By Shea Carroll, Jeremy Vega and Christopher Burnette

The SFL Championship build-up coverage starts TODAY, releasing exclusive interviews with important members of both teams – the Alaska Storm and the Tallahassee Pride. The SFL Beat Writing Team sent out an eager Team of young reporters to get the latest thoughts from both camps. Here is what they discovered…

The Owners

Max Paul Talks About Making History

Interviewed by Jeremy Vega

I had the pleasure of talking to Owner & Head Coach of the Alaska Storm, “Mighty” Max Paul. He was kind enough to give us some insight on his thoughts about the upcoming championship game his team will be competing in, as well as what is going through the minds of his players leading up to Monday Night. Before we get into all that I wanted to educate the readers a little about Mighty and his history in the SFL.

Mighty first joined the league as a Wide Receiver way back in Season 6. His player’s name was Wane Inzer – an All-Team name for sure. Since acquiring his own franchise in Season 8, Mighty has posted an impressive 43-13 record, including a 6-2 record in the Playoffs. Last season he won his first SFL championship as an underdog on the road, against the undefeated Tallahassee Pride. Now, Mighty will have a chance to make SFL history as the only coach since the regular season was extended to 12 games, to complete a perfect season. As if that wasn’t enough, he will also have a shot at being the first coach in SFL history to repeat as Champion.

How does Mighty feel about all of this? He had this to say.

“It would be a great honour & would cement the Alaska Storm as one of the greatest franchises in SFL History.”

Before Mighty won his first title in Season 10, he had two disappointing finishes in the playoffs in Seasons 8 & 9. Now he has put together back-to-back phenomenal seasons. So what was the turning point that evolved this team into the Championship powerhouse it is today?

“Getting fortuitous bounces our way has played a big part in our success, as well as finally having a grasp of our player’s strengths and catering our play style to accentuate them.”

After coming off a huge win in the Semi-finals last Monday against the Houston Hyenas, the Storm players have turned their focus towards the Pride. I asked Mighty what has been the mindset of his players all week leading up to Monday Night.

“They are stoked and eager for the game to take place. Since the season began, they’ve had their eyes on an opportunity to battle for the title again.”

With the players laser focused on the big rematch, I asked Mighty where his focus lies in terms of stopping the Pride’s Halfback, Jaye Eniola, who has put together an MVP season.

“It will take a complete team effort. Everyone rallying to the ball to corral this young man. He has such an aggressive running style that one man can’t reign him in. But our defense is made of many parts and we’ll need all of them to slow down this locomotive.”

In every game there is a player on both sides of the ball that can single handedly change the outcome or give his team the edge to win the game. Who does Mighty believe those players are on Offense & Defense?

“On offense, it begins and ends with Ron. He’s our commander out there. He makes the checks and determines the best way to attack the defense on any given down.
On defense, it’s Big Sexy. Our defense is built on his back. He makes everyone’s life easier. Whether he’s dominating or garnering so much attention that others get to make plays from it.”

Mighty has become one of the top coaches in the SFL today and is absolutely headed for the SFL Hall of Fame. Will he add to his already impressive resume with a history making win over the Tallahassee Pride? Tune into Simulationfl on Twitch, Monday night at 7pm CT to find out. I wanna thank Mighty for his time, as well as wish him and his team good luck.

Frank Goodin Can Almost Taste the Sweetness of Revenge

Interviewed By Shea Carroll

Shea Carroll – Frank, what are you most pleased with thus far concerning your team’s activity and presence?

Frank Goodin – I’m most pleased with how well this team has come together – it’s really been awesome to see. We had a core group from last season that remained with the team and they all have welcomed our new additions, who have come in and carved out their own identities. Some players have grown, like Christian Christiansen, who stepped up to assume the GM role. They all work well together and help out with scouting, discussing team strategies, and of course just horsing around in the locker room. It’s been great to see!

Shea – Another thing, what about Christian Christiansen becoming the GM has been the most helpful to your role, and do you see any other players on the team stepping up like he has?

Frank – He has been extremely helpful! He’s taken the task of managing player progression and ran with it, making sure to remind players to progress before the deadline and even making suggestions during times when I was away (tasks outside of football)… he has taken a lead role in team activities, helping to create team chemistry, something that is time consuming but helps the team grow. He has helped out in scouting as well. He took a lead role in managing our process for bringing in a new rookie when Duke Wilson left mid-season, and he’s always asking for more things to take off my plate. He’s been a crucial part of the team’s overall success. Taqwuan Hale, our defensive end, has also been crucial with awesome scouting reports all season long, and if he gets time, I see him stepping up to do more also – he has the passion for winning.

Shea – That’s great to hear, he is a real good guy! Now, on to my third question…After losing to the Alaska Storm last season in the championship, do you see this as a revenge game, and do you think this will be one of the great SFL rivalries in the future?

