Al Ain Desert Foxes coach Johnny Sharp has warning for EAFL foes
Johnny Sharp has never been one to play it modest and as his Al Ain Desert Foxes get ready to begin their title defence, the head coach is issuing a warning to the rest of the league.
“Body bags. It’s going to be bad.”
If you thought Sharp was full of bravado before when the Desert Foxes were the bottom-feeders of the Emirates American Football League (EAFL), his confidence is at another level now that his side are the ones to beat.
Once the scrappy underdogs who on occasion didn’t have enough players to play 11-on-11, Al Ain made the leap last season in a year of firsts that saw them notch their first shutout, first playoff victory and first Desert Bowl triumph.
After unofficially training over the past four months and adding more pieces, the defending champions have never been stronger, according to Sharp.
“The whole thing of people not believing in us, those words are dead. They’re gone,” he said. “Right now, we’re probably the team with the most identity right now.
“I have 25 of the most angry, disciplined guys that you’re ever going to see. There’s never been this type of aggression with really disciplined young men. I have 25 dudes and six of them are over 300 pounds.
“I’ll be very disappointed if people score on me this season.”
Al Ain were scheduled to open their campaign on Friday with a rematch of the thrilling Desert Bowl, which saw them outlast the Abu Dhabi Wildcats 18-12 in triple overtime as Jay Hall, who returns this season to play quarterback, picked up MVP honours.
But with the Wildcats hurting for numbers, particularly with lack of linemen, Abu Dhabi has chosen to forfeit, meaning the remaining three teams in the league will play one another for one half in round robin style. The two teams who win the most halves will earn a win for the week, while the third team will earn a loss along with the Wildcats.
For Abu Dhabi, gone are three stalwarts from last season – quarterback Shane Szymczak, running back Robby Lopez and wide receiver Lorrance Reid, who have all returned to the United States.
Star running back Vivaldi Tulysse remains, but as he works his way back from a knee injury, it’s unclear how many regular season games he’ll suit up for.
As such, even after reaching the Desert Bowl and falling short the past two seasons, coach Tony Robinson’s’ expectations are tempered.
“As of right now, I would just be happy to be able to compete, be in games and give everybody a run for their money,” Robinson said. “What we have right now, I’m not sure of how far can we go. We have to be realistic. With the current state with what we’ve had at practice, it would be hard to say we’re looking to the Desert Bowl.”
Al Ain Desert Foxes
Coach: Johnny Sharp
Star player: Jay Hall
Desert Bowl wins: 1
Last season: Won the Desert Bowl
Strengths: Chemistry is through the roof after the team came together for an unexpected run last season.
Weaknesses: Have a tendency to be undisciplined at times and let their emotions get the best of them, but they often back up their bark with bite.
Verdict: From underdogs to favourites, the Desert Foxes are in unchartered territory heading into this season with the bar now raised. It’s yet to be seen if the hunger will be the same, but what can’t be questioned is their talent and ability to lock down on defence. Another Desert Bowl berth awaits.
Abu Dhabi Wildcats
Coach: Tony Robinson
Star player: Vivaldi Tulysse
Desert Bowl wins: 2
Last season: Lost the Desert Bowl
Strengths: Skill positions remain stocked with talent, especially at wide receiver and in the backfield where Tulysse is the most dangerous weapon in the league.
Weaknesses: After relying on their line play the past two years, both the offensive and defensive lines are question marks going into this season.
Verdict: No team in the EAFL has been more successful than the Wildcats, who have two titles to their name and have reached the Desert Bowl four times. But they may finally be in store for a rebuilding, transitional year.
Jay Asser - Sport360