Thursday, November 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Storm

New-look Tampa Bay Storm seeks 200th Arena Football victory in home opener

TAMPA — There has been plenty of change as the Storm readies for tonight's home opener. New uniforms, a new logo, new turf, and plenty of bells and whistles at the newly renovated Tampa Bay Times Forum will be evident to fans.

So will a revamped team program.

Only eight of the 24 players on the Storm's current roster return as Tampa Bay looks to become the first team in Arena Football League history to reach 200 wins when it hosts division rival Georgia at 8 tonight.

"It's just the nature of the business these days," coach Dave Ewart said. "The league has changed, with the pay structure and everything, so you're not going to have some of the longtime guys sticking around for an extended period of time."

Coming off a 7-11 season, the 2012 roster is younger.

"Our average age probably went from 32 to 24," Ewart said. "But that's not necessarily a bad thing because these guys are driven to get to the next level. Maybe in the past some of our guys had already been to that level and were coming down a little."

Of the eight returners, only offensive lineman Tom Kaleita (fifth season) has more than two years experience with the team. Receiver Prechae Rodriguez, who graduated from Jefferson High, said the chemistry has been good for a team with so many new faces.

"It seems like to me that things have clicked right from the start," said Rodriguez, who caught 12 balls for 186 yards and three scores in his Storm debut last week at Chicago. "We have a good group of guys who want to show people what we can do."

After shuffling through five starting quarterbacks last season, the Storm appeared to have found the answer on the first day of free agency when it signed Nick Hill, who led the AFL at 321.8 passing yards per game in 2011 for Orlando. But Hill was signed by Green Bay in January.

"It was bad timing for us, but you have to be happy to see a guy get that kind of opportunity," Ewart said.

Stephen Wasil, who was traded for AFL defensive lineman of the year Cliff Dukes during the offseason and won a preseason battle against former USF quarterback Matt Grothe, looked good in Week 1. Wasil had the best debut of any quarterback in team history, going 26-for-44 for 326 yards, four passing touchdowns and three more on the ground.

"Stephen is a quiet kid, but the guys respond to him," Ewart said. "He comes in with some experience, which is important, and he's got a big arm and can move well."