By Christian Pundt
Tallahassee Pride Part II: This Time, All Grown Up
The Tallahassee Pride might just be the most interesting team in the Simulation Football League, both on and off the field. Over the offseason, widely respected St. Louis Gladiator General Manager, Scott LeRoux, dubbed the Pride with a team song in ‘Cult of Personality‘ by Living Colour. On the field, the Pride revolutionized both sides of the ball in Season 10 with vertical passing and the four-man defensive line, and rode this to the Championship where, as it will be forever inscribed in history, they fell to the Alaska Storm 34-23 for their first loss on the season.
Season 11 represents an interesting circumstance for the Pride. They enter with one of the league’s most respected owners and gameplanners and a reloaded roster finetuned, based on the beta test of Season 10. The most prominent (and arguably only seriously notable) features being the swapping of a fullback for a second cornerback, while investing more highly into the runningback Jaye Eniola.
The running theme for Season 11 from the Tallahassee Pride is probably best summed up by Offensive Coordinator and Strong Safety Alex Bond:
“Something something something unfinished business. Something something something championship.”
At the end of the day, we are seeing if a newly matured and finetuned Tallahassee Pride team will live stuck in the “Glory Days” of Season 10, or if they’ll charge headfirst and embrace the renewed grind of a new season. The Tallahassee Pride Front Office is hoping that a veteran roster, that was forced to watch another team celebrate the Championship on their own turf, be ready to do the marathon again and a rookie class to deliver a shot of energy to punish the boulder over the hill. The Pride have proven to be an elite-level team ready to win a Championship.
“ My mindset is to take this season one game, and one week at a time.” – FS Tanner Hendrix
“[My] mindset is that second place is only the first loser. And anything less than second isn’t worth mentioning. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard and Tallahassee has hard working people and talented people so I expect nothing less than a championship from myself and my teammates.” – CB Matthew Sprous
The Tallahassee Pride Front Office is headed by Frank Goodin, who works closely with his right-hand man in Alex Bond. The dynamic duo became a triumvirate with their new addition this offseason.
Owner Frank Goodin (since Season 5) Frank Goodin entered the league in Season 5 and lead the production of the SFL documentary and in the graphics department. In the past six seasons of his participation, he has turned the Tallahassee Pride into one of the most widely respected teams in the league and has earned a reputation himself as one of the top gameplanners in the SFL. More recently, he is credited with making a major leap forward in the personnel department with what essentially was the creation of the four-man defensive line. On top of that, he organized one of the few teams in SFL history that had a truly successful pass-heavy attack, along with the Season 4 Champion, Minneapolis Maulers, and Season 10 Champion, Alaska Storm (being the most vertically aligned of those teams).
General Manager Christian Pundt (since Season 11)
Christian Pundt was promoted to the position of General Manager in the offseason following Season 10 on May 20, 2018. He was one of the later-assigned GM’s relative to the rise of the position this past offseason. He was given power to make personnel decisions and ran the draft for the Pride, making top-ranked DT, EJ DeCue, his first ever selection at 19th overall (with FS, Tanner Hendrix, being the second at 36th overall). Much is left to be written about his legacy, and has a relatively tough path to being thought of as a “net positive hire” considering the only sign of immediate improvement will be if the Pride win a championship. All other results are either net even (championship loss) or net worse (not advancing to championship) that can easily be pointed at him.
Offensive Coordinator Alex Bond (since Season 10)
Alex Bond has been around the Simulation Football League since Season 9 and was promoted to Offensive Coordinator in Season 10. After playing a critical role in the debugging of the progression system and in finding the most efficient progression routes, as well as helping revolutionize the passing attack that put Tallahassee at the top of the league in total yardage, passing yardage, and points per game, he won Coach of the Year for Season 9. Not much else needs to be said for this young, bright SFL mind, who could be on his way to getting his own SFL team.
Alex Bond has temporarily stepped down from his duties as the Offensive Coordinator in Tallahassee. He is expected back in his previous and full capacity at a future date.
Head Scout Taqwuan Hale (since Season 10)
Taqwuan Hale was promoted to scouting duties towards the middle of Season 10 and has served as the official scout for the Tallahassee Pride since then. He plays a critical role involving scouting other teams, training other scouts, and keeping tabs on other team’s on-field performance – and often asked to do so on a major time crunch – that has since became an invaluable aspect to the team’s operating capacity and efficiency. He serves as the model for what a productive scouting department can do for a team.
The calling card of the Tallahassee Pride roster build is indisputably the four-man defensive line. Paired with a dynamic offensive battery, the defense went in for improvements after its inauguration, where stats were adjusted and reallocated into more efficient spots. The main difference wound up being the release of FB, Caleb Connelley for CB, Matthew Sprous, which should hopefully be the final piece to the structural puzzle of the roster.
