The West Portsmouth Tanks might not have gotten the result they wanted in last Saturday’s BCFL Championship, but the team did win several awards when it was all said and done.
Defensive coordinator Brian Wroten received the Defensive Coordinator of the Year Award, defensive back Richard Elery was named Co-Defensive Player of the Year and quarterback Job Swords was honored with the Co-Offensive Player of the Year award.
Wroten led a stingy West Portsmouth defense who put up phenomenal numbers all season long. The Tanks allowed an average of 9.75 points per game, and gave up more than 20 points to an opponent only once all season.
The Tanks defense also surrendered an average of only 102.5 yards per game, and held teams to negative yardage in three games. West Portsmouth forced their opponent into four turnovers a game on average, and posted four and a half sacks per contest on average as well.
These type of numbers come as no surprise within the Tanks organization, though.
“I believe the numbers reinforce what we’ve known for five years, that Brian obviously does a really, really good job,” West Portsmouth head coach Jamie Rice said. “I’ve always thought our defense is probably the best defense in the league every year.”
Not only does Wroten get it done on the field, but he’s there for his players off the field as well. Elery said that Wroten is like a “father figure” over him and that “he’s a great friend also, any time I need help no matter what it is he’s always there.”
Elery also credits Wroten for being a great leader as a coach.
“If I mess up on a play, he never puts me down. He puts his faith in me,” Elery said. “He’s never gave up on me one time, there’s never been a time in a game or practice where Coach Wroten has given up on me.”
Wroten gives all the credit to his players, who have worked hard to master his zone blitz scheme. “I attribute most of it to them,” Wroten said. “They’ve done a really good job of staying with us and buying in to what we do.”
The defense that the Tanks utilize is far from simple. “There’s 172 different variations that can be called,” Wroten said. “Any time you’re trying to run some zone blitz stuff, there’s some complications to it that sometimes arise.”
Elery is one of those players who has excelled under Wroten’s scheme, but it wasn’t always that way. In his rookie season in 2016 with the Tanks, Elery started at free safety but changed positions early on.
“Last year, in our first game he was our free safety and did not do very well,” Rice said about Elery. “He really didn’t understand the system a little bit and didn’t fully grasp what the role was there, so he actually played a lot of linebacker last year.”
Rather than hang his head and give up, Elery kept working. Later in the season, he was given an opportunity to move back to free safety.
“Towards the end of the year, our other free safety showed up late for a game, so we put Richard back there again and he just promptly picked off a pass and takes it back for a touchdown,” Rice said.
From there, the rest was history. Elery solidified his spot at free safety for this season, and continued the Tanks legacy of great defensive players. With Elery’s award, the Tanks have now had a player win the Defensive Player of the Year honors in the BCFL in three straight seasons. (Snook Martin in 2015, Chris Hill in 2016 and Elery this season). Martin also won the award in 2014 as a member of the Portsmouth Warriors in the National Frontier Football League.
Following a loss in the Eastern Conference Championship game last season, Elery says he started preparing for the 2017 season the next morning.
“The next morning after that loss, I took it straight to the weight room every day,” Elery said. “I studied the plays harder, I even had plans to play on the other side of the ball, I was working doing offensive plays also.”
That hard work paid off as Elery and Wroten knew the potential that Elery had as a player this season. Elery said that Wroten approached him before the season and told him “my goal is to make you Defensive Player of the Year.”
With seven interceptions and five defensive touchdowns this season, Elery was a deserving candidate for the award. “It means so much to me, because I feel like I’ve worked for it so long since the season ended my rookie year,” Elery said about winning the award.
One of the biggest surprises for the Tanks was quarterback Job Swords winning Co-Offensive Player of the Year. Swords only played in five full games this season, and entering the year had never played quarterback in his football career at any level.
“I’m very grateful. I’m just blessed to be able to play the game, and thank God for giving me the talent and the team I had this year,” Swords said on receiving the award.
The numbers show the success that Swords was able to have in the first half of the season. He threw for 833 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. Among teams that reported stats, the 12 touchdown passes are most in the league at the end of the season, and Swords only played in five of West Portsmouth’s 13 games.
“I was real happy for him, but I was kind of surprised,” Rice said about Swords winning the award. “When you look at his numbers, you’re like “Wow, he’s done a really nice job.” He almost put up season type numbers in those five games.”
Swords said he “had no idea that was gonna happen” and didn’t find out until the pregame of the BCFL Championship Game.
Rice believes that Swords could have done even bigger things if he was able to play the full season.
“I don’t have a doubt, if he wouldn’t have been injured, there wouldn’t have been a “co” Offensive Player of the Year,” Rice said. “He would be the MVP of the league.”
The awards are great, but the coaches for the Tanks say they would trade all of those for the championship trophy of the BCFL.
“I’d trade that [award] for a shutout,” Wroten said. “I would have rather won 3-0, let’s put it that way.”
Rice added “we would trade it all for a win [last] Saturday.”
Although West Portsmouth fell short of winning the championship, it looks like the future is bright for next season if the Tanks are able to return the nucleus of talent that they built their team around this season.
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 or on Twitter @BSpicerPDT