As Tampa Bay Storm wide receiver Kendrick Ings talks to a reporter about his remarkable all-purpose yardage record from Saturday’s 56-52 loss to defending ArenaBowl champion Philadelphia, and the potency of a receiving corps that has accounted for 12 touchdowns over the first two games of the season, fellow receiver Joe Hills walks over and puts his arm around Ings.
Hills smiles for a few seconds while listening to Ings recount his record-breaking performance before pulling the reporter’s recorder close to his mouth.
“I get double teamed, and he gets all the touchdowns,” Hills, the 2016 AFL Offensive Player of the Year, jokes.
Ings and Hills share a laugh before Hills walks away to get in some post-practice work on a jugs machine. Ings, playing just his fourth season of professional football, follows Hills’ example the same way he looked up to long-time AFL veteran T.T. Toliver last season. He echoes Hills’ remark about the triple-headed threat that is the Storm’s talented group of receivers. Hills is the standard in the AFL by which all other receivers are judged. LaMark Brown has emerged over the first two games as a reliable ball catcher and game changer in his own right.
And Ings just might be the most elusive receiver in the entire league.
“I feel like we’re one of the best receiving corps in this league, if not the best,” Ings said. “We’ve got all three guys that can take you deep. All three guys can run after the catch. It can be anybody’s day. You can’t double team us. That’s the main thing. They were trying to double team Hills last week. That created more space for me to get the ball. LaMark catches more balls.
"You can’t double team us. Somebody’s going to eat each week.”
Ings did plenty of eating against the Soul.
The 5-foot-10, 180 pound jitterbug broke a 17-year Storm franchise record after putting up 346 all-purpose yards last weekend, bettering James Bowden’s mark of 345 yards from June 3, 2000 by a single yard.
Ings caught seven passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns versus Philadelphia. He netted 209 yards on nine kickoff returns, including a 55-yard return for a touchdown that tied the game 13-13 in the first quarter and ignited a Storm offense which, up to that point, had been stagnant.
Ings’ 209 return yards were tied for fourth-most all-time in Storm history.
“The touchdown return was great and it gave us the spark that we needed to have at that point in the game, but the yardage that he gets continually gives the offense the ability to open the playbook,” Storm head coach Ron James said.
“When you’re backed up in your own end, inside your own five, you’re kind of limited a little bit. Once you get moving outside toward the 15 where he’s getting us the ball, it opens it up.”
Ings said it was a “bittersweet moment” setting a new franchise record because the Storm came up four-points short in a game where they battled Philadelphia toe to toe.
“It means a lot because my name is in the record book now,” he said. “We don’t know how long it’s going to be there, how long it’s going to stand but I can honestly say, ‘Hey, I’m in the record book.’ One day I can tell my kids, ‘Your dad is in the record book.’ It’s tough because we lost the game, but to play how I played, to show my team that no matter what I’m about it to the end, that’s a good feeling.”
For opposing teams, the scariest aspect of Ings’ record-setting performance is he’s still learning how to play the game. The 26-year-old didn’t play in college and was discovered by James in 2014 when he was the head coach of the Pittsburgh Power.
Ings was assigned to the Storm the following season after an open tryout, and he put up 68 catches for 997 yards and 15 touchdowns in his rookie season in the AFL. In addition to a stint in the Canadian Football League, Ings has spent time on the practice squad of the Detroit Lions and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I know how far he’s come, and he’s really worked hard to be as productive as he’s been,” James said. “There are still some things that he’s picking up as he goes and we have to keep on him about. The good thing about him is he’s willing to learn.”
James said Ings is one of the most elusive players he’s ever coached.
“He’s fun to watch,” James said. “Even in practice, you can see him do some things that most players can’t do in this game. He’s a joy to coach.”
Through just two games of the 2017 regular season, Ings has shown just how big an impact he can have on the receiving and the return game. Asked what’s more satisfying, returning a kick for a touchdown or catching a long pass for a score, Ings shakes his head.
“I just want to get in the end zone,” he said. “My goal is to score every game, to contribute to the offense, just to get in the end zone. If it’s either as a receiver or as a returner, by any means, I’m just trying to get to the box.”