Sharks ready to kick off playoffs after rollercoaster season

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In the history of the Jacksonville Sharks, the team has won three championships. One in the Arena Football League and two since joining the National Arena League.

The team now stands two wins away from another title.

On Saturday, the Sharks kick off the playoffs on the road against the defending champions in Albany. There was a time Jacksonville seemed destined to miss the postseason altogether.

After losing four of their first five games, the Sharks made a move to add Arvell Nelson at quarterback. The former Arena Bowl MVP hadn’t played since 2019, but his arrival in Jacksonville launched a turnaround. At one point in the season, the Sharks won six of seven games to get back into playoff position. Nelson’s presence was the difference.

“He gave us a spark that we needed,” Sharks head coach Siaha Burley said. “And we took off from there. We continue to add a couple of pieces here and there. In arena football, you’ve got to have a guy who can command the huddle. I call him a Chris Paul, point guard of the offense, they can orchestrate it. So he did a lot for us. Provide a different dynamic to a game as far as being able to buy some time and create big plays with his legs, not only his arm.”

In nine games with the Sharks, Nelson has thrown 40 touchdown passes and just 11 interceptions. A good ration for the indoor game. He has also run for nine touchdowns.

Then an injury two weeks ago caused Burley to sit Nelson last week—a loss to the Carolina Cobras that didn’t impact the Sharks’ postseason chances. But it did get backup quarterback Mike Fafaul some playing time, just in case.

“I played Mike last week to save Arvell’s legs a little bit,” Burley said. “He came in with an ankle injury from the Gunslinger game. And he was limping the day before the game, and I just didn’t want to put him out there if I didn’t have to. Obviously, I want to win every game. But I believe in Mike as well.”

On Saturday, the Sharks expect the intensity to increase from the regular season and it will be up to each player to step their game up. It’s a task made more challenging by playing on the road.

“You’ve got to start fast,” Burley said. “We’ve got to start the game quick and that helps the momentum. That helps confidence as the game goes. That helps deal with the crowd noise and environment. You’ve got to start out fast, you got to start out with confidence on the road and build from there. Once you are in the dogfight, you know you can win on the road. I mean, that feeling comes and it just builds as the game goes.”

While Albany won the title last year, Burley is confident that the experience factor, especially at quarterback, favors Jacksonville. That could make the difference in the game.

“We’ve got guys at key positions that have had that experience in the big game,” Burley said. “So, I think they’ve got an MVP in the league-caliber player in (quarterback Sam) Castronova. And I think he’s more than capable of leading them. But I wouldn’t say they have the edge.”