May 18, 2017
By: Kristi Fulkerson
It was almost exactly 4 years ago when I started working at TV2 as a part-time reporter. I remember the Monday well because the first person I saw — at a company full of strangers — was a familiar face. It was Steelhawks Head Coach Chris Thompson. I had met and worked with Chris years prior when he was coaching the Reading Express (Reading, Pa.) and was instantly greeted with a smile.
Thompson is now in his sixth season with the Steelhawks, a team that has called the Lehigh Valley home for seven years. Owned by Glenn Clark and managed by his son Mike, it’s a franchise that’s easy to get behind. They love football, they support the community, and they’re the cream of the crop when it comes to the arena game. The Steelhawks’ reputation is that of an organization that not only competes at a high level but repeatedly gets players to the next level. (Here’s proof — insert pdf from website)
“We’ve had over 30 guys move on to AFL, CFL, and NFL teams”, said Thompson. “In terms of goals, it’s right up there with winning, that’s what the Clarks and I believe.”
Even if that means sacrificing their own success.
In the midst of a 6-1 season, the likelihood of losing a player or two to the Arena Football League is pretty high. It has become business as usual for Thompson who’s had a handful of players even get a chance in the NFL. Former Steelhawks’ defensive back, Joe Powell (2015 PIFL Defensive Player of the Year) spent last season with the Cleveland Gladiators (41 tackles, 5 interceptions in 8 games played) and is currently on the practice squad for the Buffalo Bills.
“As much as I’d like to have 4 championships, sometimes we do probably sacrifice an undefeated season to see guys move up and get opportunities at higher levels,” Thompson admits. “We have a great relationship with a lot of coaches in other leagues.”
And players take notice. As Steelhawks move up, there are always new players anxious to come on board.
“Every day I get calls from agents or players, even now in the middle of our season” said Thompson, ”asking if we have a roster spot open.”
Those that do earn a chance with Lehigh Valley know better than to waste the opportunity.
Current defensive lineman, Tommy Dover, (Edinboro) played against the Steelhawks last season as a member of the Central Penn Capitals. With 4 fumble recovery touchdowns in 7 games, the first-year Steelhawk said his approach this season is to get better each week. Not that he has a choice.
“I have to be at another level, we’re held to a higher standard here,” Dover admitted. “Coach T and the staff do a good job holding us to that.”
With a mix of rookies and veterans, youth and experience, I asked Chris Thompson how many of his current players consider the Steelhawks a stepping stone in furthering their careers.
“Every single one,” he said without missing a beat. “I can’t name one person who isn’t trying to move up. They’re doing it for the love of the game but also with the hope, the goal to get to the next level.”
And they’re not the only ones.
“It’s no different than me,” he continued, “I’m trying to climb the ladder too.”
(Photo courtesy of JJ Horvath)
(Photo courtesy of JJ Horvath)