This Saturday, the East Lake War Eagles will kick off their inaugural season in the Amateur to Professional Developmental Football League against the Atlanta Tigers as part of the APDFL Commissioner’s Kickoff Classic in Pensacola, Fla.
Despite being in their first year, the War Eagles are very confident in their potential this season and tomorrow they’ll have a pretty good idea of where they stand.
“With the talent level we have on the field, the sky really is the limit,” War Eagles owner Jason Nielsen told Developmental Football USA. “It just comes down to how much chemistry we build early in the season.”
While the War Eagles themselves are brand new, their roots come primarily from two different teams: the North Pinellas Decepticons, which finished 6-8 in 2016 as members of the APDFL, and the Pinellas Predators, a start-up team that practiced together for three or four months before shutting down prior to ever playing a season.
“The team we have now is 180 degrees different from anything we had a semblance of last year,” Nielsen said. “I hope teams are looking at us like we’re going to be the same team as we were last year, because if they are, they are severely underestimating us. I like being the underdogs though, it motivates us.”
Nielsen had planned to be the offensive line coach for the Decepticons this year, but then previous ownership decided to change the identity and come out with a new look, so the War Eagles were founded. Then, around New Years, the founder decided to step down, so Nielsen took the team over – practically at the drop of a hat – legitimized it as an LLC and has been working endlessly with his staff to be as ready as possible for their first game.
“Originally, we were planning and hoping to just be competitive our first year, but with the infusion of talent we got between the two teams, the sky is really the limit,” Nielsen said. “We’ve just got to come together and gel. A few more weeks of preparation would have been desired to gel together with each other more.”
Until the War Eagles hit their rhythm offensively, look for 6-foot-5, 245-pound tight end Dante Tedesco and outside receiver C.J. Murphy to be leaned upon to create some momentum for East Lake.
“We do have quite a few guys on offense,” Nielsen said. “Dante Tedesco, he’s got a vertical game unlike anything I’ve seen in a while. He definitely plays the ball 10 to 15 feet in the air.
“Our outside guy, C.J. Murphy, he just turned 21 and he will have some opportunities to move on. He’s definitely a speed receiver, very shifty. He definitely competes for the ball in the air and doesn’t let it come back to him. He’s very intelligent as far as finding the holes in the zone coverage. He’s not a big talker, he’s not someone who’s going to be talking crap on the field or giving false motivation to the opponent. He’s always early to practice and always stays late. He’s a very dedicated kid.”
Look for those two and several others to bring some excitement to East Lake Sports Complex, where the War Eagles play their home games.
“We have a lot of really young guys, much younger than the team we are used to working with, but a lot of these guys have a high level of talent and are still college eligible and looking to move on,” Nielsen said. “The average age on the team is 20 to 21.
“We’re definitely trying to set a new standard within the industry. That’s our biggest goal over the next several years is to completely change the standard for this level of football and give people a legitimate second chance to go to the next level. These guys have real potential to play at the next level, so we wanted to give them the platform to do it.”
Defensively, the War Eagles will expect a lot from veteran cornerback and APDFL All-American Jeff Williams.
“He led the league in interceptions last year with eight and just has a nose for the ball,” Nielsen said. “He sometimes freelances a little bit which gets under my defensive coordinator’s skin sometimes, but then he comes up with a big play. He’s also my leading punt returner.”
Middle linebacker Yianni Eckly has also been a welcomed addition for the War Eagles and is someone who makes the entire defense better.
“He’s a defensive coordinator at a high school here and he just wanted to come out and hit some people, so he joined our team,” Nielsen said. “Now he’s kind of a player-coach.”
While every week is tough in the APDFL, especially for a new team, there are a few match-ups in particular the War Eagles have circled on their schedule.
“On April 1st we play the Prattville Patriots,” Nielsen said. “They’re a very high quality organization that’s been around for four or five years. They’re established, they have good funding, good ownership, good management and a good coaching staff. That’s going to definitely test us.
“We also play the Capital City Cobras at our home facility in April. That’s definitely going to be a very tough game. The Decepticons played them last year and lost 45-0, so it’s definitely some payback time this year, I can tell you that much.”