At the developmental football level, it’s common to come across teams with an ‘anything goes,’ unstructured approach, but that crap won’t fly with the Central Valley Sergeants. It’s the Sergeants disciplined, military-style program that has them on the radar of many teams and a legitimate contender in the Arizona Cactus Football League in 2019.
“Our goal is to establish a family and go to bat with people you’ve fought through the dirt with,” Sergeants owner Charles Adams told Developmental Football USA.
Adams was previously co-owner of the Arizona Desert Eagles, who reached the semifinals in three of five playoff seasons. Once the team disbanded, he decided to take his own path.
“I moved into a different direction with the Sergeants,” Adams said. “I wanted to give respect to my military history. It fit me better having that history, as opposed to just picking a mascot.”
The team name isn’t the only thing that reflects Adams’ military background.
“In the past, most of the time it was unorganized,” Adams said. “People were undisciplined, too emotional and wanted to fight. I wanted to set something up that was a little bit different. One of our focuses we have is that if you are invited to this team, there will be no drama. We are going to treat this organization as if we were a college team. You’re going to come and do the work and not complain about it.”
In their inaugural season one year ago, the Sergeants finished 4-7 and almost pulled off a first-round upset, giving the number-one seeded Tucson Thunder a 13-6 scare.
“Last year we had a young team,” Adams said. “We’re still young, but last year our average age for players was about 24, so we were teaching them how to play with adults. Most of them were out of high school or coming from colleges, so it was about getting those selfless hardworking folks. We know there would be hard times, but I wasn’t out to try to get the best players, but the right people.
“I don’t care if you’re 21 or 24, if you’re going against a 35 year old who has conditioned his body to play football for a long time, you find out you’re weak. It was tough to go and compete with the Southwest Stampede and the Phoenix Phantoms and even the Phoenix Outlaws with the seasoned coaching staff they have there.”
Adams and the Sergeants’ disciplined and selective approach has them coming in at No. 4 in the AZCFL Pre-Season Rankings, but they’re not getting caught up in any hype.
“We have a one-play-a-time approach,” Adams said. “Let’s not just jump to the championship. That’s our approach. Every game is important to us, every game is equally important. We’re going to approach all games as if they were last year’s champions.”
While the Sergeants aren’t getting ahead of themselves, there are two games in particular that Adams is looking forward to.
“The most significant games, one would be the Stampede – last year’s champions,” Adams said. “As a new team, you have to look to see what those other teams have done so you can build your way. We have a lot of respect for the Stampede, the Phantoms, the Outlaws, and even more so, the Lions. Those are the teams that could easily be a champion going forward and these are all teams we plan to knock off going forward.
“The Lions have one of the most interesting stories. Their first year they were 0-10, then last year they were 6-5, now they’re ranked No. 2. There are a lot of things we’ve observed and tried to pattern after, operationally, from that new team as well.”
This season will be offensive coordinator Anthony Johns’ first full year as the Sergeants’ play-caller, but he has experience at the high school level, recently helping to lead Sandra Day O’Connor to one of the highest-scoring games in Arizona history. Johns picked up play-calling duties for the Sergeants mid-way through 2018.
“He’s been coaching for years,” Adams said. “He’s working out there really well.”
Johns will have plenty of offensive weapons at his disposal, including veteran wide receiver Taurron Sanders.
“He’s one of our older guys,” Adams said. “He’s more seasoned, been doing it for awhile and his mentality is exactly what we need and what we’ve been going for and that is that we are all going to make mistakes, but we need to make them in practice and get them right so we’re not making the same mistakes in the game. He always makes sure we’re going 100 percent, because if we don’t, in games when it’s time to go 100 percent, the timing will be off, so we have to work 100 percent at all times. It helps bring everybody together.”
Another leader on offense for the Sergeants is 6-foot-5, 320-pound tackle Jacob McCory who plays both sides of the ball.
“He leads by example,” Adams said. “He’s not very loud, but he will be one of my captains this year. He is an ‘I am going to show up to every practice and work harder than everybody else’ guy. He is going to make sure every lineman, both offensive and defensive, knows exactly what to do every time so we can be dominant going into these games. He’s going to be the first one to do it and the first one to fail. He’s always out in front leading the charge.”
