Welcome back Leanne Hardin to the Atlanta Steam

Undoubtedly, the greatest defensive player in the history of the Atlanta Steam, the return of Leanne Hardin to the fold is one of the most pleasant surprises as the season opener approaches. During the offseason, Hardin, a charter member of the franchise, had contemplated retirement, with dreams of possibly starting a family. She was part of a group of key player losses for the Steam, which included Jodie Nettles, another charter member, to retirement and Jenny Mac, known affectionately as the Skull Kid, to free agency.

Even in the offseason and during training camp, the Steam still held a cherished place in Hardin’s heart. Considering the close friendships made, Hardin was always proud to help show her support via social media, whether it was a word of encouragement for a player or when the club had a special event, such as a meet and greet, in the community.

Although the Steam have done an admirable job of tapping into free agency to fill several holes in its roster, there is no question that chemistry is an essential component to team success. Taking into account the loss of both Mac and Nettles, Hardin’s return was a much-needed boon. While the club still features elite signal caller Dakota Hughes, the reliable Dina Wojowski, winner of the inaugural In the Trenches Award, and MVP candidate Lauran Ziegler, Hardin’s return means that the club will have an anchor on defense.

Retaining her familiar number 20, Hardin shall definitely be a key figure in the Steam’s leadership core, as she has been during every season. A tireless worker who unselfishly works towards the greater goal of victory, she will definitely help set the example for the rookies and newly acquired free agents. While hardcore fans of the Steam were surprised that Hardin was not included among the league’s list of the Top 20 Hottest Players last season, there is no question that when it comes to determination, heart and loyalty to her teammates, she is in a class of her own.

Among multiple competitors gracing the gridiron this season that are also brave and honorable members of the US military, it is testament to Hardin’s status as a leader. In addition to Hardin, Katie Whelan, a nominee for NCO of the Year dons the Seattle Mist colors, while the expansion Austin Acoustic feature Tiffany Merritt. These three exceptional women are all worthy of the role model moniker, each embodying the values of respect, achievement and hard work.

Considering that the Steam are the most successful expansion team in the history of Legends Football League, the one accomplishment that has eluded the club is a championship, the ultimate pinnacle in any team sport. With a wave of expansion that has brought change throughout the league, and an arch rival in Chicago whose quarterback picture is still a work in progress, there is no question that this may be the Steam’s greatest chance to hoist the Legends Cup. As the arrival of Hardin only strengthens the team’s composition, further solidifying its strong team culture, there is no question that her return may prove to be the final piece to the ambitious championship puzzle, while bringing her exceptional career full circle.

#atlanta-steam, #leanne-hardin

Atlanta Steam’s Lauran Ziegler making a strong case for League MVP

Emerging as the best free agent acquisition of the offseason, Lauran Ziegler has displayed remarkable versatility, establishing herself as a dominant two-way threat in the same capacity as division rival Chicago’s Alli Alberts and Heather Furr. In the aftermath of the Jacksonville Breeze contracting, Ziegler, who was also a 2014 Eastern Conference All-Fantasy Selection, was part of a remarkable amount of talent became that became available via free agency.

While the Seattle Mist acquired quarterback KK Matheny and leader Bryn Renda, (both Flag Football Hall of Famers who played together in college), the remainder of the free agent class was quickly acquired by the Atlanta Steam. Strengthening an already impressive roster, the club signed the likes of Ziegler, Dina Wojowski and Adrian Purnell.

During Steam training camp, despite not having yet played one game for the Steam, Ziegler was named a co-captain on offense alongside 2014 Rookie of the Year winner Dakota Hughes. Such an honor is testament to Ziegler’s remarkable leadership abilities. Taking into account that she also serves as an assistant softball coach at Brevard Community College (where she once played as an All-American); it allows the Steam to have someone whose knowledge makes her a mentor on the gridiron for the younger players.

Defensively, Ziegler and Purnell have paid remarkable dividends for the Steam, rekindling the magic that made them All-Fantasy selections with the Breeze. On a defensive unit led by Leanne Hardin, whose 25.5 tackles are tops in the league, the former Breeze standouts have complemented her well. Also sitting among the top five tacklers in league play, Purnell (who has also competed in Australia) has registered 20.5 tackles, while Ziegler’s 18 rank fifth overall.

