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The first event of the season, PSP Galveston, is less than a week away. Tampa Bay Damage flew to Sacramento for a long weekend practice with the Ironmen. We will use this trip to also introduce our player contributions to the new Sacramento Damage D1 team; Alex Spence, Mike Smarac and Alex ‘Deuce’ Delannoy. For those who may not have heard Alex Spence’s story he was diagnosed with leukemia a few weeks after World Cup 2010. He spent most of 2011 in and out of the hospital in a see-saw struggle of literal life and death that finally culminated in remission. Alex was able to regain enough strength to rejoin the team as a sideline coach for Cup 2011. And every day since then he has dedicated himself to rejoining his teammates on the field. Along with practices, official and unofficial, the first big step is to compete with Sacramento Damage. To share his knowledge with the Left Coast members of the family and get the on-field reps that bring him closer and closer to stepping onto the pro field again–one day soon.

While Alex’s story is both remarkable and nothing anyone would ever choose shifting rosters are a fact of life. This past off season lots of high profile players moved around but the fact is it always happens to one degree or another. And in every division. And Damage has been no different. While we have been fortunate to keep a large and consistent core of players there have been changes. When we realized Spence would be out we were very fortunate to be able to bring in Dave Bains. (When I say we I mean I got to say, “Yeah, Dave would be a great choice,” and Joey–Joey Blute, General Manager and whatever else he needs to be–did the real work of making it happen.) So we began last year without Spence or Jason Edwards (who was in training as a sheriff’s deputy.) This year Dave returns and we were able to add J-Rab, Justin Rabakoff. That move was made because A) Justin is an outstanding player who had played 7-man with Damage in 2010 and because B) there was the prospect of another change looming on the horizon. Bryan Smith had completed his training to be a fireman and was looking for a job. If (or when) Bryan succeeded we knew there would be some months where he had no control over his schedule and would be focusing on his career. As it turns out Bryan got a job.

Over the last two years we have also had some injuries on the team. CJ missed the 2011 season rehabbing a repaired ACL and in the last to years Ramzi has missed a few events. In response in 2010 we picked up some youthful talent; Jacob Edwards (14) & Keith Brown (17). And before the start of the 2011 season similar concerns were the inspiration for an open tryout. The tryout resulted in the team picking up Deuce and Mike Smarac. While full members of the team our focus has been on developing their games and providing competition reps where and when we can. Entering the 2012 season we saw our roster swell to 15 players. Even with Bryan out for an unknown period of time we found ourselves in the unexpected position of having too many players. Ultimately this led to talking to Mike Carthy, long time staple Florida professional player. Mike had talked at times during 2011 about retirement and a decision was made that while Mike’s laning ability is unmatched and his game remains strong it was time for the next generation to be served. The necessity for such decisions is the worst part of the game particularly on a team of friends that have spent years together. The best to be hoped for is that in the end it proves best for the team.

A hallmark of past Damage teams has been the focus on a heavy practice schedule. It helped build the original pro team and develop the first generation of younger players into the seasoned capable players they are today but it takes a heavy toll in resources and time. And in years past it sometimes seemed like it took a toll on the players in the back half of the season perhaps even contributing to some of the injuries. Given the experience of the current team and the demanding event schedule we have the opportunity to play this year the team has backed off on practice a little bit. There have been fewer pre-season practice days but no less intensity and no less demand of the players. (Most of the guys have chosen to get out and play some extra unofficial ball, too.) Two weeks ago Infamous came down to Florida for a weekend and gave us an excellent practice. Today was day 2 practicing the Ironmen and likewise the ‘Men have made the trip to Cali worthwhile. Tomorrow we’ll get in an extra half day. Mentally and physically we’re in a good place leading into the first event of the year; hungry, focused, anxious and just a little chippy. Let’s play.

Next time, a report on the first 3 events of the year; PSP Galveston, MS St. Tropez & NPPL Huntington Beach.