The Prattville Patriots rode through most of 2017 as the Amateur to Professional Developmental Football League’s No. 1 ranked team before being blindsided by the Opelika Chiefs in the American Conference Finals.
After having a bad taste in their mouth all off-season, the Patriots have assembled what should be an even stronger team from one year ago. Now, it’s championship or bust for Prattville.
“I would say so,” Patriots co-owner Nick Fletcher told Developmental Football USA. “We’ve had, these last couple of years, a lot of hype surrounding us and our city. There have been a lot of targets being placed on us. This year, I think we get over the hump, with the additions of a few key components. Yeah, I would say it’s championship or bust this year.
“There’s no reason. We have the right tools in the right spots and the right coaching staff. There’s no reason we don’t bring home the hardware this year.”
Prattville comes into the season ranked No. 2 in the APDFL, behind only the defending champion Mississippi Dynasty.
“I feel like we were so close last year, we just kind of fell short at the end there,” Fletcher said. “I think we’re returning a very stout team – a lot of the guys from last year and some talented newcomers. I do believe that No. 2 rank is accurate. We’ll have to prove it one game at a time, but i’m real excited about the team coming in this year.”
Some believe the Patriots will run the table in the American Conference, with their former rival, the Opelika Chiefs, closing doors. Not only will the Patriots not have to play the Chiefs – which they beat in the 2017 regular season and fell to in the playoffs – Prattville has also inherited some of the top players from that team.
“There was some good and bad with it,” Fletcher said. “Of course, we picked up a few of their players, some good talent. Having a rivalry like that always helps the community and the league. It was fun playing them. They gave us fits and we gave them battles. Playing a team like that you can always gauge how your team is going to be.
“Them folding takes away a game like that from us over the season, where we had to put so much effort into everything that goes into that week. Every guy that we’ve brought in from Opelika has bought into the Prattville Patriots way and we’re excited about every one of those guys contributing to this 2018 championship run.”
Every successful offense starts up front with the offensive line, where the Patriots will look to ex-Chiefs Demetrious Adams and Justin Plog to step in and step up to the plate in a big way.
“We brought them in to bolster that offensive front,” Fletcher said. “Adams and Plog are two offensive linemen we’re hoping can step in and fill roles we’ve lost from previous guys.”
The line will open up holes for last year’s No. 1 running back Vincent Tyus and Adonis McCaskey and set the protection for their new quarterback, Tristin Short.
“He was a high school kid that lit it up and we’re hoping we can see that translate to the pro-developmental level,” Fletcher said.
Short will have the luxury of throwing to veteran wideouts Travis Garmon and Pocket Salter as he gets acclimated to this level of ball.
“Those two guys we’re going to lean heavily on in the passing game,” Fletcher said. “Two veterans that have been around awhile. It’s going to be fun to see in the first game who steps up and stands out. We can talk about all of these guys in pre-season, but it doesn’t mean anything until we step on the field.”
Defensively, the Patriots could have the league’s best.
“Our defense has done nothing but get stronger,” Fletcher said. “We didn’t lose anybody, we actually gained a lot of people back from last year, as well as new faces in the defensive front and secondary.”
Justin Robinson, who broke the APDFL single-season sack record last year returns at defensive end.
“He’s coming back with a chip on his shoulder,” Fletcher said. “He felt like he was shelled on the Defensive Lineman of the Year award, which went to another Patriot, Patrick Campbell.”
As if those two aren’t enough, the Patriots have also added ex-Chief Greg Moss to the mix.
“Last year he lit up the statistics,” Fletcher said.
Former Defensive Player of the Year Henley Hughes, who Fletcher says has “always been the brains of the operation” returns at middle linebacker.
Oh, and the secondary should be very good too.
“Tadarious Perry is back, he had to take a year off,” Fletcher said. “He led the league in interceptions two years ago. Right beside him, you’ve got Yancy Powell, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Those two are going to be your safeties.
“At cornerback, you’ve got Ladecker Johnson coming in from Opelika. He’s stellar. I could go on and on about him. There are so many guys that are going to contribute on defense this year. Those are the guys that are going to be leading us this year. Please believe the hype.”
While the Chiefs are no longer on the schedule, there are a few games that will require the Patriots to put in plenty of work and one of them is coming up really soon.
“Week 1 for us is big, the Augusta Ducks,” Fletcher said. “I’ve heard a lot about them coming into the league as a new team with a championship pedigree, coming in with Dylan Favre as their quarterback always has that wow factor and all the hype around them. I haven’t watched too much film on them, but they’re right behind us. We’ll find out Week 1. If I had to say there was a darkhorse out there, it might be Augusta.”
Last year, Fletcher also served as the team’s head coach, but this season he has stepped into more of a true owner-general manager role.
“Billy Davis is going to be our head coach this year,” Fletcher said. “I think he’s the right guy. He’s been with us off and on the last three years. He’s consistent, he’s a game manager, he’s intelligent and he knows the game. I have all of the confidence in the world in him to lead this team. He’ll be the reason we bring home the championship.”