The Sergeants also added some talent over the off-season, from which they are expecting big things from.
“We added some powerhouse talent at wide receiver,” Adams said. “We have Tyrone Gordon. We have Antwuan Jackson, who was a four-time all-star receiver in the scene down here, a big body. Dontrell Chance recently came back from Europe, playing ball over there and Taz Anderson is another big body wideout catching the ball, who was an all-star two years ago.”
Veteran Vic Perry and two other capable quarterbacks are competing at quarterback and running the rock for Central Valley is running back Kenny Mitchell who was an all-star last year.
“He’s bigger, he’s faster and he’s stronger this year,” Adams said.
Adams said the Sergeants have also added depth in the backfield and on the offensive line.
“We’ve added some veteran talent that we did not have before of which we are banking on that mix of old and new to move us forward,” Adams said. “We average about 6-foot-3, 305 pounds on the line at this point in time and they all show up to practice. That’s the most important thing, because we always get to work with them.”
Defensively, it starts up front with mammoth 6-foot-4, 330-pound nose tackle Corey Washington.
“He’s a big guy and he’s very charismatic,” Adams said. “He’s vocal, more of a ‘together, together, together, let’s go’ guy. ‘I’m going to do what I need to do, but I’m going to need you all to do what you need to do,’ Everybody needs to work. At this point in time, he’s an unstoppable force in the middle of the field and we do have two other all-stars on our defensive line, but he is the most unstoppable, coming out of Atlanta.”
Another leader on the Sergeants defense is cornerback Tim Smith.
“He bring D-I experience,” Adams said. “He’s long, fast and vocal. It’s a common denominator, ‘Everybody together, everybody together. I don’t care if I lock my side down, if the safety isn’t where he needs to be, we are in trouble. We need to make sure every avenue and every blitz is covered. We need to make sure we are where we need to be all the time.’ He’s a very vocal type of guy, always talking, but the team loves him.”
Also featured on Central Valley’s defense are last year’s all-star defensive ends Randy Jenkins and Kevin Newell joining Washington on the defensive line.
“Newell on the edge is a speedy 4.5 running defensive end that forces teams to modify their game plans,” Adams said. “We’ve got three or four guys behind them at this point, that may change moving forward because they are equally as talented.”
Behind the ferocious defensive line is a linebacker core that is “unrelenting and doesn’t run out of gas,” Adams said.
Last, but certainly not least, look for the Sergeants secondary to shine on Saturday’s this spring.
“They will be the best defensive back core in this entire league,” Adams said. “We have skill players such as Tim Smith, Dwane Phillips, Darnell Marshall, Malik and a number of other talented DBs that are also coming on board at this point in time. Joe Mitchell is another DB that is an exceptional talent as well. We have two seep in the defensive backfield that can start on any team in this league.”
The pieces are certainly in place for success and time will tell how well Adams, Johns, and head coach Shante Carver put it all together in one puzzle.
“Carver was moved into the head coach role half-way through last season,” Adams said. “He has the experience and the knowledge and the team loves him. We brought in Rob Gray who has never had a defensive that’s ever been out of the Top 5. He was our coordinator for the Eagles and was the coordinator for the Hornets last year. They were always a good defensive team with him coaching. I have an entire staff, linebackers, defensive line, defensive back coaches, dedicated to make sure every play on the defense knows what they’re supposed to do at all times.”
All of the anticipation around the state will finally get to translated to the field next weekend when AZCFL play officially kicks off.
“This league is exactly what Arizona football needed,” Adams said. “We needed structure. We needed a reasonable set of rules and owners needed some type of influence, not only to stand by the product, but also make sure the product is working for us as well.
“Having Matt Archer be an owner for the past few years, hearing the conversations, hearing our pain points, understanding the rule books and the challenges for us, we knew that if things didn’t change, there would be a new step. This step isn’t anything new to the owners that came from the AZGFL, this is something we had an influence in creating. The things you see were ideas thrown out in conversations we all had. It’s built with every owner that came from the previous league, with their ideas and their intentions in mind.”