Every win in the Amateur to Professional Developmental Football League is earned on the field on Saturday, so for a brand new team like the Tallahassee Panthers, coming into the season with a low ranking is no surprise.
In the recent official 2018 APDFL Pre-Season Rankings, the Panthers came in No. 28 of 29 teams.
“We’re an unknown commodity, so there wouldn’t really be a reason to rank us highly, but that’s good,” Panthers owner Charles McCurdy told Developmental Football USA. “We’d rather fight our way to the top anyway, so being placed at the bottom is best for us. We can stay focused on the task at hand.”
Although they are new and still in the process of building chemistry, McCurdy has coached with some of his guys in the past on the Tallahassee Knights and the Tallahassee Wolves.
“I thought I had gained enough insight to start my own team,” McCurdy said. “The guys on the team have a lot of insight into football and we’ve been kind of trying to place a premium on the type of guys we have on the team.”
Setting a standard means that not everybody makes it. However, McCurdy has found that is the solution to successfully raise the bar and get more out of his players.
“Our team is going to be a little bit smaller than normal,” McCurdy said. “Some of the teams I’ve been a part of have been 50 deep, or 35-plus. I don’t know that we’ll square off at 35, but i’ve found that the guys that are serious about working on their craft, you can do more with less of them. They are more reliable. Guys who like contact, we try to place a premium on guys who really like contact, that are not going to shy away.”
One player who has impressed during camp and is expected to have a big year is tailback Aaron Ford.
“I think he is going to be able to showcase a lot of what he can do, probably moreso than the last couple of seasons,” McCurdy said. “He’s shown me ability while we’re getting prepared, not only toting the rock, but catching the ball too.”
Defensively, former East Carolina University product Chris Adkins looks to have a big year for what could be a pretty stout defense.
“I’m mostly looking forward to the defense,” McCurdy said. “It’s going to feature quite a few people. I think a lot of my defenders are going to really stand out early.”
While coaching with the Wolves, McCurdy got to experience firsthand the level of competition in the APDFL, so when he brought the Panthers into the league, he knew exactly what he was signing up for.
“It’s a hard league,” McCurdy said. “Pretty much everywhere you go to play somebody, they are going to bring their ‘A’ game. To me, competition is important, so if it’s harder, that’s better.”
Three of the leagues Top 5 teams hail from the American Conference, like the Panthers. However, Tallahassee is just taking things one game at a time and isn’t looking past Week 1.
“To be honest, I really have just been focused on trying to get us ready,” McCurdy said. “I have talked to some of my players, they have gone around and looked at some teams, but I’m really just focused on trying to make the tournament and going from there. On our schedule, teams we might see again on the playoffs are important, but right now my focus is getting ready to play the (Emerald Coast) Scorpions and going from there.”
From a proximity standpoint, the No. 3 Georgia Cobras are the closest American Conference team to the Panthers, so that is one game that is circled on their schedule.
“I think the game against the Cobras has special meaning only because a lot of the players have played against each other or with each other at different times in their careers,” McCurdy said. “They’re based in Thomasville and we have some players from the Thomasville area.”
Every team wants to win a championship, but that typically isn’t something first-year teams in the APDFL accomplish, so that isn’t the Panthers measuring stick for Year 1, either.
“Just seeing it all come together will make it a success,” McCurdy said. “That could mean missing the playoffs, or it could mean we did make the playoffs. We’re not really aiming to just be a one-season team. The idea is to get the ball rolling this year.
“If we just miss the playoffs, but we are playing well at the end of the season, that would mean we could get the ball rolling sooner and build some momentum going into the next year. So anything that means we’re hitting on all cylinders would be a positive.”