Christian Christiansen QB #13 (Silver 89.76, since Season 9)
“One of the most dominating performances in SFL history, leading his team to an undefeated record during the regular season and into the Championship game.” – Steven Mullinex, Dallas owner
Christian Christiansen finished Season 10 with 4,788 passing yards and 41 passing touchdowns, which he parlayed into the Most Valuable Player award. He also throws a lot of picks, BUT, he doesn’t get sacked very often. He’s firmly placed himself in the conversation as the best quarterback in the league and is coming off one of the best individual seasons for a quarterback in SFL history. He should be all systems go for this season.
Jaye Eniola RB #28 (Gold 101.05, since Season 10)
Eniola received a sizable salary raise from 84.87 and enters Season 11 as the highest rated player in the Southern Conference. He saw an expanded role as the season rolled along and became a true feature back. Given the Pride’s recent success in Season 9 with the highly productive J. Calvin Kim at RB, Eniola could very well be a dark horse in the MVP discussion. Given the upgraded contract, it has been widely expected in league channels that Eniola will have a significantly larger role than last season, which appears to be begging the question “So how will you defend last season’s top-ranked passing attack then?”.
Ken Gossett WR #84 (Silver 89.93, since Season 9 [closely related to former season Season 7 player Kenny Gee)
From this analysts perspective, and this is especially true down the stretch last season, Ken Gossett was the league’s best and most dominant player in Season 10. While this didn’t translate to any awards at the SFL Honors (utterly confusing how this happened), Gossett’s dominance cannot be understated. He finished with 2,186 receiving yards and 20 receiving touchdowns (nearly double his yardage and five times the number of touchdowns from Season 9), the league leader in both categories (and the only player close to him in either category wound up being teammate Duke Wilson, who we’ll get to in a second). To put this into perspective, Season 9’s leading WR Prince Escobar (who was widely considered the best WR in the SFL entering last season) finished with 1,832 yards and 17 touchdowns, well behind Gossett. Gossett should be one of the league’s premier players entering this season and hopefully should take home some hardware.
Duke Wilson WR #14 (Silver 86.50, since Season 10)
Duke “360” Wilson finished with 1,802 receiving yards and 21 receiving touchdowns (second and first in the league in each respective category) in Season 10. He burst onto the scene in the preseason with several spectacular plays and blossomed into one of the league’s most exciting players. His athleticism and breath-taking ability was on full display each and every week.
Wilson, who would be the #1 WR on virtually every other team in the SFL, plays opposite of Gossett where they compliment each other very well. They should both be ready to tear up defenses again in Season 11.
Kevin Bane DE #95 (Silver 69.08, since Season 10)
The best run-defending defensive end from Season 10 returns at LE for the Pride. Bane not only provided topline run defense, but also finished seventh in the league in sacks. Sometimes, Bane went as the forgotten man on the vaunted defensive line and often went underappreciated. Despite his already eye-popping stats, he provided an even stronger presence and had lots of opportunities taken away from him by other talented members in the unit. He might just be the least talked about great player in the SFL.
Following the departure of one of the league’s premier players in Mike Johnson, Bane returns as the third highest paid member on the DL. His higher rating relative to his position group might position him for even more personal success this year, where he should be able to get his already earned due from the rest of the league.
Hunter Norwood DT #74 (Silver 69.13, since Season 10)
Colin Cowherd recently stated that in a lot of industries, there’s first place, second place (who has a legitimate chance at catching first), and then there’s all the rest. The NBA has the Warriors, whatever team has LeBron James, and every other team. Soda has Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and… Keurig?
Thus is the life of Hunter Norwood; one of the best and special players of the Modern SFL. Norwood exited last season at 18.5 sacks, finishing second place in the league, just a shade behind his nemesis, Alex Dominguez, who topped Norwood in the Championship game and at 19.5 sacks. Norwood should’ve been a 20+ sack player on a non-four man defensive line and most other seasons he wins DPOY. That could very well be the case in Season 11.
EJ DeCue DT #96 (Silver 65.59, since Season 11)
“The goal of championship or bust says that I set goals high and won’t accept less then that top level performance.”
DeCue was drafted in the first round by the Tallahassee Pride to not only be a strong on-field presence to help schematically and statistically mitigate the free agency exit of Pro Bowl snub Mike Johnson, but also to be an energizer bunny during the dog days of the season. DeCue wants to “be that presence in the locker room that raises folks up to that next level” and keeps a high-achieving (but still young team) from getting complacent.
