This is an organization that was consistently a top team in the Arizona Gridiron Football League for most of last season, but missing out on the championship game in that league has the Thunder heading into 2019 hungry.
In fact, according to multiple players and head coach Warren Higdon, the team has championship expectations.
“We want to show that we are the best team in Arizona,” wideout Isaiah Clark told Developmental Football USA. “It’s not an easy task. We will have to battle through adversity, but by taking it week by week, executing our assignments, and rallying as a family, we can achieve anything.”
Quarterback Alex Leon echoed his wideout’s thoughts, but added that balance will be key for the Thunder as well. “A major goal is to have our offense just as good as our defense being able to finish drives,” he said.
The Thunder have been known as a consistent defensive presence throughout their history as an organization, but offensively, there are high hopes for what Leon will be able to do this season, according to the head coach.
“[He’s a] vocal leader that commands the offense [and] will establish continuity in an offense that is poised for breakout year,” Higdon said.
Clark also spoke very highly of his quarterback, saying, “Alex is an extremely versatile quarterback. He can hurt you with his arm and with his legs.”
Defensively, look for defensive back and team captain Tamarin Jones to lead the way for Tucson. Defensive lineman Brian Savoy should also play a huge role.
Higdon said that Jones is arguably the best defensive back in the Arizona Cactus League, telling Developmental Football USA that he’s incredible at manipulating quarterbacks and receivers and he has the uncanny ability to keep everything in front of him as a defensive back. “He brings out the dog in all of us,” Clark added. “His skill set at the safety position is high caliber and he has a lot to prove this season so I’m predicting it’s going to be a good one.”
As far as Savoy is concerned, he’ll be looking to follow up a campaign that saw him win team defensive player of the year after gobbling up 20-plus sacks.
“[He’s] the best defensive end in the state. His speed off the edge and raw strength are going to be a big problem for offensive linemen,” said Clark.
Though the Thunder do have high goals heading into this season, every big accomplishment is best broken down into small chunks, and the team knows that there are a few key games they must win in order to walk away with championship glory.
On top of that list is the first game of the season. Not only will it be important for the team to start things off the right way, but the Thunder will be playing the Arizona Spartans. That’s the team that kept them out of the championship game last season.
“The game against the Spartans left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. This is going to be a huge game,” Clark said.
Higdon went as far as to call the Spartans game a “revenge game,” though he did also mention a match-up with the Desert Demons, the other team from Tucson, as a big one as well.
In fact, that was a game that was mentioned quite a bit by the Thunder.
“It’s people from the same backyard going against each other,” Leon said.
Tamarin Jones, who also spoke with Developmental Football USA, was clear that the Demons were on “his list”.
With the Arizona Cactus Football League kicking off than less than two weeks, the league leadership has its members expecting big things.
Leon mentioned the league getting its players exposure, and just about everybody representing the Thunder feels the league is on its way up.
“Soon it will be a nationwide known league,” Jones said.
The inaugural 2019 season of the AZCFL kicks off on February 9th.