Frank – Yes, I want this game for revenge. I have all the respect in the world for coach Max Paul! We had a chance for the perfect season in Season 10, and he prevailed against us, thwarting our goal. Now, we have a chance to do the same since his team is going for the perfect season, so of course we want to spoil it and win the championship. That’s our job! Let me be clear that it’s nothing personal in a negative way. Mighty and I are friends from long before we joined the SFL 2 years ago. We’re both competitors, we both want to win, but only one team can win it all, so we want to play spoiler! As for if it will be a rivalry, we have to win against them first… we’ve only ever played them once, and that was in the championship game last season, so we need to win this one in order to make it rivalry.

Shea – What was the biggest challenge in the offseason you had to overcome as a squadron?

Frank – Our biggest challenge was meeting the salary cap in a way that met team goals and was fair to the players. But the players were 100% cool with the process, all willing to do what was best for the team, so we met that challenge well.

Shea – That’s what you always like to hear, but were there any in-season bumps you guys had to overcome?

Frank – Yep – when Duke Wilson left, that was a bump because we didn’t know if we’d find a free agent we liked… we had to stay disciplined with our selection process and I’m glad we did; we could have made a mistake that would have hurt the team if we rushed it, but we didn’t and unearthed a hidden gem in Greyson Willis.

Shea – Greyson Willis has been clutch, but now onto my next question. Being the Owner is an important role. What were some of the things you had to do to keep this ship moving forward?

Frank – As Owner I set the tone for the kind of team we will be, competitively on and off the field. We always aim to treat everyone with respect at the end of the day. I model that for the team so they see it truly comes from the head of the organization, making it easy for them to follow the example. But the hardest work is my role as head coach, making sure to game plan and thoroughly prepare for every opponent. Winning makes everything else easier, so we take the time to give ourselves the best possible chance to secure the wins.

Shea – A good leader is important in any team’s success, glad to see you take that seriously too. Now, onto the final question. The Alaska Storm are undefeated, and after Alex Dominguez coming off of a historic season, is there anything you are concerned with that might be an issue?

Frank – Heck yeah! I’m preparing for Alaska right now, and I can clearly see why they’ve remained undefeated this season. Mighty has his team FINELY TUNED. Their passing game is sublime and complete… there’s no play they can’t make and they’re base offense alone is enough to find holes in any defensive scheme. Defensively, AD can disrupt any offense by himself. This team is a PROBLEM that is very hard to solve, props to Mighty for his brilliant assembly and execution… I believe they always have the chance to win any game, and is HANDS DOWN our toughest challenge of the season… it’s fitting that it comes in the championship game.

Shea – Thanks for the insight, and best of luck to you in the upcoming game!

Frank – Thank you and thanks for the great interview questions!

Final Thoughts: After meeting with a fantastic owner such as Frank, I can clearly see why he is in the big game. He has a level of professionalism that he brings to his guys in the LR, and it shows. Tallahassee do deserve to be here, and I can’t wait to see what they can do.

The Players

Tobin Wants to Win the Mental Game

Interviewed By Christopher Burnette

I’m here with Ryan Tobin, the Free Safety for the Alaska storm and I had the opportunity to ask him about his thoughts on the SFL Championship game. He’s a man who has been there before and emerged victorious, so he seemed fairly optimistic about the Storm’s chances.

Here’s what he had to say:
Q: ”I think everyone agrees that this matchup is perhaps the most compelling the SFL has to offer, and the statistics would show just that. Alaska has put up better numbers as far as yards go in just about every category, however Tallahassee actually has 3 more touchdowns on the
season than you guys. Given that the Pride have such a balanced offense that produces results both through the air and on the ground, as a free safety, what will you focus on in order to make sure that the Pride stay clear of the endzone and which playmakers on the Alaska side of the ball will be the highest priority for you to keep in check?”     A: “I think what we need to do is just play our assignments and make plays on the ball whenever we get the chance. We’ve had too many dropped picks this season in my opinion. We all need to hold each other accountable for everything and just keep our heads in the game, not let Tallahassee mess with our mentality. Honestly, we need to hold all of them down because as a whole they’re a good team. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be playing us in the championship
game.”

Q: “One striking statistic is that your team (the Storm) has allowed just half of the touchdowns given up by the Tallahassee defense through the air – only 11 compared with 22. How important is it to maintain that advantage going up against a team that has scored more touchdowns throughout the season in order to come out as champions?”
A: “It has to be one of the top priorities in this game, to keep the good pass defense we’ve had this season because as you said, they have a very balanced offense. If we eliminate their passing attack, we know that they could potentially try to rely on Eniola and I’m confident in our front-seven that they can do their job and keep him handled.”

