There is hardly any denying just how astounding the Tampa Bay Storm’s season-long turnaround has been.
At 6-1 entering Saturday night’s meeting with the Washington Valor, a seventh victory would match their best start since 2001. It would also cement the Storm’s place in the Arena Football League playoffs with a half-dozen games remaining in the regular season.
For a team that won only nine games in its last two years combined, one could point to that kind of early success as a reason for celebration.
Not this group, however.
“Every week, we kind of flush everything out the first day back in the building, and then the next day, it’s on to the next game,” said receiver LaMark Brown, who was part of an Orlando Predators squad that began 7-0 last season before falling in the conference semifinals.
“We go one week at a time. That’s the best way to try to get your team in position to try to go after championships. Instead of trying to look ahead and worry about other things that are way down the road, we just take care of everything … and we’ll know we’ll be able to come out on top.”
In an organization as storied as Tampa Bay, that mindset has resonated from the top down.
Inside the locker room before the Storm’s home opener against Philadelphia on April 15, head coach Ron James expressed to his players the belief he had that they could be the ones to return the franchise to its winning culture. But James didn’t just set the bar at securing a winning record for the first time in seven years or remaining competitive each week -- he told them they had the potential to raise a sixth ArenaBowl banner into the rafters of AMALIE Arena.
Through James’ first seven games at the helm, they have proven the him right.
“I give the credit all to the players,” James said. “Our guys have really taken to heart that everything that we do, we do for a reason. And they understand what it is and they really are professionals about it. You can’t say that about every team.
“I’m not shocked that we’re playing well right now. But I’m also very humble and realistic about where we have to go from here. We’re only halfway through the season. We’ve got a lot of work ahead.”
Even for some of the veterans within the organization, success has not changed things. Speedy receiver and kick returner Kendrick Ings, one of just four holdovers from the 2016 campaign, said he had never previously experienced so much winning in a career that has spanned from never playing a down of college football to reaching the pinnacle of the pros as an NFL practice squad member of both the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But getting a taste of it has hardly made Ings complacent. In fact, it has only fueled his desire for more.
“I’ve been on the back end of it,” he said. “It feels horrible losing, and it feels great winning. It’s that simple. I’m excited. I just want to keep it going. I just want to go 1-0 each week. That’s how I go, even if it feels great and I’m happy. You can’t be mad with a 6-1 record.”
While it might be easy to look ahead, James makes sure his team keeps its focus on the here and now though two ways: appreciation for getting to this point and humility.
“You can’t get caught up in patting yourself on the back,” James said. “It’s great to have a 6-1 record, but if we’re not humble about that and we’re not on top of our job, then the next week, we take that for granted.
“We can’t do that.”
Especially when there is potentially still more history yet to be made.