The Kalamazoo Titans find themselves in a familiar position as one year ago, but in 2019, they’re pushing for a better outcome. In two weeks the Titans will travel to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for the AA AFNT National Championship Game against the Jacksonville Blackhawks.
Las year, the Titans fell short in the Orange Blossom Bowl, 20-16, against the West Coast Soldiers, but they should match up well with the 2018 Universal Football League Champion Blackhawks in their chance to take a trophy back to Michigan.
“This means a lot to our organization, our players, and our family and friends,” Titans general manager and head coach Rudy Myles Jr. told Developmental Football USA.
The Titans have laid quite the foundation for their organization, which is entering just its third year of existence. Already, the Titans have won two Great Lakes Football League titles and they have refused to be denied a chance at Sunshine State redemption.
“A return trip to Florida, either in the same bowl or another national championship game was our only option,” Myles said. “Winning this upcoming game would actually mean that all players who returned and believed and trusted the process, that we can do just about anything with hard work, commitment and dedication. We want to be on the national scene and be a perennial national power as some of these other organizations.”
Championship appearances aren’t for everyone and it takes a special type of team to get there. Of the more than 750 teams nationwide that compete at this level, chasing rings and hardware, only 14 will have the chance to be featured at the upcoming bowl weekend.
“The path to get here was tough,” Myles said. “Even with winning, our owner Percy Jenkins has a vision of what he wants, so that meant we actually had to let some good players go because of attitudes and not being team-oriented. With some of those players being released, we needed some unproven players to step up and they did.”
With any team that makes it this far, there’s always a long list of people both on and off the field that deserve credit and recognition, but the stat sheet always points to several players in particular.
“There are plenty of guys I can name, because it’s such team effort among these guys,” Myles said. “Each and everyone plays their part.”
Offensively, 2017 GLFL MVP quarterback Brandon Hurst sets the tone for the Titans.
“He has a strong arm and he’s the type of player you build your team around,” Myles said. “He’s highly respected with our players, the definition of a competitor. He received an invitation to play in the national East-West All-Star game in Las Vegas.”
Wide receiver and return specialist Tyler Bruce is another Titan that received a national All-Star invitation has and taken home some league hardware of his own in the past.
“He is the type of player that every team should have and want on their team,” Myles said.
Joining Bruce in the receiving corps and return game is speedster Jawon Hemphill.
“Mr. Excitement here,” Myles said. “Don’t blink here. If so, it’s definitely six points. He became a standout leader this year.”
For every playmaker breaking the plane for points, there are always a handful of hog mollies with their hand in the dirt doing the dirty work that don’t get their name called nearly enough. For Kalamazoo, one of the leaders of that group is offensive and defensive lineman Jeremy Hill.
“He does whatever you ask of him,” Myles said. “He isn’t one that you have to ask to go in the game or look for, he will be standing there with his helmet in his hand ready to go.”
Defensive back Haneef Bonds is one of several guys that make the Titans defense tick.
“He doesn’t like to be outworked,” Myles said. “He has played arena ball. Haneef leads with his pads. He’s a Titan that on every given down, he is going to give you 110 percent effort.
“Tyree Boyd is also a devastating hitter on defense, but he plays offense primarily. He’s one of the hardest working individuals on the team. He’s a very vocal player and true competitor in every nature and aspect of the game.”
Seasoned coaches will say that it is sometimes tougher for teams to handle winning than it is losing because players must walk such a fine line to keep the ship afloat. That’s another thing the Titans overcame in 2018 and will look to do so again this year.
“Since we were returning champions, the bullseye was on us every game,” Myles said. “Every game, we had to prepare for it as if it was a championship game. Our league is very competitive. There are a few organizations like the Tri-City Stampede, that if you’re not prepared to play, they will definitely beat you.”
The Titans are 2-1 all-time against the Stampede, but won the two that mattered most – both GLFL Championship Games. The Stampede did get the best of them during the regular season.
“We already know they will be aiming to beat us this year,” Myles said. “There will be others, as a few teams have merged and our league has combined two tiers to make one whole league.”
A three-peat is never easy, but the Titans have certainly proven they shouldn’t be counted out.
“In 2019, we’ll have to continue doing the same thing we are doing now, just getting better at it, that’s the key,” Myles said. “We will be adding more to our staff, as well adding players each year, because a few will retire. We will also be beefing up our schedule, we have the Detroit Ravens on our schedule as well working on getting games with the Midway Marauders and Chicago Ducks.”
With those upcoming games, plus the Blackhawks game in two weeks, the table is set for the Titans to really prove themselves among the elite.
“Our long term vision is to become a staple in our community as we the Titans organization strive to become a household name,” Myles said. “We will do that by winning and assisting with community projects, as well as doing what we can to help assist players in developing their skills to maybe get a tryout with a overseas team or even a arena team. It’s a task, but it’s one that the owner and us as a coaching staff is going to try to tackle.”