Written by Jacob Clear, Offensive Coordinator, Madison Lynx
Photos and Captions by Matthew ‘Shady’ Slinn
From Humble Beginnings Down Under
Tonight is the Championship of the Simulation Football League’s first ever minor league. This competition has been the stage for rookies to showcase their ability to coaches, general managers and owners alike leading up to the Season 15 draft. It is the breeding ground for the league’s next crop of stars and has given team staff much more clarity into who they’re picking. The minor league and its mass of more than 200 players led to the introduction of a record 7 round draft, and jump-started the supplemental round concept. Not only has it been the breeding ground for new players, but it’s also been a place for coaches, no matter their experience, to hone their trade and to get to know some of the rookies on show. We’ve seen rookie QB Javier Vasquez coach his team to a Championship, and three rookie coaches face off against them on Friday. I am one of those three, and I am here to give you an honest recount of my experience as offensive co-ordinator at the Madison Lynx.
At the present time, I am in my second season, playing cornerback for Demond Simien’s Houston Hyenas and have just been promoted to a train and trial general manager position, all the while scouting for the offensive playbook. Demond has purchased a copy of 2K’s All Pro Football and sent it halfway across the globe to Eastern Australia, right in the middle of a state record bushfire season. I spent four good months studying a new artificial intelligence after playing Madden quite intensively, all the while juggling the distractions of reality. I spent time pouring over custom rosters, developing my own scheme that I would play with Houston.
Fast forward to the end of Season 15 and application forms go out for head coach positions. Due to my circumstances at the time, I decided against applying, and instead chose to wait for an offensive co-ordinator position. As the teams were being unveiled, most head coaches had little interest in someone not particularly active in public chats. However, my motivation was perhaps fuelled by my selection in the S14 draft, being drafted with the eleventh pick despite being one of the lower value picks. It was then that one Berto DeMoura caught hold of my interest, and he reached out to me.
What business he had reaching out to a complete stranger to coach his offence I’ll never know, having already elected fellow defensive lineman at Tulsa, Jaedyn Swift as his defensive coach, it seemed odd that he’d take a punt on someone not only on a different team, but residing in a different continent. Gratefully accepting his offer, I immediately looked at the announced roster, with only rookie check-ins to go off of. I was graced with a good quarterback and two good running backs. Defensively, star LB Frank Smith opted out of the minor league, who was promptly replaced by CB DJ Gainer, one of the highest value defensive players in the draft class. At the time, I was having discussions with players regarding their build. “How do you want to play?” I would ask. Having spent time talking to Simien about player builds, I knew what he’d turn his nose up at and what he’d show interest in. I look back on the time I spent on the player builds as one of the most important things I did with the Lynx.
The Lynx Hunting Without Success
My first interactions came through the second receiver on the depth chart, Mike Twinscrew. Twinscrew showed an immediate interest in my playbook, trying to pick my brain of ideas. He owned a copy of APF already, and his knowledge was refreshing. My initial build submission was completely my own work, but help from external sources shaped how the book evolved over the course of the season. Immediate help came from Demond and the newly appointed assistant roster director and Las Vegas Fury QB, Thomas Ramen. Ramen showed me the basics; how to enter plays and how to remove them. It’s the simple bit now, but looking back on it, the assistance was incredibly helpful.
Twinscrew began sending me short reports after Week 2, following our second loss on the trot. I began playing around with his concepts but it took me a while to commit to anything he sent me. Some worked – some didn’t. Our losses to Annapolis and Lincoln were tough pills to swallow because as a coach, you feel primarily responsible for the loss. At Houston, I learned to fight for victories, but also to listen to players. Twinscrew’s insight made an immediate impact as a 20-13 win over the San Jose Flight ensued. It was in Week 3 that Twinscrew was officially appointed as a scout, shortly after DeMoura plucked a completely unknown punter out of the blue and instated him as a scout. His name Jess Stollings, but on the SFL field, Otis Boudreax.
The Turning Point – Our First Taste of Victory
Boudreax, alongside Twinscrew, changed quite a lot. Dependable, they provided five page scout reports each week, and were often already scouting the next opponents before the games had even begun. The offensively orientated Twinscrew collated statistics and builds into an easy to read format and made note of specific players and how they make their impact. Bourdreax on the other hand studied over formation and play data, providing game film right to my inbox. Each week, Bourdreax, Twinscrew, Swift, DeMoura and the playing group would join me in a voice chat, and we’d go over our game plan and any changes, often while I was working from home on weekends. These meetings would boost player interaction, and overall, energised the locker room. I cannot recall a day where the locker room felt quiet.
I immediately wanted to make a connection with the QB, Derrick Majors. Initially, Majors wanted to look like Aaron Rodgers on the field. What ensued was, in the words of Alan Armartys, “the shortest quarterback in the SFL”. This proved to be not at all a disadvantage however, as we made good use of QB sneaks in the opening games of the season. I was excited when Majors announced he wanted to be a pocket passer, as this was the style of QB I had learnt to build around, working with Kentez Johnson’s build. His ability to avoid pressure was unmatched by any other QB in his draft class, but his sack count was buoyed by a silly coach who wouldn’t admit rollout plays were useless. Majors’ high throw power meant we couldn’t throw deep, but he made good use of short routes. I learnt to adapt to his build, and he became the ringleader of the offence very quickly, utilising a talented receiving core with ease, using Twinscrew, DJ Hume, Paul Dillavou and tight end Phil Kos. Majors is the franchise man I had hoped for, and then some.
Heroes Come in the Most Unlikely of Forms
Majors enjoyed throwing to the third TE on the depth chart, Sheldon Hilton. I never remember generic player names, but this guy was an exception to the rule. Scoring the winning TD in one game and winning the player of the game award, Hilton proved a lot of what I had “discovered” about the AI as false. It was strange how often Majors would throw to him. Majors’ protection and run force came in the form of Ezekiel Love and Katherine Horrell. Love was a professional chain mover; every time he touched it he was going somewhere. His lethal speed and agility meant he would often ghost past linemen before they could flinch. Horrell on the other hand, was a balanced back, and it was a challenge having to adapt the book each week to adjust to the new build. We did, however, eventually find a setup that worked for both, and our run game became consistent, although not frequently used.
Our only genuine blowout win was in Week 6 against the Boise Mud Dogs, in which we won 27-14. Defences were typically very sturdy, and despite being a stable offence with low interception rates, we often loved to play a slower offensive scheme and frustrate our opponents. Besides that game, our biggest winning margin was just one converted score. Not to sugar-coat it, but we’re now here, in the Championship game. We are so excited to show the league how far we’ve come as a unit. This playing group is ready for big things.
My Final Word
I wanted to, on behalf of the team, thank Andrew Rastelli for his amazing work running this competition, as well as every other team involved. I think we can all agree this league has been an absolute blast and we are already looking forward to seeing the next batch of talent next season.
Good luck to Javier Vasquez and the Ottawa Cavalry. We may have defeated you in Week 6 but we expect a similar challenge. May the game be close and the winner be remembered as the inaugural winner of the SFL’s minor league. See you on the field, and good luck in the draft.