Written by Matthew Slinn
Images by Axel Raven/Hubba Kimbrel
The Talent Factories of the SFL
Glancing Into the Near Past
The SFLm was devised 4 seasons ago to accommodate new players to the SFL and to ensure that interest could be maintained within the league during the SFL off-season. The expected outcomes of this ‘Minor League‘ was a greater player retention, especially amongst rookies who eagerly awaited a shot in the pros. Little did we know that the SFLm would become rich with so much talent that the players who emerged from each team would shape the SFL into what it is today. Sceptics of the ‘Minors‘ were a rarity when it first kicked off a couple of years ago, but I can’t imagine that number being higher than zero now. The young players getting drafted onto pro teams increase in ability as each season passes, and I fully expect the S18 Draft to be no exception to this rule. For now, we will take a look back over the talent that has emerged from the first three seasons of the SFLm and assess each individual’s impact on the league whilst fighting for victory on the field. I have chosen five players from each SFLm franchise – a task that proved to be a darn sight tougher than I rather naively thought it would be.
Tonight, we visit the Lynx in Madison, one of the most storied franchises in the SFLm and winners of the Season 1 championship. Madison boasts a long list of top drawer ex-players. Choosing five of this group was my toughest task to date. I’m sure there will be some debate amongst you all. Let the countdown begin.
NOTE: It is important to know that I have not counted players who did not play in Season 17 of the SFL. Whilst a few retirees had excellent seasons in 15 or 16, I would personally like to honor those who are still prepared to take the hits on the field.
#5) Dan Tritz – Defensive Tackle, Mexico City Aztecs (Season 16 Draft)
The fact that a player of Dan Tritz’s calibre sits at #5 on this list tells us clearly about the quality of this Top 5. The former Defensive Rookie of the Year nominee has been a wrecking ball on Mexico City’s defensive line since he joined the SFL, quickly establishing himself as arguably the best defensive tackle in the South division. Starting his career with a bang, Tritz took down opposition signal-callers 12 times during an exceptional debut season, an average of a sack per game. As previously mentioned, this and 18 tackles for loss helped Tritz gain recognition in the end of season awards, losing out to Ralgar Lawe by 0.4% in the voting poll. One good season does not make a great player thugh – consistency is paramount. Season 17 was another good season for the big man in the middle of Mexico City’s d-line, 12 games that saw him make 10 total sacks and 17 tackles for loss. Whilst these numbers aren’t quite that of Tritz’s rookie effort, when one factors in the increasing talent on SFL offensive lines, one has to be impressed. Then, taking into account Tritz’s S17 playoff performances – 5 sacks in total, it’s a no brainer that he makes this list. Mexico City are looking for their first championship since Season 9 – in Dan Tritz, they have a young player to build around. If you keep reading, you’ll see that he isn’t the only one that they have…
#4) Ronnie Watson – Outside Linebacker, Mexico City Aztecs (Season 16 Draft)
Coming in a #4 above the Aztecs’ Dan Tritz is his outside linebacker teammate, Ronnie Watson. Watson has been a consistently excellent performer for the Aztecs over the last two seasons, delivering on the promise he showed during all-action performances for the Lynx back in SFLm Season 2. A linebacker that can do everything well, Watson has emerged as one of the best young linebackers in the league, partnering with Dexter Jackson and KT Horrell to form a formidable trio. Five pass deflections and a pick in the SFLm seemed to lead Watson into more of an off-the-ball, pass covering role in his rookie season and he rewarded that gameplan with 9PD’s and a couple of picks. The most impressive part about this is the 12 TFL’s Watson still managed to record – he really can do it all at the position. This past season saw #42 once again show his do-it-all ability, adding a forced fumble and fumble recovery to his already stellar stat line. Watson’s closing speed and tackling ability is crucial to the Aztecs’ defense – I just wish he could translate his regular season form into the playoffs. Watson has been a sure tackler in the playoffs over the past couple of seasons but hasn’t really produced much else. His excellent regular seasons performances have jumped him onto this list – more pop in the playoffs would see him potentially leapfrog a couple of spots.
