Last season the Memphis Blast had their Gridiron Developmental Football League Championship dreams snatched away by the eventual champion Oklahoma Thunder, 37-11, in the semifinals. On Saturday, Memphis will have the chance to kick off the 2017 season with a bit of redemption.
“We expect to compete for a national championship in 2017,” Blast owner Carlos Alexander told Developmental Football USA. “The great thing about it is, we start out the season playing the No. 1 team in the nation, and I do mean the nation, the Oklahoma Thunder. We’re going in with a chip on our shoulder, to take what is ours and become the No. 1 team in the nation and bring the playoffs through Memphis.”
Memphis will have multiple opportunities to climb the ladder this year and knock off teams that have received more spotlight than the Blast.
“We play the Thunder, we play the Nashville Storm – the No. 2 team in the country,” Alexander said. “We’re the No. 3 ranked team in the country. Nashville has a tradition of being one of the top teams in the country. We get to play both the No. 1 and the No. 2 teams in the country.”
However, in a deeply talented league like the GDFL, that features many nationally-ranked teams, no team should be looked on any given Saturday.
“The Arkansas Nightmare, we expect them to be a tough game,” Alexander said. “Then, you’ve got the Tri-City Outlaws coming out of Clarksville, Tennessee, and we’ve got the Mississippi Road Warriors. That’s on the road, we’ve heard a lot of great things about what they’re doing, so we expect to compete with them as well.”
Offensively, look for two veteran wide outs to fill the highlight reel this year for the Blast.
“We’ve got two all All-Pro receivers Julius Black, who is probably one of the fastest guys in the league and the X-Man, Xavier Jones, who is a 6-foot-3, 235-pound receiver that can play both sides of the ball,” Alexander said. “He can actually play linebacker, but he’s also a receiver that can be really hard to bring down. He’s a big target and we expect big things out of him. On the opposite side of him at X is Julius black, he’s about 5-foot-8 but plays like he’s 6-foot-8.”
Keep an eye on “The Freak” at tight end as well. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound former Memphis and Bethune-Cookman tight end Justin Henderson has been clocked in the 40-yard dash at 4.57 and looks to do some damage to opposing defenses this season.
“We’re also entertaining a guy from the Atlanta Falcons coming in next week to shore up the receiver spot,” Henderson said. “We’re expecting, hopefully, that he’ll come in and bring that extra boost that we’re looking for.”
At running back, look for the two-headed monster of 5-foot-9, 220-pound, former Lane College running back C.J. Marshall and 5-foot-9, 220-pound, former University of Central Arkansas running back Willie Matthews to carry the load.
On defense, look for Memphis to get a big push in the middle and collapse many of the offensive lines they match up against this year.
“We’ve got a couple of defensive tackles and linebacker that’s looking pretty good,” Alexander said. “We got two guys with the same name, both are Christian Jones, one we call Chris Jones. We’ve got two D-tackles that are going to be able to handle the inside game for us and we got a veteran linebacker converted from running back in Timothy Graham.
“He’s a beast. He brings athleticism, he’s a big guy at 6-foot-3 right about 245 or 250 pounds and he’s coming downhill, knocking guys straight out. He brings a lot of athleticism and a lot of leadership to the table and gives us not only a linebacker, but he can cover like a free safety. He not only gives me that radius effect in the middle but gives us a guy that can actually cover on defense as well because he has played on the offensive side as well so he understands how that works.”
Saturday’s game should serve as a good measuring stick for the Blast, who look to continue to improve on their record and climb up the rankings.
“We’re excited about being a part of the greatest league in the country, the GDFL,” Alexander said. “They have created a new genre on the developmental end. There’s no other league we’d want to play in because of the competition, organization, and professionalism.”
Check out the Blast when they play at home at Charles Greenhill Stadium and look for them helping out around the community in Memphis.
“We always give back to the women’s shelter and during the holidays,” Alexander said. “We’ve also got a youth football program, the Junior Blast, that we’re launching so our players can mentor young kids ages 6-12. We’re trying to do something great in our community and be a positive impact and just let people know the blast are not just about football. We’re a hometown community team and we’ll support our community in return. We want to support the community and hopefully the community will come support us in return. Tick, Tick, Boom.”