The Tampa Bay Storm kicks off the 2015 season with its home opener versus the 2014 American Conference Champion Cleveland Gladiators at AMALIE Arena this Friday, March 27 at 7:30 p.m. ET. This will be the team’s 28th season in the Arena Football League and it also marks the 20th anniversary of its third ArenaBowl Championship.
This will be the 16th meeting between these two franchises and the 12th in Tampa. The Storm holds an overall record of 8-7 versus the Gladiators franchise and is 7-4 when playing on its home turf.
Last season saw former Storm player and Arena Football League Hall of Famer Lawrence Samuels, make his coaching debut. While the team finished the season with an 8-10 record, it did see a marked improvement in conference and division play; holding winning records in both for the first time since 2010. This season, Samuels will have a new look on the sidelines, with Joshua Bauman as the offensive line coach, Michael Feagin as the defensive backs coach and Ernie Leal as quality control. Chris Hovan is now the team’s assistant head coach.
With nine players returning from last season, the Storm will look to build on the foundation that was laid in 2014. The team brought in a number of veterans to give depth and leadership at every position. The Storm brought in former Predators quarterback Jason Boltus and former Spokane Shock quarterback Luke Collis to replace Randy Hippeard. Regardless of the starter, both will have multiple targets to attack opposing defenses.
Back to lead the receiving corps. is twelve-year veteran T.T. Toliver, who has 977 receptions for his career. Needing only 23, he will become the 17th player in professional football history to reach this figure. Toliver will lead a group that consists of three-year veteran Jarvis Williams and rookies – Phillip Barnett, Julius Gregory, and Kendrick Ings.
The offensive line is made up of rookies and veterans. The team will rely on Alfred McCullough to lead a group that contains Jeremy Schonbrunner, Bruce Doyle, Carl Johnson, and Rocco Manfre. McCullough, one of the most durable offensive linemen in the League, returns to the Storm for his third season in the blue and gold. Schonbrunner joins the team after splitting the 2014 season with the Iowa Barnstormers and San Antonio Talons.
The defensive line will see four players returning for the Storm. Anchored by nose guard Richard Clebert, the Storm’s sack leader in 2014, look for Uriah Grant, Julius Forte and mac linebacker Dexter Jackson, to help lead a defensive line that wanted to improve its pass rush coming into this season. Joining them will be two-year veteran Brandon Sesay and rookie Everett Dawkins.
James Harrell and Randall Burden re-join the team in the defensive backfield. Looking for additional veteran leadership, the Storm also acquired free agent defensive back, Alfred Phillips. Phillips is a five-year veteran and most recently played for the Pittsburgh Power, a team that was a top-six defense in 2014. Joining them in the backfield are rookies, Rick-J Hill and Spoto H.S. (Riverview, FL) product, Nick Addison.
The Gladiators are coming off their best season in team history. It would finish the 2014 regular season with a 17-1 record and go on to represent the American Conference in ArenaBowl XXVII, falling to the Arizona Rattlers. The team will be led by 2014 AFL MVP candidate Shane Austin, who finished the season in the top-five of several offensive categories. The upcoming game will also mark the return of Amarri Jackson to Tampa. He led the Storm in receiving last season with 110 receptions for 1,341 yards and 21 touchdowns.