Fox Highwind, Marcus Dunhill, Josh Williams, Moose Papineau, Mark Chisholm, Ray Bentley
Banner Image by Andy Hamilton
With the upcoming SFL championship game looming only a few days away, I sat down with a few members of Atlanta Swarm to look back on Season 14. Joining me were quarterback Marcus Dunhill, defensive lineman Josh “Swole” Williams, and rookie defensive back Moose Papineau (the one and only), along with Owner / Coach Mark “Chizz” Chisholm. We took time to reflect back from draft day to the current day, and just how it was we got here.
Fox: Let’s go all the way back to the S14 draft. What were your pre-draft needs?
Marcus: First round, we wanted a receiver.
Chizz: Also high on the list was a DT, to help take some of the load off of Josh.
Fox: You drafted Dave Axis, Tim Cleland, Jay Miraculous and Shane Short. Were there any other players you considered during the draft?
Chizz:To be honest, Dave, Tim and Jay were all at the top of our draft board at their positions, so we got exactly who we wanted. The only player we were worried about was Dave, because Houston had expressed interest in him and they picked before us. Good thing it worked out, Axis was the only player we wanted to take in the first round.
Fox: What were your first thoughts when the schedule was released?
Chizz: I said “just end the season now” – it was brutal.
Marcus: I thought it would be similar to S13, have a chance at the playoffs with a 7-5 record.
Josh: I thought we could sneak into the playoffs, probably with a 7-5 record.
Fox: Atlanta’s first 5 games were Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Mexico City, Baltimore and Florida. We went 4-1. What did you expect to be at the end of the year, and what did you hold out hope for?
Marcus: I honestly thought we’d be 1-4 to open the season.
Chizz: I expected 7-5, but I wanted at least eight. Eight seems to be get you into the playoffs.
Fox: What thoughts did you have when losing to Baltimore?
Josh: Baltimore is that one team that always seem to have our number. We play them close, but they get the better of us. After the game there was nothing much to say except “On to the next”.
Fox: We’re down 0-24 to Seattle in the second quarter. We came back to win 31-27: Did you see a shift in mentality in the locker room, or even the league yourself?
Chizz: Some of that was the fact that Seattle changed their game plan in the second half. We had already started to show momentum, and when we scored at the beginning of the second half I think that awoke a hunger in the players.
Josh: I noticed in general chat that more players started talking about all of our weapons on offense, and that we just might be the team to beat.
Moose: I noticed the mentality shift during the game. Afterwards in the locker room, it was UNBELIEVEABLE. We’d always believed we were for real, but that win seemed to instantly remove all remaining doubt from the locker room.
Fox: With each win, was there more nerves or confidence?
Chizz: My confidence grew with each win. Knowing that what we had been building towards for the last few seasons was coming together.
Josh: Honestly, you can’t think about that stuff or look too far down the road. You have to move onto the next week’s game and get ready.
Fox: Do you think the loss at Las Vegas came at a good time, to get that late-season defeat out of the way?
Chizz: Well, you really don’t want to lose any games, even when you’ve got momentum on your side, but that let us try a few things we hadn’t done previously without fear of losing a spot in the rankings.
Marcus: I guess you could say it did… we already had the #1 seed secured, it allowed us to try some things we don’t normally run.
Josh: Personally I would have liked to see us win every game, because who doesn’t, but I feel that loss brought us back to earth a little bit. It reminded us that we’re beatable, and not to rest on our laurels… we still have unfinished business on our Road to Redemption.
Fox: Mark, have you done anything different to prepare for this year’s playoff games versus the regular season?
Chizz: No; not really, other than time spent. At the end of the day its still a game plan, but when its “lose and go home” you definitely put more hours in at the lab.
Fox: Moose… as a rookie, what’s the biggest thing you’ve been able to take away from playing in ATL this year? Something you can pass on to other rookies who will read this?
Moose: I think every player owes it to themselves to be non-contract, no matter the position. There was so much information when I joined the league, I felt lost, as I know you did. Being non-contract at first for Atlanta let me experience some things I didn’t understand before, but seeing them in action greatly helped.
Fox: 12 players returned from last season’s quarterfinals team, and 10 of those were with the team in Season 12. What does it mean to you to be able to share this season, and possible championship, with this core group of players?
Chizz: It means everything… to know that even after a 6-6 or 7-5 season these guys want to keep coming back is amazing. It tells me they believe in what we’re doing, and how we’re going about it. And to have only 2 players not return over the past 3 seasons is unbelievable.
Josh: So important. Most of us have been together for 3-4 seasons now, so its like we aren’t just teammates anymore: we’re BROTHERS. I think I can speak for everyone when I say the love is mutual. That’s we’re #TogetherWeSwarm.
Fox: Not all players returning will be returning this year, however. Sunday’s Championship Game will be the last for Marcus Dunhill, who is retiring after this game to become the new Director of Player Personnel. How important is it to send him off with a championship?
Chizz: THE MOST important thing. With everything that Marcus has done for this team, and the league as a whole, I want to be able to show him how much I appreciate everything he’s done by getting him a championship.
Josh: Marcus, Siege and I were all three rookies together in season 11. We’ve been in Atlanta for our entire careers, and now that one of us is leaving, this is our only chance to be able to help give him the experience of winning a title. So… yeah, its extremely important.
Moose: Top of the list. I’m a rookie and I have a lot of seasons in me, but not Marcus. And with the work he’s put in, and everything he’s done for the rest of us players and the organization as a whole, I can’t think of a better way to send him off. I mean, you can’t write this stuff!
Fox: What does it mean to you that you’re becoming the new DPP?
Marcus: It gives me the opportunity to give back to this league. Since the day I joined, I wanted nothing more but to do everything I could to help out the SFL… I’ve done some broadcasting, beat writing, was a GM for a season, etc. Now with being the new DPP, I hope I’ll be able to help out in the magnitude greater then ever.
Fox: Marcus Dunhill for MVP?
Chizz: I think you could also make a case for BDG, a lot of our offense and success has been from him caring us on his shoulders. But Marcus has also come a long way, even from just last season, and his superb play has elevated BDG’s level of play, and vice versa. So I think you could make a case for either one.
Marcus: I think BDG should win it. Like Mark said, he’s carried us down the road quite a bit, and a sizable portion of our success is because of him.
Fox: Explain the magnitude of this game to you.
Marcus: I mean, you said it best when he said you couldn’t write this. Knowing that I’ll be retiring at the end of the season and thinking back to our schedule, where I expected us to go 7-5… I realize we could have missed the playoffs and I would have retired, and then no one cares as much. But to get this far, win or lose – and I’ll be honest, I have every expectation that we will win – I’m just happy to be here. You really don’t know how lucky we are to be here, it’s so tough to make it to the title game that I think it’s a miracle we made it this far! But if you look at how Atlanta has progressed each of the last 3 seasons, from 5-7 to 7-5 to 10-2, there’s no reason to believe that Atlanta won’t be back in the title game NEXT year too. Because at the end of the day, we’re more than just a team… we’re a family.