With the regular season winding down, the Amateur to Professional Developmental Football League playoffs aren’t too far away and with no remaining unbeaten teams in the league, this year’s championship race should be epic.
In just their second year, the Prattville Patriots find themselves right in the thick of things.
The Patriots dropped their opening game to the Mobile Generals 12-6 in the APDFL Commissioner’s Classic, but they’ve won every one since.
“I’d say it’s a highlight, because after that our team finally came together and lived up to the potential we’ve had and I think the whole league has seen that,” Patriots head coach Nick Fletcher told Developmental Football USA. “In the off-season, we put together 17 all-stars from the previous year from different teams and we came into that game and thought we had already won the game. We get punched in the mouth, we lose, but the guys, instead of folding or looking for someone to blame, they came out and came together and became a team after that.
“Our team is built on adversity. The way they answered the bell, when you get punched in the mouth is phenomenal. To see where we stand today, it’s unreal how we’ve come together.”
Prattville has strung together eight consecutive wins and are in position to control their own destiny and secure a No. 1 seed. Naysayers can’t credit the Patriots success to playing a bunch of patsies, either.
“The highlight of our season so far is beating the Opelika Chiefs by one point at their house,” Fletcher said. “We go into the game, everybody is emotional and we were losing by 16 points at halftime. Then we made some adjustments, come out and ended up winning 29-28. Beating an Opelika team like that is phenomenal, we know they came off a near championship the year before.”
To be among the best teams in the APDFL, you can’t be one-dimensional. You need a very good offense and a very good defense and that’s something the Patriots have shown they have over these past few months.
Offensively, it starts with quarterback Charles Drinkard.
“He’s played at the pro level before, overseas,” Fletcher said. “I believe he’s played in Europe. He’s phenomenal, a great leader of the offense, on and off the field.”
Drinkard’s primary target in the passing game has been wide receiver Mike Graham.
“I’ve never seen a player as electrifying as him at this level,” Fletcher said. “I can compare him to a Percy Harvin, because he can do everything, whether it’s a kick return or a punt return. He’ll catch a two-yard pass and turn it into an 80-yard touchdown.”
Running back Adonis McCaskey helps balance out the offense, keeping the defense honest, and the Patriots unpredictable.
“He’s similar to a Barry Sanders type, where his balance is impeccable,” Fletcher said. “He doesn’t go down after the first hit and I’ve seen the guy run through 10 people.
“I could go on, but that’s three guys that stand out to me on the offensive side of the ball.”
Like most playoff-caliber teams in a league as competitive as the APDFL, the Patriots defense is pretty solid across the board. Even still, special players find a way to stand out.
“I’ve got to go with the signal caller, the coach on the field, Henley Hughes, our middle linebacker,” Fletcher said. “He’s the one that makes the train run. He’s the gas to the engine to make it go. He’s as smart as a whip and knows what to look for. He’s always in the right place and he gets our guys in the right place. Without him, our defense isn’t as dominant as it is.”
Part of the Patriots dominance can be attributed to one of the stalwarts on their defensive line.
“Patrick Campbell is 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds of meanness,” Fletcher said. “He reminds of me Jason Pierre-Paul when he first came to the Giants. Our defensive front is pretty phenomenal. Our other defensive end is leading the league in sacks with 22 sacks, Justin Robisnon.
“The man has a motor, it takes two or three people to block him and they can’t do it. He was with the New Orleans Saints at one point, then he came back to us after he got an injury in the NFL. The guy is phenomenal, he’s one of the guys you’ve got to see to believe.”
Not only does Prattville have the league sack-leader, they’ve also got the league interceptions leader in Yancy Powell.
“The guy is always in the right spot,” Fletcher said. “He’s smart, we call him ‘Prime Time.’ He knows where the ball is going to be, before they throw it.
“I could go on and on with the defense, the starting 11 is ridiculous and the guys that back them up could start for any other team in this league, I have no doubt about that.”
The Patriots will close out the regular season at home against the Metro Atlanta Horsemen before beginning win-or-go-home play.
“We want to finish 9-1 going into the playoffs with that No. 1 seed, if a few things fall our way,” Fletcher said. “We want to go shore up some loose ends. We finish the season at home against the Metro Atlanta Horsemen. They’re a solid bunch, a year ago they were a team to beat, but some things have changed this year. Our opponents, we treat them all the same, we don’t play to their level. We go in and handle business.”
A rematch with the Opelika Chiefs is a real possibility in the future and the winner of that game will earn a lot of momentum, perhaps enough to take them into the APDFL Championship Game.
“We’re probably going to end up facing Opelika again in the playoffs, and hopefully that’s the conference championship,” Fletcher said. “That would probably be the biggest game of the year so far, the rematch, in Prattville.
“We’re not going to overlook anybody. We know any given Saturday you can lose a football game. No matter who we end up facing, we’re going to give it our best shot.”
After finishing 7-4 in their first year, plus their success this year, the Patriots look to be a force in the APDFL for years to come.
“Tony Fletcher and myself were the original co-founders, but due to some personal issues Tony had to step away,” Fletcher said. “At the beginning of last year’s season, Alex Popwell came into the organization as the general manager and co-owner. We decided to take this organization to the next level. Alex and myself both graduated from a small school. We weren’t given the best opportunities to make it to the next level, so we decided to start an organization that could be a second chance for a lot of guys that share our same experiences.”