The Orlando Phantoms have a history of success since forming as an organization back in 2010, and that’s a history that owner Michael Torres is very proud of.
The Phantoms have won five championships, a trophy case that includes Florida Bowl championships in 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016, and a United Football Federation of America Championship in 2014. Playing as part of the UFFOA, Torres feels his club in “in a groove”, and so far in the 2017 season, the team has backed him up.
Led by head coach Marcus Manuel, Orlando is 3-1, having won three straight before losing a close one to the West Coast Soldiers, 14-9. The Phantoms rely on a veteran group of players to keep things rolling, and that starts with quarterback Josh Rose and wideout Chase Perry, who has been playing since 2011.
“He used to be a very fast guy, but now he’s become more of a possession receiver,” Torres said of Perry. “He’s a great route runner.”
Rose has been a championship caliber quarterback for the Phantoms for a while now, carrying the team to three national bowl wins as well as the league championship.
Torres called Rose and Perry the “glue” of the Phantoms’ organization. When they speak, people listen, and they’re definitely role models for the younger players on the team.
Defensive tackle David Roberts is the staple on his side of the ball for Orlando. He’s a former Georgia Southern standout who’s also an ordained deacon. He’s someone who Torres says is loved by everybody.
‘He looks like a monster and he’s built like a mack truck,” the owner explained. “When he speaks people pretty much stay quiet.”
Cornerback Mike Davis, an original member of the Phantoms, is another player worth keeping an eye out on the defensive side of the ball.
Of course, the player who has gotten the most attention for Orlando is former MLB pitcher Kyle Farnsworth, who played 16 years of big-league baseball on teams like the Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers among others. He’s not just there for giggles, either. Farnsworth is a major part of Orlando’s defense, and he’s been known to produce a highlight or two.
“He loves the team, he plays defensive end,” Torres said of the former MLB star. “He brought a lot of exposure to our team. The first year he played, we didn’t let anybody know he was playing. We kept it quiet and let him let it out.”
Farnsworth isn’t the only notable pro athlete who is part of the organization, either. Former Oakland Raider and New England Patriot Doug Gabriel joined the team heading into 2017 as the offensive coordinator. Former Carolina Panther draft pick and NFL journeyman Michael Gaines is also on the coaching staff.
Outside of what Orlando does on the football field, Torres relayed that the Phantoms are focused on helping their players when it comes to moving forward in life and becoming better every day.
Unlike what many would expect, though, that doesn’t involve money. There is a reason why.
“We’re trying to help guys get into school and paying them can forfeit their scholarship,” Torres explained. “We don’t pay our guys, but a lot of people think we do because of the way we carry our team…the way we do things and our staff. It makes me proud that people think we do pay our guys, but we don’t.”
According to Torres, the team is made up of a few different type of players. The first is the group that looks at playing for the team like a job. They’re there to play football, hone their skills and hopefully move up to the area ranks, the CFL or even make the NFL.
Then there are the players who just want to be a part of something positive. Perhaps it’s helping them stay out of trouble, or maybe they look at it as a way to give back and be a part of something bigger than themselves.
“We’ve got guys that mentor each other. We work with guys that have had brushes with the law. We talk to parole officers and go to court for guys that want to make that turn,” Torres said. “It’s not just, ‘oh we want to win championships’. The main objective of our organization is to provide a positive environment to help our players succeed.
And for Torres, that comes down to being consistent.
“A lot of semi-pro teams fail because they do what they have to do to get players and never keep their word. I was looking to build a brand and for me to do that, I needed these guys to not just trust me, but to understand my vision,” he explained.
“The way we play on the field is icing on the cake. We’re more concerned about helping these guys.”