DeCue should be able to step in and be an immediate All-League presence that should be in line for a DROY award. His major drawback, however, is that he’s the fourth highest rated player on a stacked defensive line, which could lead to stolen opportunities and lower stats than what his lofty expectations could suggest. But that won’t happen: he’s legit.
Taqwuan Hale DE #91 (Silver 69.41, since Season 10)
Taqwuan Hale was one of the hottest players down the stretch of Season 10. Down the last half of the season, he moved into third place on the season’s sack race, finishing with 18.0 and just behind Hunter Norwood and Alex Dominguez. Hale is clearly cut into the elite category of defensive ends and is probably only a half-step behind ‘Big Sexy’.
Hale is one of the league’s premier pass rushers and that’s a widely believed statement. Hale should be in line for another big season, especially if Tallahassee opts to make him more of a featured player than last season.
Michael Sprous CB #25 (Bronze 68.03, since Season 10)
Michael Sprous operates as one of the league’s most underappreciated cornerbacks. Sprous finished with 60.0 tackles and two interceptions, taking advantage of rushed passes. Sprous is one of the league’s most consistent corners that any team would love to have on their roster.
Sprous is the #1 cornerback on one of the top defenses in the league. Standing at 6 foot, he’s able to handle most receivers well. Sprous provides a consistent presence on the field and can also be a sparkplug on gameday to give the Pride an edge. He provides the presence and mentality required of championship teams. He’ll play a critical role if they go far, but if he ends up being a liability, the team as a whole could struggle.
Matthew Sprous CB #24 (Copper 55.85, since Season 11)
Matthew Sprous was signed as an under-the-radar free agent immediately after the draft and was the first player that was not on the Season 10 roster to sign with the Pride this season. Discovered as the brother of fellow cornerback, Michael Sprous, he was welcomed into the Pride family, as well as being a member of literally a Tallahassee Pride member’s family.
“I foresee our defense taking off and becoming one of the top defenses in the league with me and my brother locking down any and all receivers. I think with hard work all aspects of our team will improve and I have my eyes set on a championship in my first season. I can already tell this program is capable of it and I expect it.”
Sprous was brought in to hopefully shore up a leaky Season 10 defense that was among the league’s worst in allowing big plays. While being rated as a generic, he stands 6-4 and plays the game not unlike SFL Championship hero Ryan Davidson. Hopefully, like his brother, Sprous can prove to be a vocab sparkplug and a mismatch nightmare.
Tanner Hendrix FS #22 (Copper 56.03, since Season 11)
Tanner Hendrix was drafted 36th overall as a free safety. He wound up being a late-arriving rookie to the party and wound up going lower in the draft than he should have as a result. Regardless of that, he has thus far provided a strong vocal presence that will grow to be greatly admired around the league.
Hendrix stands 6-3 and 205 lbs, playing centerfield and playing compliment to All-SFL strong safety, Alex Bond. Much is yet to be written about his career, but he’s been put in a position where fellow FS, Anthony Wyo (now on the Las Vegas Fury) was able to parlay a great season into a good contract with the expansion Fury. This, combined with being a larger athlete, should suggest Hendrix will be in for a successful season himself.
Alex Bond SS #29 (Silver 69.64, since Season 9)
Alex Bond is the defensive captain for Tallahassee and the highest rated player on a relatively lower-rated Pride secondary. He was an obvious Pro Bowl candidate that made numerous splash plays both in run support and in coverage. Bond finished as one of the league’s leading tacklers with 109.5 and eight behind the line of scrimmage (despite playing safety). Additionally, he recorded eight interceptions and nine pass deflections.
Bond should be in for another big season and again in play for the DPOY conversation. At the very least, he’s an early Pro Bowl favorite and an enforcer and a true leader on one of the league’s most dangerous defenses.
The bottom line for this Tallahassee season is that they have proven they can compete with the best of them and go head to head with anybody. Tallahassee should be the favorites in most games this season but will probably drop a game here or there.
Wk 1 – 7/14 – Indianapolis
Indianapolis added Christian Christiansen’s quarterbacking nemesis in former Vancouver player, Tom Pepper, this season. Pepper should be in for a good season on an already strong passing team and poses a matchup problem for the Pride in the secondary, as noted by Chris Curtis and Andy Hamilton, who were on the call for the quarterfinals matchup. The game itself will be a rematch of the SFL Honors-voted ‘Game of the Year’ in a game that went to double overtime and ended on a blocked punt that set up a walkoff Christiansen-to-Wilson touchdown.
