The Commonwealth Football League's Sharks have stepped it up in practice recently, as they prepare for the highly anticipated road match against the Philippine Punishers on Nov. 10 in Manila.
The Sharks are supposed to host the Punishers here on Saipan to start a three-game exhibition series, but unfortunately travel difficulties prevented the Philippine players from making it over.
In any case, the November date is still on as well as the big home game against a select group from Guam's Miller Lite Football League
More players have been showing up to practices dressed in pads around the turn of the month. Several players wear helmets and shoulder pads, however there are still more in need of proper footwear and leg pads.
The Sharks are consist of a primary core of just under 30 players with another 15 or so who fade in and out.
The Sharks' practices have recently been moved to Miguel “Tan Ge” Pangelinan Ballfield on weekdays, starting at 4:30pm, while Saturday morning sessions are still being held at the Airport Field until 1pm.
Coaching the group is Tai Doram, who has achieved some success on the high school and middle school levels back in his home state of Kentucky.
Doram has multiple middle school and a few junior varsity high school titles under his belt. He also has a background in sports medicine and served as a strength coach on the college scene with the University of Kentucky, which is a relevant NCCA division program.
The Sharks coach has been introducing the offense of the West Coast Spread, Power-I, and Pro Set formations, and because of a shortage of linemen on the other side of the ball, for now his defensive packages will have to be largely supported by linebackers.
“Just like any football team, we would love to have more lineman, but I still see a lot of potential in the core players that have been routinely attending practices and dedicating their time,” said Doram during last Monday's practice in Oleai.
The players are green as can be, but Doram sees plenty of talent and is confident that he can instill the mechanics and fundamentals of the game to enable them to put on a good show.
Doram is still separating in his mind which players will be utilized as position players versus role fillers, but for now, the Sharks are merely focusing more on becoming atone with what it takes to conduct a real football practice. They are constantly fighting daylight during their weekly sessions and needless to say, the notion of “island time” is not helping anybody out on that front.
Obtaining proper equipment is yet another big obstacle that stands in the Sharks' way, but one thing they do have, which is what Doram admires most about the squad, is resiliency.
“Life is a struggle and a lot of people in the CNMI can strongly attest that fact, but despite all of the challenges and have-nots, these guys keep showing up and working hard. The attitude and warrior-like fighting spirit is there,” added Doram.
As for their competition, the Punishers are members of the American Football Federation of the Philippines (AFFP) and consist mostly of Filipino players, but also have some American and Australian expatriates. The group ranges from ages 18 to 43.
Though the Punishers are also a developing squad, they have played three games this year. Guam's MFL group routed the Punishers 32-12, last April, but since then the latter seized a 43-14 victory over the Hong Kong Cobras in May and a 14-0 shutout win over the Beijing Guardians in late July.
The MFL group that is coming over in December is definitely more experienced and familiar with the sport, however Doram had a look at them in action and has already devised his general plan of attack.
“From what I have gathered, it appears that we are pretty evenly matched against the Punishers as both of our programs are young, and although the Guam guys are supposedly an all-star group, it is going to come down to execution on the field. From what I saw, they do not pass very much and their offensive tactics actually pair well against our 3x5x3 defense, so our linebackers will have opportunities to plug holes, contain, and make plays,” said Doram.
The Sharks are trying to convince the Marianas Visitors Authority to help them with their upcoming trip and have a few independent fundraisers coming up.
Any interested donors, sponsors, or supporters who want to help the Sharks, whether it is by lending equipment, or selling any unused equipment at a discounted price, can contact CFL's John Blanco at email@example.com.