That is the difference between the Alabama Sabers being ranked in the Top 4 out of 40 teams in the Inter Active Football League, versus where they are now at No. 15. Each of the Sabers two losses had a 14-12 final score and each came to top teams in the league – the undefeated Atlanta Tigers and the one-loss Alabama Steel.
“We know we are a good solid team, but we’ve got a lot of players that are young guys,” Sabers owner Dee Colvin told Developmental Football USA. “We have players that have stepped up from previous seasons. I’ve had to really assess the team. We have a veteran defense and we have a young offensive group that’s still picking up the system and still trying to make a name of themselves.”
The Steel is the loss that stung. Coming into the year, the Sabers were the more established program, while the Steel, although they built plenty of off-season hype, were still just trying to get off the ground. The two teams will meet again and that’s a date Colvin and the Sabers are looking forward to.
“That’s our biggest game,” Colvin said. “It’s a divisional opponent, so we play them twice this year. That was the game that kind of turned our season. We had them down 12-6, sitting on the lead and had a last drive hiccup and gave them the ball back with three minutes left. That’s a game we’re looking forward to, but we’re not trying to overlook anybody else. That game would put us back in control of the Alabama region. Our first goal right now is to take care of the Alabama region.”
Both literally and figuratively, the Sabers offense starts with the snap of center Carl Johnson.
“He pretty much anchors down the line in terms of picking up run blocks and all of the different types of run schemes,” Colvin said. “Having that anchor guy on the line helps our as he steps up into his own play and helps out the new guys coming along.”
Although not new, one of the guys coming along strong for the Sabers this season is quarterback Trey Armstrong.
“He’s been on the team, but he’s been splitting playing time with other quarterbacks because he’s an athletic player,” Colvin said. “A lot of times when you’re athletic, you can go and play defensive back or receive. He’s stepped up fully and taken the team on his back and he’s been leading the offense with a younger core around him. He’s a football player. We’re still looking for both of those two guys to help the younger guys raise their level of play. They are kind of setting the bar for everyone else.”
Defensively, the Sabers have had more consistency from a unit that features several veterans, starting with linebacker David Cash.
“He anchors down the defense,” Colvin said. “We like to blitz and come at you fast. A lot of what we do, we do around him.”
When a play doesn’t end with Cash, expect to see one or both of the Sabers cornerbacks in on the action.
“They don’t let much get past them,” Colvin said. “I would say lockdown, but we have given up some stuff here and there. Ladarrius Carr is a first-year guy on the team, but he’s been impressive all season by not giving up hardly anything on his side. The other corner we’ve been having is Jermarius Jordan.”
Those five and the supporting cast around them will largely determine what the rest of this season looks like for the Sabers, but the opportunity for a run is certainly there.
“We’re scrapping trying to take care of our Alabama Division to get back on track with that,” Colvin said. “That’s our plan for the team. We’ve still got upside. We got a good shot to make a playoff push but I wouldn’t say we’re favorites or anything.”
At the developmental level, many of these teams exist to create a platform to help players move to a higher level. And while that’s great for the team’s brand, and great for the player, it can take some shuffling and readjusting each team one of these teams loses a key player.
“We’ve been struggling on offense,” Colvin said. “We sent two of our receivers to arena, so that kind of hurt us. Right now, our biggest players on offense other than the quarterback and the center are 19 year old kids that just graduated high school last year. It’s not a bad thing, they are just young and fresh in terms of playing with grown men and getting used to the transition from high school to semipro. We still have an explosive team, it’s just taking longer to get there than what people are used to, but our defense is causing turnover after turnover.”
It’s definitely too early to count the Sabers out of the championship race, but several other heavyweights are also vying for the same prize.
“The growth of this league and the teams right now have made it real tight and real difficult,” Colvin said. “When you put four or five teams in the playoffs from all of these regions, anyone that comes in will be anytime of the season type of mode.
“In our region alone, teams that could possibly make the playoffs are the Metro Atlanta Horsemen, Atlanta Tigers, Augusta Ducks, us, and the Alabama Steel. That’s a tough field for anybody. I think whoever comes out of that region could push all the way to the championship.”
If that isn’t a tough enough path, that’s just part of the picture.
“The other side, you’re looking at the Carolina Cardinals, the Virgnia Storm, the Garden City Seahawks. I think you could rattle off 10 or 12 teams that have a chance to win the championship, depending on who they play in the playoffs. It’s going to get tight and it’s going to be all about match-ups.
“We’re upset about where we are with our record. Who knows what can happen if we see the Steel again and see the Atlanta Tigers again. It can get hard for anybody when you know what a team is bringing to the table versus what you don’t know.”