The Massachusetts Pirates professional arena football team has called the DCU Center home since early April of 2018 and have just announced an exciting 3 year extension. The Pirates also recently announced that they have joined the most prestigious and longest running league in the country, The Indoor Football League for the 2021 season and beyond.
Massachusetts Pirates Team History:
Raise the Jolly Roger
2017: At a press conference in November, Jawad Yatim, Founder, Co-Owner, General Manager and President of the Massachusetts Pirates announced his team would begin its initial season in the spring of 2018.
2018: On April 7, 2018, the Pirates took the field at the DCU Center in Worcester and arena football had returned to the city. After winning its opener against the Maine Mammoths the Pirates would compile a league best 11-5 record to earn the top seed in the playoffs. A late season injury forced quarterback Sean Brackett to miss the post season and the Pirates playoff run lasted only one game. Despite missing almost three regular season games, Brackett was named the league Most Valuable Player. Wide receiver Devonn Brown and offensive lineman Cornelius Lewis earned All-NAL first team honors while lineman Fred Ruff and Brackett were named to the second team. Defensively, defensive back Kiante Northington, who led the league with 12 interceptions and the teams’ sack leader, defensive end JD Griggs, were All-League first team honorees. Linebacker Nick Haag and DB John Hardy-Tuliau were named to the second team. Head Coach Ameer Ismail was the NAL Coach of the Year and even the team’s mascot, “Arthur” was honored as the league’s best.
2019: In year two, the Pirates named Anthony Payton Head Coach. After a slow start the Pirates went on a six-game winning streak to secure their second consecutive playoff berth. Only a controversial call in the final seconds against Carolina kept the Pirates from advancing to the league’s championship game. The season was highlighted by the in-season signing of Dexter McCluster, former All-Pro kick returner for the Kansas City Chiefs. At season’s end, wide receiver Mardy Gilyard had set single season National Arena League scoring records with 33 touchdowns (29 receiving and four rushing) and 198 points. Gilyard was named as a First Team All-NAL performer along with defensive end JD Griggs and defensive back Lawrence Austin. Four Pirates earned All-Second Team honors including quarterback Sean Brackett, kicker Mike Weaver and offensive linemen Thomas Claiborne and Tre Jackson. Wide receiver Thomas Owens was also named the NAL Offensive Rookie of the Year. As an organization, the Pirates excelled off the field as they were recognized as having the Best Community Relations and Best Media Relations departments in the National Arena League.
Charting a Championship Course
2020: With the goal being to win a championship, the Pirates hired a three-time Super Bowl champion to lead them. Former New England Patriot fullback Patrick Pass was elevated to Head Coach after serving as Director of Player Development in 2019. His staff includes Offensive Coordinator Reggie Gray, a two-time Arena Football League Champion and Defensive Coordinator Rayshaun Kizer, who ranks third all-time with 67 interceptions in the AFL.
2021: In 2021 there were many questions that needed to be answered. How would the team fare in a new league where running the football was a big part of the game? Coming from a league that was predicated on throwing the football, the Pirates would need to find a quality running back and assemble an offensive line that could open holes. In turn, the linebacker position would need to stop the run and play more of a role on the defensive side of the ball.
For the third time in three seasons, Massachusetts had a new Head Coach in Patrick Pass. This would be his first time coaching indoor football. The Pirates also had a first-time offensive coordinator and a defensive coordinator with just one year of experience.
The Pirates had enjoyed a measure of success in their first two seasons, making the playoffs, but not advancing to a championship game. In order to take that next step, the franchise would have to find quality players, the coaching staff would have to put those players in positions where they could succeed and most importantly, the players needed to make plays.
Massachusetts won its first ever Indoor Football League game, a 49-19 victory over the Louisville Xtreme, but after the first six games, the Pirates were just three and three.
Two of the three receivers who started the season were no longer with the team, former National Arena League MVP quarterback Sean Brackett had suffered an injury and had been replaced by backup QB Alejandro Bennifield and the team was on its second kicker.
As Bennifield developed, President and General Manager Jawad Yatim continued to bring in receivers who complemented the teams' top wideout Thomas Owens. As the season progressed, he made moves to help the defensive front and by the time the playoffs arrived, four different kickers had seen action with the Pirates. Yatim delivered the horses. Now the coaching staff had to ride them.
First year Offensive Coordinator Bones Bagaunte developed an offense that was the third highest scoring unit in the IFL, averaging 43.8 points per game. The offensive line provided protection for Bennifield and made holes for running back Justin Stockton. Stockton was fifth in rushing with 528 yards and ranked fourth with 40.6 yards per game. Bennifield finished second in touchdowns 43 and yards with 1,972. Owens emerged as the only receiver in the IFL with over 1,000 receiving yards (1,014) and was second with 27 touchdown receptions.
