Of their many roles, one of the main roles of coaches is to motivate their players. However, some teams out there are not lacking motivation and tend to be driven internally. The West Coast Soldiers out of Hudson, Fla., are one of those teams.
“We’ve had an excellent recruiting class for the 2018 season,” Soldiers general manager Shane Hagen told Developmental Football USA. “We have nothing on our minds but payback for our only loss of the year and to win the championship.”
The Soldiers rolled in 2017 on their way to a 12-0 record and an appearance in the United Football Federation of America Championship Game, where they came up short 48-35 against the Florida Stingrays.
“We are the only two teams that have been in the league since Day 1 and have never left and went anywhere else,” Hagen said. “Playing in the Super Bowl, with both of us undefeated, it was a big rivalry.”
Aside from being league finalists, 2017 was also a pivotal season for the Soldiers for other reasons.
“The Orlando Phantoms, we played them three times this year, a five-time state championship of the Bowl Weekend Championship, and we beat them all three times,” Hagen said. “For us, that was a big win as a small organization.”
West Coast looks primed to make another run in 2018 as the core of this year’s team wasn’t satisfied closing the door on 2017 with no hardware and they are already putting in work to reach a different outcome next season.
“A few guys retired, but most of the guys are coming back and we’re going to build like we do every year,” Hagen said. “We have more recruiters on the sideline to help with that and help guys get where they need to be. We’ve got a bad taste in our mouth with that one loss in the Super Bowl, so most of the guys aren’t happy about that.”
The Soldiers are led offensively by quarterback Nick Martino and a strong offensive line. Defensively, middle linebacker Chris Pulaski and safety Ricky Newton stand out among a solid unit.
“Chris went to arena after our season to play for the Georgia Southern Steam,” Hagen said. “Newton is our defensive leader. He was a first-year player, but he’s pretty much like a SCUD missle. Chris led probably every league in Florida with 125 tackles.”
While 2018 is already being emphasized within the organization, there’s still a chance the Soldiers will have more hard-hitting action still in 2017.
“I want to play teams from Texas,” Hagen said. “I believe some of them go to that National Bowl Weekend. We’re trying to get in that and play teams from other states. I know there’s some really good teams from Texas we’d like to play.”
Whether it be a college scholarship, an opportunity in Europe, or a pro contract, the Soldiers have sent 22 players to the next level in the past five years. That, plus their track record of winning, has players from all over driving out to The Sticks to play for the Soldiers.
“Guys commute from Tampa, Brooksville, Spring Hill, local towns 20 to 30 minutes away,” Hagen said. “One of our coaches drives two hours to come to practice. It’s not that they can’t go to other teams and be talented on other teams, it’s that they believe in what we do. We’ve sent more people to arena, overseas, college tryouts. We do everything we can to get players to the next level. We’ve sent players to Poland.”
Hagen and longtime friend, owner Ed Meyers, drew up the plans for the Soldiers several years ago in Hagen’s kitchen. After going 2-8 in their inaugural season in 2012, the Soldiers have gotten better every single year and have now become a regionally respected team that is ready to turn the corner to more.