2023 REGULAR SEASON RECAP
JACKSONVILLE, FL – The Jacksonville Sharks finished the regular season with a 10-3 record and claimed first place in an anything but ordinary National Arena League (NAL) season.
Slow Home Start
The season started slow for the Sharks, losing their first two home games, and began the season 2-2.
Their first home game of the season ended in a one-point heartbreaking loss to the San Antonio Gunslingers, 63-62. After holding the Gunslingers scoreless with a major stop in the final minute of regulation, perhaps foreshadowing the impressive defense the Sharks would continue to show the rest of the season, Jacksonville lost in overtime.
The second home game ended similarly; a one-point loss after a critical stop in the final minute of play, this time against the Orlando Predators.
Conor Blount's Rookie Success
Conor Blount started his first NAL season strong. He threw for 886 yards in his four games, which led the league after those four games, and 19 touchdowns. His rushing abilities were impressive, too. He had 131 rushing yards on ten attempts in those games, scoring two rushing touchdowns.
Blount threw seven touchdown passes in his season debut against the West Texas Warbirds. The rookie out of Oregon State did not struggle with the changes arena football can bring.
Unfortunately, Blount's season was cut short when he went down with a season-ending injury on the April 30th home game against the Orlando Predators. After scrambling on a play, Blount was tackled hard into the wall, ending his season when it seemed he was quickly becoming a star in the league.
Sam Castronova's Takeover
Luckily for Jacksonville, the only other quarterback leading in offensive categories had just been released by the Albany Empire, Sam Castronova. The 2022 NAL Championship Game MVP brought energy the 2-2 Sharks were desperately searching for.
His first start for the Sharks came against his former team, and he helped them cruise to a 79-34 victory for their first home win of the season.
Since the signing before week seven, Castronova has led the league in passing yards per game with 262.5; he is also third in the league in passing yards with 2100 and second in touchdown passes with 48.
Injuries plagued the Sharks during the season, losing key players, like Conor Blount, at the most unfortunate times.
Darien Townsend went down in week one in West Texas. His early departure immediately left a hole for the Sharks to start the season. Fortunately, he returned to action during week 16 at the Tank. This game, again, came against the Warbirds. He scored two touchdowns in that game, his first two with the Sharks.
Week two saw another injury, Khalil McClain. The receiver was injured in the home opener on April 15th after scoring five touchdowns. A few days later, he was placed on season-ending LTIR, a massive hit for the Sharks offense to start the season.
Kicker Marc Orozco went down with a season-ending injury in his third game with the Sharks on June 10th. He seemed to be the solution to the Sharks' kicking inconsistencies before a leg injury sat him down for the remainder of the season.
Tamorrion Terry missed the final three regular-season games due to injury. His presence was missed after Sharks fans grew used to his highlight-reel touchdowns and catches this season.
Many key players came from midseason signings; they fit right in with the team to help the Sharks continue their winning ways.
Tamorrion Terry was signed on April 27th and instantly made an impact. The former Florida State Seminole played nine regular season games for the Sharks, scoring 12 touchdowns, three of which were scored in his first game on May 20th against Albany. He was consistent for Jacksonville and was a significant force on offense as the season progressed.
Former Shark Marquel Wade was signed on May 8th after spending the beginning of the season with Albany. In his shortened season with the Sharks, he scored four touchdowns and was named Week 12's Iron Man Player of the Week.
The Sharks signed former Rams undrafted free agent Tre Harlan at the end of May. The lineman brought size and experience to the defense, which was already flourishing. He previously played in San Antonio with the Gunslingers. He finished the regular season with two blocked kicks and 2.5 sacks in six games with the Sharks.
Shark legend Devin Wilson returned to Jacksonville on June 12th after resigning with the team. In his five games with the Sharks, he scored two touchdowns and averaged over 38 offensive yards a game.
Another lineman, Faleaoga Russell, was signed on July 12th. Russell played with the Sharks last season and began 2023 with Fayetteville. He had one sack in his three games on defense and scored two touchdowns for the offense.
Revolving Door of Kickers
In the regular season, five kickers took the field for the Sharks over their 13 games.
The first was Daniel Justino, a Middleburg, FL native who played the first two games for the Sharks before his release. He signed with the Albany Empire later in the season.
Next to take the field was Kevin Didio-Weber, who the Sharks signed on April 21st. He hit nine out of 10 extra point attempts for the Sharks in three games. He was traded to the West Texas Warbirds on May 24th. Since the trade, he has been named Special Teams Player of the Week for the Warbirds five times.
Orozco was traded to Jacksonville from the Albany Empire on May 21st. He played the next three games for the team before going down with his injury. He hit four deuces in those games, including three in his Sharks debut.
Nick Belcher returned to Jacksonville for his third stint with the Sharks. The 2017 Special Teams Player of the Year played three games for the Sharks before his release. He was 17 for 26 in extra point attempts.
The final kicker for the Sharks was Carl Meyer, who signed on July 20th. He is expected to be the man to help the Sharks reach the NAL Championship Game. He hit 14 of 15 extra point attempts, and had a deuce in the final game of the regular season.
Jacksonville proved their dominance on the road this season, going 5-1 away from Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena. The Sharks outscored their opponents 359-261 in those six games.
One of the most dominant away games was a May 28th match-up in San Antonio. The Sharks took down the Gunslingers 70-43, the first-place team in the league at the time. After a one-point loss at home against the Gunslingers earlier in the season, this road victory proved that the Sharks were a team to be feared in the league.
Multiple Sharks players' career-defining seasons made a significant impact on the league.
Kamrin Solomon led the league with 32 touchdowns and had 1907 receiving yards in all 13 games for the Sharks. He averaged over 102 receiving yards a game, proving himself as a stronghold of the offense, even with injuries that plagued the team. The Mandarin High School alum broke the NAL record for most receptions in a single season with 116. The former record was 104, held by Jarmon Fortson (2018) and Jordan Jolly (2019).
On defense, Jabari Gorman led the team in most stats. He had 86 tackles, twice as many as anyone else on the team, nine interceptions, one run back for a touchdown, and one fumble recovery. Just as Solomon dominated the Sharks offense, Gorman did the same for the defense.
Your First Place Jacksonville Sharks
Since starting the season at .500, the Sharks have exploded in quality of play to take over the top spot in the league and clinch home-field advantage in the playoffs. They won eight games in a row, the longest streak for any team all season.
In 13 games, the Sharks outscored their opponents 810-555, for a +255; the only other team with positive points for/against was Carolina, who finished the season with a +161.
As a team, Jacksonville averaged over 278 receiving yards per game, led by Solomon, who had 1335 yards on the season. Seven Sharks had at least 100 yards on the season, including Wade (227) and Wilson (211), who only played in five games.
Defense continued to shine throughout the season. Sha-ki Holiness had 13 sacks on defense in 13 games. Five Sharks had multiple interceptions, including Gorman (9), Marvin Ross (6), and Harrison Poole (5).
Impressive play from an array of players from both sides of the ball led the Sharks to the top of the NAL standings and a winning percentage of .769 in 2023.