Along with Nas Johnson, the two comprise a balanced running game in which either can be employed as a weapon of choice. Despite only 68 rushing yards, Ziegler ranks fifth in the league, with Johnson in fourth spot with 119 yards. The ability to produce such strong offensive numbers certainly places Ziegler in a class of her own, while allowing the Steam the opportunity to execute creativity on offense, which may prove to be a crucial strategy against the rival Chicago Bliss in the Eastern Conference championship game.

Like Alberts and Furr, Ziegler’s remarkable productivity through the first four games of the season is also reflected in three different categories on the Legends Football League’s statistical leader board. Of note, Ziegler is the receiving leader with 17 catches and 6 touchdown receptions. Trailing behind her in both categories is Alberts.

Part of her resounding success may come from the training phenomenon known globally as CrossFit. Taking into account its impact among both male and female athletes, CrossFit has produced remarkable results, as evidenced by Ziegler’s ability to excel in late game situations. In a past interview with Shape Magazine, Ziegler was among a group of Legends Football League superstars that shared some of their favorite workout tips. Citing CrossFit, Ziegler mentioned how building up your stamina was the secret to efficiency in properly finishing assigned workouts in a limited time. Although she disclosed that her favorite move is the squat clean, she also gains enjoyment out of just plain weight lifting.

A statistical marvel, Ziegler warrants serious consideration for the league’s Most Valuable Player Award. She possesses more than just remarkable athletic gifts and strong leadership ability but a profound maturity. Considering the visceral rivalry that once existed between Jacksonville and Atlanta, it would have been easy for the free agent acquisitions to not blend in and contribute to infighting. Instead, Ziegler and the rest of her former sisters from the Breeze have contributed to a culture of confidence, strengthening the bonds of teammates and friendship, while allowing the Steam the opportunity to prevail in every contest.

#adrian-purnell, #alli-alberts, #atlanta-steam, #chicago-bliss, #dina-wojowski, #heather-furr, #jacksonville-breeze, #lauran-ziegler, #leanne-hardin, #nas-johnson

5K Challenge a positive team building experience for proud Atlanta Steam participants

The 5K Jailbreak Challenge hosted by the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department resulted in a great opportunity for the Steam to participate in community outreach, while increasing awareness of these empowering women as proud gridiron humanitarians. Known as “The Toughest Obstacle Course Run the Law Allows”, it is part of a fundraising event where monies raised benefit the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office Charities Fund while helping to finance the operations of its Teen Mentoring Programs.

Competing in the 10:30am wave, which featured the Team Competition, were Steam competitors Keyon Harrison, Leanne Hardin (one of the club’s defensive captains) and Jodie Nettles, who were joined by Michael Price, a male competitor.

(Left to right) Steam trio of players Keyon Harrison, Leanne Hardin, Jodie Nettles joined by Michael Price in second place finish. (Image obtained from Facebook, Photo credit: John Hendricks)

(Left to right) Steam trio of players Keyon Harrison, Leanne Hardin, Jodie Nettles joined by Michael Price in second place finish. (Image obtained from Facebook, Photo credit: John Hendricks)

Criteria for the team competition were that each member of the team needed to complete all the obstacles, and then finish together. Although everyone who crossed the finish line earned a Finisher’s Medal, the top three entries in all team categories (male, female, and co-ed) were presented with an award.

The 2015 Jail Break Challenge Course was not for the meek as it began with a mixed terrain run which was followed by a Sandbag Carry consisting of 50 yards. Afterwards, a length trail included the first of many obstacles, such as narrow trail sections, creek jumps, fences and numerous kinds of surface terrains.

Approaching the halfway point was a one mile hard-surface run that culminated at the jail’s Perimeter Road. Strategically, this was considered the most ideal time to recover strength and recuperate from the grueling first half of the course. Rapid elevation changes would proceed over a stretch of five kilometers, in which competitors would come across military-style Obstacle Courses, testing the mettle of many. Taking into account that Hardin is among the brave and proud members of the United States Armed Forces, she helped set the tone for her teammates.

