The Tampa Bay Storm (0-0, 0-0) kicks off its 25th Anniversary season this Friday, April 1 at AMALIE Arena versus none other than its “War on I-4” rival, Orlando Predators (0-0, 0-0). The game holds special significance as it will also be the 3,000th game in League history. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. EST.
This will be the 59th meeting between these two dreaded rivals. It is the 51st game in regular season history and the 26th game hosted by Tampa. The Predators lead the overall series with a record of 31-27. The last time the Storm won at home was on June 21, 2014 when it defeated the Predators by a score of 35-34. Coincidentally, this was the last time Tampa Bay defeated the Predators, as Orlando swept the 2015 season 3-0.
Look for the outcome to be different in 2016. The Storm changed its identity, culture and philosophy on the field. The team enters the season with 21 veterans and three rookies. This is quite the contrast when compared to last season when the team started with 15 rookies. It is the veteran leadership on the field and the locker room that the Storm hopes will make the difference throughout the season.
Offensively, the Storm will have a different quarterback under center in either Adam Kennedy or Jonathan Bane. Kennedy joins the team after spending the previous two seasons with the New Orleans VooDoo. Bane comes to the Storm after leading the Richmond Raiders of the PIFL to the Championship game in 2015. Both have shown extreme promise and will be able to lead the offensive system that head coach Lawrence Samuels has implemented.
The receiving corps. will once again be led by 13-year veteran T.T. Toliver. Toliver is currently in sole possession of second place on the League’s all-time receptions list with 1,089 catches. He needs just 76 receptions to surpass AFL Hall of Famer Damian Harrell who has 1,164. Toliver will be joined by wide receiver Julius Gregory, who had a breakout rookie season, finishing with 98 catches for 1,036 yards and 27 touchdowns. The Storm offense will also utilize Phillip Barnett and rookie Terrence Ebagua.
Storm special teams will also see a change, as former kick returner Kendrick Ings is now in the Canadian Football League. The team replaced Ings with two-year veteran Gerald Young. Young is a return specialist, racking up 1,003 return yards and five returns for touchdowns in 2015. He also set an AFL record with two missed field goals returned for touchdowns in a single game as a member of the Las Vegas Outlaws. He began his career in 2014 with the Orlando Predators and has 1,742 career kickoff return yards and six returns for touchdowns.
The Storm defense will have a new look as most of the defensive line from 2015 has moved on to new teams. The line will feature defensive end Everett Dawkins, who led the team with 10.0 tackles for loss last season, good for a top-10 ranking. He will be joined by returning linemen, Rony Barrow and David Washington. The newcomers consist of Kendrick Washington and James McClinton. The mac linebacker position will also see a change, with veteran Dominie Pittman replacing Dexter Jackson.
The defensive backfield will see some changes as well. The team has an all-arena backfield with the return of James Harrell and the acquisition of Cameron McGlenn. McGlenn comes to the team after spending time with the VooDoo. He’s averaged seven interceptions per season for the past three seasons. They will be joined by Cortez Stubbs and Seth Williams. Jack linebacker Rick-J Hill will also be returning after going down with an injury late in the 2015 season.
The offensive line will see the return of Tyler Moore, Ben Ossai and Undra Hendrix. When given the opportunity, all three linemen shined during the 2015 season. The line also saw the addition of Isaiah Tuiasosopo and Andrew Miller.
When the “War on I-4” comes to Tampa Bay, there is always bound to be some drama. The fans in attendance will definitely be treated to a show, as these two rivals battle it out for supremacy in the state of Florida.