so they don’t want to see somebody else playing in their own backyard and then going to Florida. Playing in the national championship bowl game is something that’s stayed with these guys, going in ‘13 and ‘15. Three quarters of the team that went the first time, went the second time and are still on the team and want to go back one last time before they hang it up.”
Like any offense, the Vipers will need to utilize several different weapons to maximize their scoring potential and to have an answer for every defense they face.
“Last year, we did a lot of passing,” Morris said. “This year, I think we’re going to incorporate more running because we’ve got three tight ends that can help with the running game. Our goal is aiming for maybe 60-40 running. Hopefully we can get our running game back on track. We’ve got some new guys and some veterans in the mix.”
One of those veterans is Moss Mays, who is entering his third year with the Vipers.
“He had kind of a down year last year, but he’s looking good in camp so far this year at running back,” Morris said. “He’s a little bit of both power and speed.”
In the passing game, look for big things from second year wide receiver Corey Richardson and veteran T.D. Perkins.
“Richardson had a breakout year in his first year playing with us,” Morris said. “He’s a speedster, he also does the punt and kickoff returns. T.D. Perkins, we’re expecting him to have another break-out year at wide receiver. He’s another speedster.”
Defensively, every opponent the Vipers face can expect them to strike and give opposing offenses fits as when they have trouble moving the football.
“Our defense has always been stellar, going back to 2011,” Morris said. “There are still some veterans playing from that team. We are a high-scoring team, but we’re more so known for our defense. There are guys that have been with us since then that are still with us.
“We’ve got defensive end Jesse Garcia, defensive tackle Mark Taylor, Marcus Payne. We’ve got linebacker Toraric “Spida” Wade and Juju Townsend is another gifted linebacker.”
The Vipers also have Marvin Byrdsong, who played for Mississippi State and in the Arena Football League before joining the team. He, along with Leon Bell and Jimmy Wade travel all the way from Longview to play for Austin.
”We refer to guys as the East Texas Connection,” Morris said. “Theses guys all came back so we’re going to be able to do a lot of different things.
“We’ve also got a corner by the name of Anthony Sobers. He’s come a long way the last couple of years. He’s really stepped his game up. He’s gotten a lot more physical and he’s a ballhawk. We’ve got a guy defensively that took a couple of years off from playing football, but he’s back his name is Chris Bisson. He’s back and he’s another ballhawk playing safety.”
Austin will kick off their MPFL schedule March 4 against the Bell County Raiders of the Temple-Killeen area.
“We’ve played them the last couple of years,” Morris said. “They put up a good fight until halftime, but by the second half it’s over. They gave us a dogfight both times last year, but we’ve had so much depth the last several years and it catches up to some teams that are young.”
For the Vipers, however, many of their players aren’t as young anymore, and for some of them, 2017 might be it.
“I’m real proud of these guys, some of these guys have been with me since day one and in this game nobody plays forever,” Morris said. “I’m hoping that we come out on top, especially for the guys that have been playing for a long time. I’ve got some guys that have been playing for 15, 16, or 20 years. They started out playing for somebody else then came to play for me when I started my team.
“I’m passionate about this team and I want them to go out on top, not just because I want to win, but I want them to go out on top. I’ve got a lot of future Minor League Hall of Famers on my squad. There’s at least 15 I know will be in there, coaches included.”
The coaching staff is a big part of the reason the Vipers turned things around after going 3-5-1 in year one to becoming one of the top teams at this level of football anywhere.
“After our first season, I asked myself, ‘What am I doing?’ It was a young team, young coaches and in 2010 we picked up some more players, but the coaching was the problems. I made some changes and picked up new coaches and never looked back and we’ve had a good run. It feels good to be a league champion and national champion, it’s a feeling like no other.”
Not only have the coaches earned almost 100 wins for the Vipers, they’ve also been leaders in the city of Austin.
“I have several coaches and players that are very active in little league football as far as head coaches, assistant coaches, position coaches that are very involved in that,” Morris said. “I’m a strong advocate of that. For the last four or five years we’ve been involved with Brown Santa and Blue Santa, delivering gifts and loading up gifts. That’s something I’m very fond of doing, always giving back to the community.”
Starting in March, come out and see the Vipers as well as their professional dance team.
“We’re one of the teams in minor league football that actually has a dance team and our girls put on shows,” Morris said. “It’s a family environment at our games. I hired a new dance director this year and I’m pumped about that.
“March 4 is when we start our run. How the guys do on the field is going to dictate the outcome at the end.”