Elements such as 45-degree rope climb over a 2-story tall structure, an attic jump, tube crawls and agility challenges, plus a cargo net climb, there was also a rope climb. Once competitors reached the top of the 16’ rope, they had to ring a bell. Mercifully, the course reaches its end with agility Bars, a military rope crossing, and a vertical 8’ wall.

Of note, the co-ed group composed of three Steam players successfully completed. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that said group finished in second place, testament to the remarkable athleticism of the empowering women of the Atlanta Steam.

Numerous members of the Steam graciously volunteered their time, including head coach Dane Robinson. Players such as Brooke Barnhill, quarterback Dakota Hughes (the winner of the 2014 Rookie of the Year Award), Jessie Locklear, Heather Urbank and
Carolyn Wright were on-hand for moral support. Afterwards, all Steam players in attendance remained for autographs and photographs with fans, enriching the experience. In addition, John Hendricks also donated his time, taking some remarkable photographs of the Steam’s gridiron heroes in action.

Photo credit: John Hendricks

#atlanta-steam, #brooke-barnhill, #carolyn-wright, #dakota-hughes, #heather-urbank, #jessie-locklear, #jodie-nettles, #keyon-harrison, #leanne-hardin

Former Steam competitor Ashley Pope brings all-around athletic approach to fitness

Having been part of the fitness industry since 2001, Ashley Pope is a highly motivated individual whose experience includes the likes of training, fitness management and life coach. Her commitment to fitness was evident during her two seasons of pro football with the Atlanta Steam. Working out a minimum of five days a week, her focus made her an integral part of the Steam’s success during its incipient years.

As one of the most competitive teams in indoor football, Pope’s efforts ensured that there was no sophomore slump for the Atlanta Steam. While individuals such as Jodie Nettles and Dakota Hughes earned many well-deserved accolades, the ability of many players to rise to the occasion helped contribute to a solid season.

Donning number 17 for the Atlanta Steam, Ashley Pope was among those players. One of the team’s iron women, she played on both sides of the ball. Engaging in such an approach certainly helped provide motivation to an ambitious team that would qualify for their respective league’s championship game in 2014.

For those who know Pope, they would be quick to attest that motivation is a key aspect of her athletic endeavors. Having earned certifications with the National Academy of Sports Medicine, her background as a lifestyle and wellness coach resulted in strong leadership in the locker room. Her guidance has made her a popular instructor for women looking to lose weight and sharpen their mental state.

In addition, Pope also extended her athletic endeavors in Atlanta to a second sport. Testament to Pope’s commitment to not only compete but motivate came through participation in the Models Basketball League. Of note, the charitable organization not only raises funds in the community, but generated so much interest that they even played at Philips Arena, home of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks (usually gracing the hardcourt before Hawks home dates).

Although Pope was not born or raised in Atlanta, the roots she has now laid in the city are paying positive dividends. From her love of athletics, personal coaching and the drive to provide wellness to clients of all ages, her outgoing personality and strong sense of motivation serve her well. Currently serving as a wellness consultant,

References: Mike Del Rio

#ashley-pope, #atlanta-steam

Teenaged rookie shows great maturity as starting QB for Atlanta Steam

While the sophomore season of the Atlanta Steam has endured a myriad of changes, from a new coach, offseason player turnover and a road contest against the Toledo Crush rescheduled due to poor ticket sales, one bright spot is at the quarterback position. Despite being only 18 years old, Dakota Hughes has impressed coaches and players alike with her steadiness and on-field presence as the team’s new quarterback for 2014.

Taking into account that new head coach Dane Robinson went into training camp with many new position players, the presence of Dakota Hughes provided him with a reliable quarterback. That presence may prove to be a key factor in helping the Steam repeat as division champions for the second consecutive season.

Perhaps more impressive is the fact that Hughes is managing to juggle football with academic commitments. Attending Kennesaw State University as a communications major, Hughes brought a remarkable athletic breadth to the Steam. At the high school level, she excelled in basketball, flag football and softball. As a side note, she would sharpen her skills for the Steam by competing in flag football with Kennesaw State.

Although her maturity and respect for her teammates has won Hughes many new fans, it is something that was reciprocated by Jodie Nettles. One of the team’s leaders, Nettles competed at Wide Reciever in 2013 and served as the backup quarterback to Hughes on opening day against the Omaha Heart. Her acceptance of Hughes and the willingness to provide mentorship is one of the reasons why Nettles is one of the franchise’s cornerstones.