Wk 2 – 7/22 – @Atlanta
The Tallahassee-Atlanta rivalry goes back several seasons and pits two of the most respected owners and gameplanners against each other in Frank Goodin and Mark Chisholm. Hollewood and the Swarm went off and destroyed the number one-seeded Pride 38-13 in Christiansen, Bond, and Gossett’s rookie season. The game still holds sour memories and was a major nexus point in forming the team bond of today’s Pride. Going the other way, Tallahassee delivered Atlanta a heartbreaking also-double overtime finish in Atlanta week 11.
Wk 3 – 7/29 – @Tulsa
Tulsa was one of the darling’s of Season 10 as an expansion team that started 8-0, before finishing the season 9-3 and a quarterfinals exit. They provided one of the flashiest and most dangerous secondaries in the SFL, complimented by a strong rushing game (spearheaded by one of the best running backs of all time in Dion Hawkins). It should be interesting pitting two teams who were at one point both 8-0 and considered the top two teams in the SFL and had the potential to face each other in the semifinal before the Desperados were knocked off by a strong Hyenas team.
Wk 4 – 8/5 – New Orleans
New Orleans is an expansion team by Aaron Arrington that made several splashy moves in the offseason, most notably drafting their quarterback, Xander Gold at number one. And the Pharaohs wear purple and gold. Those are OUR colors… smh…
Wk 5 – 8/11 – Houston
The Hyenas carried the most dangerous rushing attack in the league last season with Warren Murray pacing the league in rushing yardage. That, combined with a strong defense lead by DT, Chad Takkul, formed a strong unit that caught their stride late in the season and advance to the semifinal before getting knocked off by the Pride. This is laying the basis for some contentious games between talented teams that should have some importance behind them.
Wk 6 – 8/19 – @Oklahoma City
Oklahoma City snuck into the playoffs last season by getting really hot down the stretch and getting some help the last week of the regular season. The Renegades posed one of the biggest offensive threats last season with strong quarterback play and unique two-TE system. This season they reloaded and should pose an interesting matchup for the Pride.
Wk 7 – 8/26 – Dallas
Dallas was one of the worst teams in the SFL last season, but Steven Mullinex and Crash Combs decided to make some adjustments. A team that’s known for making some out-of-the-box moves is doing it again by employing a 3-4 defense, a small coverage-specific LB, and four – count ‘em – FOUR, receivers. THAT will make for some interesting games week in and week out.
Wk 8 – BYE
Luckily for Tallahassee, their bye week is later on in the season so they won’t have to stop having fun so early on in the season. That should be especially good news for any rookie class, who will get nearly two months of immersion before getting a week off.
Wk 9 – 9/7 – Atlanta
Atlanta pushed one of the league’s best rush attacks (headed by one of the SFL’s best runningbacks in BDG Hollewood) and a top defense. They had a top gameplanning unit but ultimately realized they were limited by their quarterback play and opted to draft Marcus Dunhill in the first round, who should instantly provide better QB play. Atlanta will be a much better team that was already really good last season and Tallahassee’s games with them should be among the best in the SFL.
Wk 10 – 9/16 – @Carolina
At this point it is a well-accepted premise that the Tallahassee-Carolina rivalry is the most inspired rivalry in the league. While it has thus far been thoroughly dominated by the Pride, the Skyhawks pose a unique and fun matchup each year that’ll give problems to the REAL Purple and Gold. This year, they employ a young and exciting staff/players in RB AJ Francis (also at General Manager and Offensive Coordinator), FS Sir Chappel (Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator), and DT Christopher Colon (at AGM). 41-17
Wk 11 – 9/23 – Tulsa
Tulsa proved themselves as one of the better teams in the SFL last season with Dion Hawkins paving the way as a strong coach. They made some key changes to their offensive personnel and seemed to lose steam down the stretch, but Hawkins is a smart owner/coach who more than likely mended those problems this offseason. This week 11 game will represent a key game where we will see if the Desperados are kicking it into second gear down the stretch.
Wk 12 – 9/30 – @Dallas
While the “Texas Triangle”, as it was once dubbed by a certain Max Paul, no longer exists after the sale and movement of the San Antonio Vaqueros to Denver to become the Nightwings, the Ruffnecks-turned-Lobos and the Hyenas more than hold their own as strong teams in the Lone Star State with a track record of success. The Ruffnecks have some interesting and new pieces that should make for an interesting year.
Wk 13 – 10/7 – @Houston – W 33-20
Houston did a lot of talking last season about Tallahassee and Takkul said they were thiiiiiiiiiiis close to beating Tallahassee. The Pride nearly doubled their score by beating them 37-20.
Bet on the Pride. And show up to their games. It’s always a party.
“You won’t regret it” – FS Tanner Hendrix