Fielding a number of consistently tough and talented teams year in and year out is what has earned the Amateur to Professional Developmental Football League the reputation of one of the toughest leagues in the country. One such steady team is the Louisiana Lightning.
However, this year the Lightning could be much more than just a solid playoff team.
“I think we’re ready to make the leap from just being in the playoffs to making a run at the President’s Cup,” Lightning owner Mike Anderson told Developmental Football USA. “I think with our combination of coaching and talent, we have the pieces in place to make a championship run. We’re going to have to stay focused and injury free, but if we can do that, I think we can compete with the Mississippi Dynasty for the President’s Cup.”
In the National Conference, the Dynasty is certainly the Lightning’s main hurdle at a title shot.
“I think we have the toughest conference, but they do have some talented teams over in the American Conference,” Anderson said. “We have the defending champs, the Dynasty. I think the Dynasty is a very well-coached team, of course they are a very talented team. They beat us 6-0 on their home field last year and they are very talented across the board. They are, of course, the top ranked team and to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, so that’s who we’re gunning for.”
While the Dynasty is definitely the biggest challenge for the Lightning, they are far from the only opponent that could pose a threat to Lousiana’s championship aspirations.
“The Bayou Vipers, Coach Ron McCaleb always assembles a tough and deep team,” Anderson said. “That’s a team that’s going to be tough to be reckoned with. They actually beat us the first game of the season last year.
“We have the Mobile Generals on our side of the bracket, the Mississippi Sting is a decent team that gets overlooked and surprises some teams and we have the Crescent City Kings in the city with us, who have started to build a rivalry with us.”
Especially at this level, when multiple teams form in one area, there is guaranteed to be a rivalry and there tends to be no love lost between teams.
“Four started from our playoff team last year are playing for the Kings this year, but I believe the guys we have replaced them with are welcomed additions, if not upgrades,” Anderson said. “I believe they are actually better than what we had last year, so it’s not a loss.”
The Lightning certainly have plenty of weapons at their disposal to make a run this year, especially with the return of Khalid Kornegay.
“We’ll have our best receiver back,” Anderson said. “He got to play a year in Canada at the University of Regina. I think he’s by far the best receiver that’s in our league. He’s 6-foot-3, 205 pounds and runs a sub 4.4 40 with a 38-inch vertical. He’s a man among boys at the wideout position. Before he hurt his ankle, he averaged 125 yards per game through his first four games in Canada.”
Kornegay will be catching passes from Terrionne Brazil, who recently transitioned back to his original position of quarterback.
“He wanted to play defense last year and stepped back to let Jyron Walters play quarterback,” Anderson said. “Since Jyron went to the Kings, he stepped back and took the reigns. He and Khalid have deadly chemistry.”
Those two are joined on offense by running back Antuan Junior.
“We call him Baby Beast Mode,” Anderson said. “He’s a hard runner with great hands. He can turn a six-yard run into a 60-yard run at the drop of a hat.”
Defensively, it starts along the line for the Lightning.
“We have two of the best defensive ends in the game,” Anderson said. “They both made the All-Star team last year. Carlos Coler, some think he should still be in the NFL. He has a hell of a motor and he can’t be blocked. Him and Ardel Burns, those two guys make it tough on any quarterback. Nobody can run a sweep on us, they make sure the outside is sealed.”
At linebacker, the Lightning are led by former Ole Miss Rebel Robert Russell.
“He’s going to be anchoring the defense,” Anderson said. “He’s 6-foot, 245 pounds and he can run sideline to sideline. He was the linebacker backing up Patrick Willis. He was SEC Player of the Week one week against Jay Culter as a 17-year old freshman.”
Russell is joined by 2017 sack leader, outside linebacker Quinton Riley.
“He is a demon coming off the edge,” Anderson said. “I think with the chemistry of the offensive and defensive lines, I think that is what we need to put us over the top and having a solid kicking game can help us win any close game. David Deharde is our kicker from Langston University. He made over 80 percent of his field goals last year and he’s kicking even better this year.”
Additions to the coaching staff could prove to be the key that gets the Lightning over the top in 2018.
“C.J. Maiden played in the NFL, he’s my assistant offensive coordinator,” Anderson said. He’s been a pleasure to work with as well as Brad Warren, that played at Tulane University. They are a pleasure to work with and have made me step up my game and helped evaluate talent that I know will make us more competitive this year.”
The Lightning comes into the season ranked No. 4 in the APDFL Pre-Season Polls and they will be tested early by their rival, the Crescent City Kings, who comes in ranked No. 6. Kickoff is set for 7:00 in New Orleans on March 3.
“We are blessed right now,” Anderson said. “I don’t think we should have been ranked No. 4. I felt that was kind of high, but I think the brain trust in the league saw what we were working with last year and saw what we were moving towards, so I think that’s why we got such a high ranking in the pre-season polls. We just have to go out and show that we are worthy of the ranking now.”