#3) Otis Boudreaux – Kicker, Louisiana Revolution (Season 15 Draft)
Kicking off the #3 spot on this list is the Louisiana Revolution’s reliable special teamer, Otis Boudreaux. Boudreaux is one of the most recognisable names on the kickers’ roster, no less after turning heads during the SFL season 15 Draft, getting taken by the Las Vegas Fury as high as #10 in the first round. This premium selection initially brought some shade in Boudreaux’s direction (admittedly from a small number of the community) but recent seasons have seen the value of draftable kickers skyrocket, largely down the the exclusivity of the position. Demand is often far high than supply. Boudreaux was the start of this trend. After impressing for Madison during a short SFLm season, going 9-12 in FGs, Boudreaux repaid the faith Vegas showed in him by slotting 29 successful kicks from 32 attempts. Despite being generally accurate, Boudreaux struggled from long range. The vast improvement in this area between Season 15 and the current day is what elevates Louisiana’s kicker to #3 on this list. From the start of Season 16, Boudreaux hasn’t missed a single kick – not one. And yes, some have been from 50+ yards. In Season 16, Boudreaux helped Las Vegas to the playoffs, kicking all 25 of his attempts through the posts, then scoring three points of 5 occasions during the Fury’s playoff run. In his first season as the Revolution’s kicker, Boudreaux wasn’t able to help them reach the playoffs, but scored 26-26 FGs, earning him Special Teams Player of the Season. Another season like this could see Madison’s former kicker be entered into the conversation as one of the SFL’s best ever special teams players.
#2) Charlie ‘Bullet’ Biletsky – Running Back, Florida Storm (Season 16 Draft)
Comfortably cracking the top 2 of this illustrious list is Season 17 All-Star running back, Charlie ‘Bullet’ Biletsky. The young Florida Storm player has been a sensation since joining the SFL in Season 16, and his performances, especially this season, have been nothing short of remarkable. Florida are a team who like to stand out from the crowd regarding team building and strategy, and it seemed in Season 16 that they used Biletsky as a definitive second option to Ron Cockren and the passing game. ‘Bullet’ still showed promise though, rushing for just over 800 yards on about 200 carries whilst crossing the TD line 11 times, 3 from a passing play and 8 on the ground. Biletsky’s rookie season was plagued by fumbles though, the youngster coughing up 3 balls during the regular season, losing 2 of them to the opposition. Showing a clutch mentality in the playoffs, Biletsky carried good form into Season 17, something that was rewarded with more carries. The touches increased from roughly 290 to around 340 for his second season, giving ‘Bullet’ the chance to show undoubted progression whilst in Florida. 235 carries were powered forwards for 1246 yards and over 90 catches yielded 424 – not bad. Those carries and receptions also brought a total of 19 touchdowns – now that’s elite. The fumbles were down too – the sophomore only let the ball slip twice all season, including both regular season and playoffs. Charlie Biletsky has helped rush Florida to two successive Championship appearances so far and his personal trajectory is galactic. He is only kept from the prestigious #1 position by a generational talent.
#1) Ezekiel Love – Running Back, Portland Fleet (Season 15 Draft)
Ezekial Love is arguably the best running back in the SFL. He is most certainly in the conversation – every time. Strange, when you consider the fact that Love started out life in the SFL as a defensive player for the Tulsa Desperados. That is the beauty of this story, though. Love, an exciting running back in the SFLm, accepted his drafted position in Tulsa as a safety just to get his foot in the door. He was happy to do the time, knowing that he may never be able to carry the ball again in the position he loved – running back. Fast forward Season 15 and 12 games, and Love has been given that chance, one that I’m sure he took with open arms. The Portland Fleet – after a very tough debut season – were looking for a change at running back after Jon Truezmann seemed better in the fullback position. The spot was open for Love and he suited up for the Fleet. Now, despite expectations being fairly moderate, there was still a lot of pressure. Portland had taken a gamble on Love after a seaosn out from playing the position at all. The gamble paid off in a huge way. Love’s first season as the Portland RB saw him work his way towards 1415 yards and 9 scores. The Fleet did run the ball a ton in Season 16, and Love did cough up the ball 4 times. For a rookie running back though, you couldn’t really have asked for more – a gutsy season if there ever was one. Clearly, it helped shape Love for last season’s effort. His yards per carry increased from 4.3 to 5.5, yards went up to 1767 and touchdowns jumped by 7 to a total of 16 on the ground. More importantly – there were no fumbles. Ezekiel Love is now an All-Star in this league and the best player, so far, to come out of the Madison Lynx organisation.
Come back next time as we look at the Lincoln Rattlesnakes, a one-season wonder in the SFLm.