TAMPA BAY - As training camp comes to a close, the Tampa Bay Storm heads into the 2017 with heightened expectations.
After a disappointing 2016, the team underwent major changes in the offseason. The first move was the hiring of Head Coach Ron James.
James, the 2012 AFL Coach of the Year, brings over 30 years of coaching experience to the Storm. His influence has been key as the team prepares for the 2017 season.
“I don’t think I’ve been a part of a better camp since I’ve joined the league,” said Quarterback Randy Hippeard, who returns for his second stint with the Storm. “With Coach James and Stafford it’s a real professional atmosphere.”
On the field, just four players from the Storm’s 2016 roster will return, as only Cortez Stubbs, Kendrick Ings, Dallas Jackson and John Brown remain. The team’s key addition is 2016 Under Armour Offensive Player of the Year and three-time All Arena selection, Joe Hills.
The six-year veteran returns to Tampa Bay after spending two seasons with the Jacksonville Sharks. His 116 receptions, 2,020 yards, and 58 touchdowns were all league highs in 2016.
“This is home,” Hills said. “I love the organization. I love the fans. I wouldn’t rather be anywhere (else) in the world.”
While several big names have been added on the offensive side, Coach James’ influence will surely be seen on the defense.
“He’s brought a mentality,” said defensive lineman Antron Dillon. “A mentality that we’re going to get out there, we’re going to take the ball, we’re going to make stops, and we’re going to give our offense the opportunity to score as much as possible.”
With a completely new look team, there are certainly questions surrounding the Storm. One thing is certain heading into their season opener in Cleveland: this is a confident group.
“I love playing in Cleveland,” Dillon said. “We’re going to come out and we’re going to show them what the Storm is all about. I don’t think they’re ready for it.”
The Storm opens its 30th season on April 8th when it faces the Gladiators in Cleveland.