Q: “When I talked with a Tallahassee player, they told me turnovers would be one of their keys to success. The Pride have 30 takeaways compared with just 17 for the Storm. How important will it be for the success of this Storm secondary to compete with and stay shoulder-to-shoulder
with that sort of dynamic Pride defense?“
A: “Very important because a single play can change the whole game, so if they start getting takeaways that’s what we need to do too and we should do that regardless of how they’re playing, to give us as big of an advantage as possible.”

Q: “Lastly, tell me some of your biggest fears headed into this game, as well as your best-case scenario and realistic expectations.”        A: “Really my biggest fear would be the potential that we won’t win the game, but I trust in this team and their abilities to go out and play ball like they’re supposed to, so I believe we will win. I think the best-case scenario would be that we come out and take an early lead so we can get them a little frantic to score, so that they make some mistakes and we can feed off of them. Get
the ball back to our offense so that they have an opportunity to score as much as possible.
I’m looking for a lot of three-and-outs. Get ourselves a comfortable lead, and then just hold them at bay so we can come out of this game on top as consecutive champions. Hoping to win by at least two touchdowns.
Now for the realistic expectation. I expect this game to be a close game, down to the wire like our last game that we played against Houston, where it came down to the last play. So, we all need to make sure that we put in our best effort and do our jobs as best we can. We know the Pride are a very talented team and they know the same of us so it should be close.”

“Awesome! Thank you Ryan Tobin FS #21 for your insight into the big game.”

Hale, All About Being a Team Player

Interviewed By Christopher Burnette

Chris Burnette:  Do you feel like you have anything to prove now that Alaska are the SFL’s top dogs – a spot previously held by the Pride, and what is the mindset you specifically are carrying into the game and that of your squad overall?

Taqwuan Hale: In the last two seasons, Tallahassee and Alaska have combined for just 4 regular season losses. So you are looking at the two top-dogs in the SFL for 2018. Until the last seconds tick off the clock Monday night, I see these two teams on the same pedestal in Season 11. Every team that makes it to the championship is trying to prove the same thing; who’s scheme is superior, and who can prepare the best. Obviously, Max Paul and Frank Goodin are two of the best. Regardless of the outcome, it will be a great game to watch as two masters go to work. As far as the squad and myself, one thing our locker room “prides” ourselves with is our ability to put the team first. You can ask any player on the roster and they will all tell you that a win is more important than an individual performance.

CB: How are Tallahassee looking to counter the numerous offensive weapons that the Storm bring to the table and how important is it to put pressure on Cockren in order for you guys to be successful?

TH: I think you nailed it. Pressure on Cockren is how we have to counter Alaska’s many weapons. Looking back at film from our last meeting, it doesn’t take long to see that Alaska won because we let them run their offense how they wanted. We gave up the long plays and they gladly took the short gains. I think the same is true this year, and we have to counter by disrupting the QB at the line of scrimmage and contest the routes that they want with our secondary. If we let them “Nickel and Dime” us on offense, they will control the time of possession and the game could fall out of reach late in the third quarter.

CB:  You mention that pressure is an important part of your approach to dealing with this Alaska offense – do you think if you guys up front are able to apply pressure, that the secondary will be able to make some plays on the ball (in other words, how confident are you in this Tallahassee Pride secondary)?  Also, how important is being able to get Alaska off the field on 3rd down?

TH: I have full confidence in this Pride secondary, and I have the stats to back me up. In weeks 2 and 3 this season (@Atlanta, @Tulsa) our Dline was playing at almost our worst and the secondary came up big with 4 interceptions and a TD vs Atlanta and a season-high 11 passes defended vs Tulsa. So yes, I fully believe that this secondary can hold their own. But, we are really dangerous when the Dline and the Secondary are complimenting each other. (See Week 5 vs HOU and The quarterfinals vs Queen City) In those two games combined we had 20 sacks and 5 interceptions. THAT is the production we are looking for Monday and that is how we are going to stop Alaska. It is imperative that we get off the field on 3rd down, and I think all that will come down to putting them in situations where they have to get out of there element and play to our strengths. If they get to 3rd and short, they can play how they want. If they have to make up 8 yards or more, we get extra time to get to the QB and the secondary has more reaction time to make a play on the ball.

CB: What do you think will be the biggest single factor on either side of the ball in this game?

TH: Easily the biggest factor will be turnovers. Last season, Alaska had both a fumble recovery and an interception while the Pride defense came up empty. This year, Cockren is as conservative with the ball as ever, which means we have to make plays if we want turnovers, there will be no gifts to us. On offense, we need high-percentage throws from Christiansen and reliable ball security from Eniola. A big storyline for this game will be Eniola’s nagging elbow injury suffered in week 13, we saw a fumble lead to points for Mexico City last week and we can’t let turnovers like that happen this time.