Leading into the Steam’s season opener, Nettles made herself available to share her stories with Hughes while assisting her in understanding the team’s offensive system while being able to analyze the opposing defense. There is no question that Hughes’ ability to help the Steam prevail in a 20-13 opening day victory was in part testament to the remarkable team work that Nettles showed.

The fact that Hughes managed to play through a wrist injury also endeared her to fans and players alike. While she will be benched for the next two games due to her wrist injury, it is also testament to her toughness and tenacity.
Suffering the wrist injury on her throwing hand early in the second half, Hughes never showed any sign of quit. Despite throwing an interception late in the fourth quarter, the Steam defense played hard, retrieving the ball back from Omaha. In the final minute, Hughes would reward their effort by tossing the game winning touchdown pass in the victory against a stingy Omaha squad.

Statistically, she compiled nine of 17 pass attempts for 102 yards and two touchdown passes. Ironically, both of her touchdown passes in the contest, included the game-winning pass were received by Nettles.

#atlanta-steam, #dakota-hughes, #jodie-nettles

Queensland Brigade players venture into Deep South in order to improve their game

As the Legends Football League enters the 2014 season in the United States, a pair of players from Australia will be exposed to the on-field product. Jayne Caldwell and Tai Emery competed in the inaugural season of LFL Australia in late 2013 and will be the guests of the Atlanta Steam, a second-year franchise based in the Southern US.

Caldwell served as the starting quarterback for the Queensland Brigade while Emery competed on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Both are not only impromptu ambassadors for their respective league, but are making the journey to the South in order to improve their game.

With ambitions of becoming a global brand, the LFL is hoping the exposure of its Aussie players to the US will bear fruit. Eventually, the LFL is aiming for a World Cup event, in which champions from LFL US, Canada, Australia and Europe would compete in a playoff.

In a season that saw the Brigade finish with a .500 record, their first two games were blowout losses. Of note, the second game was a 41-0 whitewash which was subject to a significant amount of criticism, especially towards Caldwell, who struggled in the passing game with a chronic series of interceptions.

Based on the online criticism that Caldwell and her Queensland teammates received after that second consecutive loss, the initiative to bring them to Atlanta and expose them to another aspect of the league was well conceived. Unfortunately, the criticism concerning the team’s performance was somewhat uncalled for.

Comments such as missed practice time, not being in shape and lacking discipline with no leadership were out of line. With due deference, such comments should never have been published. Considering that players are not compensated for their efforts, balancing career, personal lives and athletic duties are not so easy.

As this was a new sport to all the participants on Queensland and throughout the rest of the Australian league, this was not an appropriate criticism for players who are not compensated. Should there be goals to expand rosters or add more teams, this may discourage potential competitors.

While Caldwell and Emery have not been deterred, their journey to the US is one that shows a willingness to learn. Steam head coach Dane Robinson, serving in his first season at the helm, shall be the liaison for the franchise. Practices and conditioning under his leadership shall be observed by Caldwell and Emery, with the hopes that it will promote a better preparation for the next Australian campaign.

Ironically, Caldwell may be of some assistance to the Steam. Robinson is not the only “rookie” in a key position with the Steam. His quarterback, Dakota Hughes is only 19 years old and she has the pressure of helping the Steam repeat as Southeast Division champions.

With the Steam opening their second season on the road against the Toledo Crush, having relocated from Cleveland, the contest shall prove to be a key test for Hughes. Considering that Caldwell has endured high pressure situations lining up behind centre with Queensland, she may be able to relate some of her experiences to Hughes.

As the program of visiting LFL US franchises may be an excellent concept to consider with future competitors in LFL Europe, it is essential to prevent what occurred in Australia with Queensland’s struggles. Upon reflection, it may have been wiser to have Australian players brought to the United States before regular season games were even played down under. Those involved must understand that growing pains and the patience to deal with them shall be essential in hoping to achieve any global ambitions.

#2014-lfl-season, #atlanta-steam, #jayne-caldwell, #queensland-brigade, #tai-emery