JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (June 17) – The Jacksonville Sharks are the hottest team in the area, going undefeated to the last game of the season, where they rested players in preparation for hosting the first round of the National Arena League (NAL) playoffs. The Sharks lost by a touchdown to the visiting Monterey Steel 44-37, the same team they will face June 24 in the first round of the playoffs at Veterans Memorial Arena, the Sharks' home field.
Former FAMU four-year starter, Damien Fleming, has led the Sharks as the team's signal caller. Fleming is right at home with the Sharks as the Jacksonville native who attended Ribault High School is playing in front of a true home crowd. Fleming is excited about the opportunity to play in familiar territory.
“It's a blessing to be able to play right here. To have my high school career at Ribault, college in Tallahassee at FAMU and to be here in Jacksonville with an opportunity to play the game I love, it's just all you could ask for. I have so many family members that are able to attend games that I have to get the ticket situation taken care of during the week. It is nice to play for this respected franchise and to have the success we are having…and we're not done,” Fleming said.
Marvin Ross, another FAMU graduate, played for the Sharks the first part of the season. But, the AFL 2016 Rookie of the Year was snatched up by the Calgary Stampede of the Canadian Football League (CFL). This season, Ross had tallied nine interceptions in just five games with the Sharks. In those nine interceptions, Ross also had a “pick-six.”
Sharks fans showed up in mass, to the tune of over 10,000 to support their previously undefeated Sharks. With all the glitz and glamour of a WWE wrestling match, the Sharks were introduced to shimmering lights, dancing cheerleaders and fire that shot nearly to the roof of the arena. A familiar voice to the Rattler nation bellowed through the P.A. system as Rattler Football Network play-by-play announcer Joshua Jackson, another FAMU grad, kept the place in check.
“It has been an absolute honor to announce for this team for the last eight years. I've had the opportunity to talk about players from schools all over the country. But, this year, having Damien at the helm, Marvin Ross having the awesome year he did before he was snatched up and Peter (Tulloch) and Terry (Johnson) on the squad, it feels even more special. There's a certain pride about announcing a player and ending it by saying he's from Florida A&M University,” Jackson said.
Tulloch and Johnson both joined the team recently as the Sharks looked to bolster its defensive backfield with the departure of Ross. Johnson, a dual threat at FAMU as a defensive back and kick returner, picked off a Steel pass on the second offensive play of the game, setting the Sharks up for their first score.
Johnson, who graduated from FAMU in three and a half years, was a four-year starter for the Rattlers. His professional football journey led him to Jacksonville and he couldn't be more content. “To have the opportunity to play for a successful team like the Sharks is a blessing. I have had some great opportunities to play football after college, but no fans are more dedicated than the ones in this arena. It's exciting to be able to play the game I love and to have players that I am familiar with around me, makes it feel that much better,” Johnson said.
Tulloch had a very active day for Jacksonville. Playing both on defense and special teams, his pure athleticism was on display. Known as a hitter, he ended some plays with big stops for the Sharks.
“It doesn't get any better than playing with teammates. The FAMU bond is strong. There are players from teams all over the country, but there's just something special about playing with guys that you started with. I can also play with confidence that if it all ends, I have my degree from FAMU. It's like a badge of honor,” Tulloch said.
Vaughn Wilson, Director of Rattler Productions, took a team of interns to the game to cover the former Rattlers. Wilson, a former player himself, knows the impact the players are having. “A lot of people know the success of the Sharks and the FAMU connection. The pride of walking in the game with five people in my video/photo staff to cover our guys is a source of pride. We promise our athletes when they come to FAMU that we are there from start to finish. You could see their faces light up when they saw that orange and green on their sidelines. That also came with some harmless ribbing from the Howard and Tennessee State players on the Sharks team. We are very proud of these young men, as we are with all of our student athletes. All of them were great players when they were wearing orange and green, but I tell them when we are recruiting them, the day we are proudest of them is the day they don that green robe and walk across that stage,” Wilson said.
The Sharks will open the NAL playoffs, Sat., June 24 at 7 PM in a rematch of this week's game, with the Monterey Steel.