CB: Tell me about your hopes and expectations for the big game and talk a little bit about your experience in the playoffs up to this point.  Were you always confident you would make it to the championship game this season?

TH: I’m always hoping for a ring. We’ve made it this far and came up big in close games against Indy, Tulsa, Atlanta, and most recently Mexico City; so I know we have what it takes to power through a rough game. We’ve seen two, 24-point comebacks this season, so I won’t be comfortable with any lead until we are kneeling the ball and hear the final whistle. I don’t think I ever doubted that we would make it back to the playoffs. The South was not an easy conference, especially when you play Houston and Tulsa twice a season, but our scout team and coaching staff has a motto of “due diligence” and we are relentless every week. The playoffs are a whole new animal. The score against Queen City goes to show how much work we put in when playoffs roll around. Queen City was allowing 17 points a game and 53 rushing yards a game and we conquered. Mexico City was the crucible for this offense, they had us beat at almost every turn, but our defense kept it close. So no, I never assumed we would be back in the ‘ship this year, but here we are and I intend to make it count.

CC is All About the Winning

Interviewed By Shea Carroll

Shea Carroll- What are you most pleased with thus far concerning your team’s activity and presence?

Christian Christiansen- That’s a difficult question given that the Head Coach for the Tallahassee Pride is Frank Goodin. I think at this point he’s proven himself to be one of most thorough and innovative coaches in league history. Given that, I’m not sure if I’m in a position to say “what I’m most pleased with”. It’s Frank Goodin. He’s great. You trust the process. Aside from that, I think the whole team’s engagement on the coaching level this season has been outstanding. We’ve always been very group-oriented in how we approach our week-to-week prepwork, but this season we’ve operating on a different level. Obviously, we have our discussions around the campfire still, but we’ve had multiple guys scouting on a macro and micro level and running sims each week.

Shea – After losing to the Alaska Storm last season in the championship, do you see this as a revenge game, and do you think this will be one of the great SFL rivalries in the future?

Christian – I’m sure many of our guys see it as a revenge game. I’m not so much focused on ruining Alaska’s perfect season as I am about us winning the championship. Obviously, it’s pretty awesome to get to do so in a rematch. If you call that a revenge game, then I guess it is. Daniel Cormier has said that he didn’t have a rivalry with Jon Jones because he lost both of their fights. We have to win this one for it to be a rivalry. Think about all the great ones in history, Notre Dame-Miami, Ali-Frazier, Duke-UNC Basketball, Real Madrid-Barcelona – they’ve all been splits.

Shea – What was the biggest challenge in the offseason you had to overcome as a squadron?

Christian – I think a big piece of it was this whole haunting memory of Alaska taking it to on us on our home turf to end the run in the championship. The Season 10 team was special and nothing will ever replace that unit and I think we all recognized that pretty early with Wyo and Fats leaving out after the game. I think it all came to a pinnacle when all of a sudden cult figure Duke Johnson just dropped off the map. I think the eight of us (and Frank) that stuck to the program had to find a way to move past a heartbreak like that. We added four new guys (EJ DeCue, Tanner Hendrix, Matthew Sprous, and Greyson Willis) that all provided a new shot of energy to the team in one way or another to help move past from that. I think with the rise of cultish figures like the Semiola and Batman, and the pure energy and activity of DeCue and Willis in locker room (and on the field, of course). Through those new presences and some scheme/playbook changes, we were able to build a new identity for Season 11 and get here to take another shot.

Shea – Becoming the GM is an important role, what were some of the things you had to do to keep this ship moving forward?

Christian – I feel most of my job is maintaining/building the locker room presence this past season and being some sort of flex between scouting and cheerleading (gotta get that progression in within an hour of the window opening, am I right?). We had some important guys to replace and I enjoyed the scouting/vetting process of bringing our guys in and I love the guys we wound up with even more and how the whole locker room wound up culturally meshing together. I’m going to shift the topic of this question real quick. I think most of the GMs put in an exceptional amount of work and effort this season into their roles (their was unique responsibilities on a team-by-team basis), but AJ Francis really stood out from the rest. He took a Carolina team and made an extremely active locker room out of it and he helped Sir Chappel in seeing that translate to on-field success. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the GM of the Year.

Shea – The Alaska Storm are undefeated, and after Alex Dominguez coming off of a historic season, is there anything you are concerned with that might be an issue?

Christian – We’ve been doing our homework. We have some ideas.

Shea – Alright, thanks for your time, and I wish you all the best in this crucial game.

A note from the Editor-in-Chief: We hope you enjoyed that insight into the men behind the championship teams. Stay tuned for more build-up over the next couple of days.