TAMPA BAY – The end of the 2017 regular season is fast approaching and with that comes the end of season Arena Football League awards. After helping the team earn its first winning season since 2010, the Storm is full of players and staff members primed for several postseason awards.
Storm quarterback Randy Hippeard rejoined the Storm in 2017 after spending the previous two seasons with the Orlando Predators. Hippeard has improved consistently since entering the League in 2013 and has put together one of his finest performances for the Storm.
Throughout the season, Hippeard has continued to improve and climb the League’s all-time charts. The season has seen him become the 25th quarterback in League history to throw for 15,000 yards. He currently ranks 24th all-time with 15,137 passing yards. Hippeard has also thrown for 323 yards, good for 24th all-time.
The sixth-year veteran is not only making a case for All-Arena honors, but also to be named League MVP. Heading into the final week of the season, Hippeard, one of the League’s most efficient quarterbacks, leads the AFL in several passing categories including: passing yards per game (266.2), completion percentage (66.9%) and passing yards (3,461).
Finally, Hippeard leads all quarterbacks in total offensive yards per game (275.5), total offense yards (3,581), and total offense touchdowns (87).
A win for Hippeard would give him his first League MVP award and his first All-Arena selection.
Joe Hills has continued his assault on the Arena Football League for a sixth consecutive year. The Palmetto native has shown no signs of slowing down, climbing the League record books on a weekly basis. He set the League record for consecutive games played with a receiving touchdown on July 15 versus the Baltimore Brigade and currently sits at 80 consecutive games.
Through 12 games played, Hills is putting together one of the finest seasons for a receiver in League history. He leads the League in the following categories: points per game (18.5), touchdowns scored (36), receptions per game (10.2), receptions (122), receiving yards (1,255), and receiving touchdowns (35).
Hills holds a significant lead in all categories when compared to his peers and his scoring ability is second to none. He has a tremendous impact on the game through his scoring, accounting for close to a third of the Storm’s total points (682) at 32.6%.
Kendrick Ings, who entered his third season with the Storm, is having a breakout year. The third-year veteran has stepped his game up considerably, and has become an elite receiver and kick returner. His presence on the field can be felt with his speed, as he is arguably the fastest player in the Arena Football League. Utilizing his legs, Ings is elusive and can stretch a defense, leading to jaw-dropping plays.
His biggest impact can be felt on special teams and his ability to make plays. He leads the League in kick return average (21.9), kick returns (48), kick return yards (1,052) and kick return touchdowns (4).
On the receiving side, Ings is in the top-10 of several categories, including second in receptions behind his teammate Joe Hills.
Ings can also be called “Mr. All-Purpose” as he owns three of the top-4 all-purpose performances in the League this season.
LaMark Brown joined the Storm for his third season in the Arena Football League. Labeled as one of the team’s most sure-handed receivers, the two-year veteran has been a model of consistency and dependability. Brown currently sits third on the team with 64 catches for 679 yards and 14 touchdowns.
What is impressive about Brown’s performance is that he is sitting in the top-10 of several receiving categories even though he has played in just 10 games. He currently ranks seventh in receptions per game (6.4) and tenth in receiving yards per game (67.9)
When comparing him to the rest of the League, Brown’s numbers stack up. He is just two receptions shy of Soul receiver Shaun Kauleinamoku, who sits in 10th with 66 catches through 13 games. He is also seven yards shy of Washington Valor receiver Roger Jackson, who has 686 yards through 11 games.
Brown has made a case to be named to an All-Arena team and the numbers show he is not far off from his first All-Arena selection.
It can be said that Alvin Ray Jackson was one of the most important Storm acquisitions of the offseason. The six-year veteran was brought in for his leadership on and off the field. His play on the field has seen him climb the record books, tying Kevin Gaines for 15th all-time with 41 career interceptions. He also ranks second among all active players behind Tracey Belton (51).
As the season has progressed, Jackson has quietly turned in one of the best performances by a JACK linebacker this season. Jackson is currently ranked 1st with four fumbles recovered, tied for 5th with four interceptions and 6th in the League in tackles with 55.0.
On July 22nd versus the Cleveland Gladiators, Jackson put on arguably the best defensive performance of the season. He forced four turnovers on his own, reeling in two interceptions and recovering two fumbles. He would return one of his interceptions 19 yards for a touchdown.
Storm head coach Ron James was named the seventh head coach in Storm franchise history on October 25, 2016. At the time, the Storm was coming off a 2-14 (.125) season, the worst season in franchise history and one of the worst seasons in League history.
James came to the Storm with the purpose of changing a culture that saw six straight losing seasons and only two playoff appearances. Building off the tradition that is the Storm, James wanted to instill a sense of pride, bringing the team back to relevance and prominence.
In just one season, James and a coaching staff that consists of Doug Kay, Gary Gussman, Shane Stafford and Austin Wilson, turned the team around. Since the 2016 season the Storm saw the following under James’s watch:
Currently, the Storm sits at a 10-3 record (.644) and will finish the season with one of the greatest turnarounds, by winning percentage, in League history after finishing out 2016 at 2-14 (.125).
Special teams coach Gary Gussman came to the Storm with one objective: improve every facet of the Storm’s special teams game plan. Under his watch, the Storm has improved considerably in kickoff coverage. The team finished the 2016 season seventh in the League with a net average of 36.2 yards.
In just one season, the team has seen dramatic improvement, increasing its net average by 6.4 yards, good for second in the League, just 0.4 yards behind the Philadelphia Soul.
A good kick coverage unit is vital in helping a team win games and more importantly win a championship. The greater the net average, the deeper an opponent is pinned in its own territory. When comparing the team’s 42.6 net average to years past, it is greater than the past three ArenaBowl Champions.
In addition to coverage, the team has also seen an increase in kick return average by 2.8 yards. The Storm finished the 2016 season averaging 17.1 yards per game and currently sits at 19.9, good for first in the League.
Needless to say, Gussman has put together what is shaping up to be a championship-caliber special teams unit.