The Gloveís Still Got Game
At 35 years old, Orlando DS Kenny McEntyre has become the target of criticism for angry Predator fans each time he fails to make the big play. Common belief around Orlando is that "The Glove" has lost a step like he had, canít cover like he used to, canít go up and bat down a jump ball like he used to, canít bump and run like he used toÖ And Iím guilty too. Iíve said the exact same things on the ArenaFan message boards and in the chat room.
But on Friday night in a game that the Predator defense had to come up big in, McEntyre once again showed why he is so important to Orlando. On the night he amassed seven tackles and two forced fumbles, earning Defensive Player of the Game honors. Perhaps the best display of all of McEntyreís skills came in a sequence of events in the 3rd quarter. With the Predators holding a slim two point lead, Georgia took the ball over for their first drive of the 2nd half. On the driveís second play, Georgia QB Matt Nagy hooked up with OS Chris Jackson on what appeared could have been a touchdown, if not for "The Glove" running him down at the Orlando 8 yard line. With the Force in the red zone, 6í5" WR/LB Derek Lee was the target of Nagyís first down pass. McEntyre, playing man coverage the whole way, timed his jump perfectly and deflected the ball away from Lee. On 2nd down Nagy threw a screen to WR/DB Jamin Elliott. Fighting through a blocker, McEntyre laid a huge hit on the receiver, knocking the Force back to the Orlando 10. On 3rd down, Nagy went back to Lee again, only to be defended perfectly by McEntyre on another jump ball situation. Georgia was forced to kick a field goal, and didnít score another point until the last play of the game.
So what was one of the AFLís most prolific defenders thinking giving up at least six inches to Lee in a jump ball situation? "Just prayingÖ praying and hoping he doesnít come down with the ball. I had to make big plays. Thatís what this game is about."
McEntyre is no stranger to making those big plays. Over his eight year career, all of which have been spent in Orlando, "The Glove" has built himself an unprecedented resume. McEntyre leads the Predators all-time in interceptions, pass breakups, games played, and games started. His place in league history can not be ignored either, though somehow he was left off of the Arena Football Leagueís 20 Greatest Players of All-Time list, announced earlier this year. He is the all-time leader in interceptions (61) and is tied for the lead in interceptions returned for TDs (10). He has the third most pass breakups in league history (126) and sits sixth in tackles (449). "The Glove" is tied for the most interceptions for TDs ever in a season (3 in 1999 and 2003), has the most playoff interceptions for a career (11), as well as having an AFL best, four seasons with ten or more interceptions. He is one of just two people in the history of the league to have interceptions in three Arena Bowls. The other? Some guy named Barry Wagner you might have heard of before. Oh yes, seven straight 1st Team All-Arena honors (1999-2005), three Defensive Player of the Year awards (2000, 2001, and 2004), and a spot on the 1st team 15th Anniversary Team arenít too shabby either.
Perhaps even more impressive than McEntyreís statistical accomplishments is the success other defenders that played with him have had once they left Orlando. Five of the leagueís elite defenders have gone on to flourish after their days in Orlando. Damon Mason, the AFLís all-time leading tackler, played with McEntyre from 1998 to 2001 and then again from 2004 through the first half of the 2005 season. He has been named to three second team All-Arena squad since 2000 and appears to be headed to the All-Arena team this year again, as he has a league best, eight interceptions so far this year with the Austin Wranglers. Kevin Gaines, a WR/DB in Orlando in 1998 and 1999, became a second-teamer on the All-Arena team for two seasons as a DS for the Georgia Force before moving on to Philadelphia, where he was considered a premier free agent signing by the Soul. In Philadelphia, he joins yet another former Predator defender that was tutored under McEntyre, Reggie Doster, who was with the Preds in 2002, 2003, and 2005. Gaines and Doster currently help lead the defense which ranks third in the league, allowing just 45.58 PPG. Johnnie Harris, who was out of the Arena League for six seasons before joining the Predators halfway through the 2005 campaign, now plays in Grand Rapids, where he has amassed 54 tackles, 11 pass breakups, and four interceptions on the season. Finally, Rashad Floyd, a Predator in 2002 and 2003, had the most tackles ever in a season last year (125) and led the Colorado Crush to the Arena Bowl title.
Now McEntyreís right hand man is Jeroid Johnson, whose best year came in 2001, when he tallied 41 tackles and seven interceptions. Johnson has arguably been the Predators most valuable player on defense this season, as he is averaging a two pass breakups and a shade under five tackles per game along, with five interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Along with Johnson is another mid-season acquisition, WR/DB Khalil Carter, who earned second-team All-Arena honors as well in 2005. Carter stepped into the DS role for the injured Johnson on Friday night, and racked up nine tackles on the game. Said McEntyre of his various teammates that have filled in at the DS spot over his career, "Ö around here whoever gets hurt, we have to fill someone in and go make plays from there."
In a league that features so much offense, the Orlando Predators have always built their teams around defense, a tradition that was started with DS Durwood Roquemore from 1991 to 1996 and has continued since 1998 with Kenny McEntyre. There isnít another home crowd in the league that loves their defense as much as Orlandoís does, and there isnít as thrilling a moment in the Jungle than when #28 comes running through the tunnel as the last player introduced in the pre-game show. Following Fridayís win over the Force, McEntyre looks poised to lead the Predators into the playoffs yet again this year. Donít ask him about his future and the rest of his career. "As long as Iím healthy, I donít even think about it."
On behalf of Jungle Nation, we owe you an apology, Kenny. You sent a message to us on Friday night that you could still do everything we said you lacked, and a message to the rest of the league: "The Glove" is still kicking, and might be better than ever.
Adam Markowitz is a freelance sports writer living in Orlando. As a Florida State graduate with degrees in music and history, the garnet and gold will forever be a part of him, but he bleeds the black and red of the Orlando Predators like none other. Adam has been following the AFL since 1991 and has been at well over 200 games, including 15 ArenaBowls. You can follow Adam on Twitter @AFLGuru.