In the hall near the locker rooms, minutes after the Massachusetts Pirates' season opener, Beverly Payton is waiting for her son. His voice can be heard from the other side of the closed door. Just like everyone else, the Pirates' Head Coach Anthony Payton wished for a better result, but both the coach and his mother know: This is only a step in a long journey and it is a big step.
On January 8, Payton was named as the team's new Head Coach, replacing the 2018 Coach of the Year, Ameer Ismail. After a rich and successful career as an arena football player, playing for six teams (Dayton, New Jersey, Louisville, Buffalo, Cincinnati and Las Vegas) through nine years in the IFL, AFL and AF2 arena football leagues, Payton's coaching career began over two decades ago, but this is his first experience at the top of the pyramid. "I am still kind of getting used to it. To the fact that when I say something, it has to be done", he says. "In the past, I had opinions. Now I just got to take more initiative about the way I want things to be done."
The season opener, on Saturday, Apr. 13 at the DCU Center in Worcester, ended with a disappointing 54-22 loss to the reigning champions, the Carolina Cobras. Payton felt it was a learning experience, for him as Head Coach and for his young players, some of which have never played arena football before. He sees himself not only as a football coach, but also as a teacher and he always makes sure to remember that: "I am trying to get these players to the next level, to improve them. I don't walk around saying 'Hi, I'm the Head Coach'."
The one time he did say it, was when he called his mother to tell her that he had just signed his contract and got the job which he had been waiting for, for a long time: "It felt good", he recalls. "It was emotional."
His mother, "his rock", as he refers to her, has always been there for him, since the first time Anthony put his helmet on, when he was only seven years old. Seeing her in his first game as Head Coach was really special to him and Beverly could not hide her excitement either. She always calls him before the games, reminding him to take things one play at a time and giving good advice. Years ago, she had dreams of Anthony playing in the NFL, but now she is extremely proud of his career and the path he took: "It's been a long time coming for him", says Beverly. "He played football all his life. He loves it. It's in his genes, his DNA, his heart. He loves his players."
He also loves his "second city". A Kentucky Wesleyan College graduate, Anthony resides throughout most of the year in the small city of Shelbyville, Kentucky, but enjoys every minute in Worcester: "The people here made this place home for me." He has local friends and tries to spend as much time as possible with the community: "There is a great atmosphere here."
He got to know Worcester, and the Pirates, during last regular season's strong campaign. With him as the Offensive Coordinator and play caller, the team led the league in points, touchdowns, total offensive yards, total passing yards, passing yards per game and average yards per play. Quarterback Sean Brackett thrived under Payton's system and was the league's Most Valuable Player: "It is a very easy transition for us", says Brackett about Payton's promotion this season. "This is the first time I have had the same offense two years in a row. AP is a great coach and a great guy. He is doing a good job and I know he loves getting more responsibilities."
Those responsibilities, as the Head Coach learned before the season opener, will take away your nap time: "My phone just kept ringing. All the time. But I love it. I have to control everything now, not just do the game plan, but make sure everyone has everything they need. I trust my coaches, but at the same time, I have been doing this for a long time and I am going to get better at it."
The Massachusetts Pirates are members of the National Arena League (NAL). The Pirates play all home games at the DCU Center located at 50 Foster St. Worcester, MA. 01608. Pirate Nation Season Ticket Memberships for the 2019 season will be on sale in September. Pirate Nation Memberships start as low as $199.00. To become a Pirate Nation Season Ticket member or for more information on the Massachusetts Pirates please call (508) 452-MASS (6277), email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.masspiratesfootball.com. Single game tickets are available online at ticketmaster.com or the DCU Center Box Office. For group outings please call 508-452-MASS (6277). Follow the Pirates on Facebook at Facebook.com/MAPirates on Instagram @mass.pirates, as well as Twitter @mass_pirates.