Defensive Coordinator Rayshaun Kizer engineered a defense that allowed the fewest points per game in the IFL at 31.6 and five times held opponents under 20 points in a game. Against the run, the Pirates were the best allowing 3.1 yards per carry and were the only team to keep opposing quarterbacks under a 50 percent completion percentage at 48.6.
Special Teams did their part with the best kickoff return average at 18.6 and kicker Josh Gable's 8.1 points per game was number one in the IFL.
Great teams learn overcome adversity and after a .500 start to the season, the Pirates went on an 11-game winning streak to finish with an overall record of 14-3; winning the United Bowl over the Arizona Rattlers in overtime 37-34.
It so happened that the players did make the plays throughout the year. Josh Gable helped the Pirates with back-to-back game winning field goals to defeat Tucson and Frisco. The offense scored 50 or more points in the final five regular season games and during the playoffs, the defense was at its best allowing just 25 points per contest.
Bennifield was named the Most Valuable Player in the United Bowl and nine Pirates received All-IFL postseason honors. Wide receiver Thomas Owens, center Jordan McCray, defensive lineman Toby Johnson and defensive back Harlan Miller were named First Team All-IFL. Offensive lineman Jared Thomas, defensive lineman JD Griggs, linebacker Martrell Spaight, defensive back Chucky Williams and kick returner Laquvionte Gonzalez were named to the second team. Owens was a unanimous first-team selection and Thomas and Gonzalez were also named to the league's All-Rookie team.
The City of Worcester recognized the Pirates in a City Hall celebration where team founder, co-owner, president and general manager Jawad Yatim received the key to the city. In tribute to the champions, the Pirates banner now hangs at Boston's Logan Airport alongside all of the other title teams from the Bay State. In 2021 the Massachusetts Pirates had all the answers.
2022: There are countless examples in professional sports where a team wins a championship and the following season, they miss the playoffs entirely. Pirates Founder, Co-Owner and General Manager Jawad Yatim was not going to let that happen. Yatim went right to work and by the end of January had re-signed 14 players who were on the Massachusetts 2021 roster as they were looking to defend the United Bowl Crown.
Yatim also made a coaching change as Patrick Pass, the Head Coach of the 2021 champions, was promoted to Director of Football Development and Rayshaun Kizer, who was the Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator, was elevated to Head Coach. Kizer saw an additional 18 players join the Pirates crew before the home opener. It was a great collection of talent that also gained the attention of the United States Football League and the Canadian Football League.
The season began with a thrilling 30-27 victory over the Frisco Fighters as kicker Josh Gable booted a 33-yard field goal as time expired. Just days after the win, offensive lineman Marquis Lucas, defensive lineman Toby Johnson and wide receiver Teo Redding would be playing in the USFL. They would soon be joined by defensive back Corrion Ballard and defensive lineman Vantrel McMillan.
The CFL had already picked up Pirates wide receiver Jalin Marshall before the start of the season. Before the ink had dried on the press release naming Gable as the IFL’s Special Team’s Player of the Week, he was in Edmonton with the Elks. Not long after, wideout Johnathon Johnson would be making the move up north to Saskatchewan.
That prompted Yatim to make at least 30 more in-season moves as he assembled a roster that would eventually help the Pirates to a playoff berth in its fourth consecutive season. The journey to the postseason was not easy.
Massachusetts won its first three games and against Bismarck, United Bowl MVP quarterback Alejandro Bennifield earned IFL Offensive Player of the Week honors having a career day with 19 completions for 262 passing yards with six touchdown passes in a 54-43 victory. The following week the Pirates saw their 14-game winning streak dating back to last season come to an end in a 38-31 overtime loss in Green Bay. From that point forward the team battled through injuries and covid related issues and yet never lost back-to-back games.
In game number nine with the Pirates trailing Sioux Falls 42-36, Bennifield was injured on the team’s final drive. Pirates back-up quarterback Mike Glass III came on with 33 seconds remaining and threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Thomas Owens with six seconds to play leading the Pirates to a 43-42 victory.
The following week Glass IIi worked his magic again, this time finding wide receiver Darren Carrington II in the left corner of the end zone with nine seconds to play to lead the Pirates to a 28-25 win over the Bismarck Bucks at Phoenix Field at the DCU Center. With a 7-3 record, things were looking good. Then an injury to Glass III left Massachusetts scrambling.
Yatim found a new quarterback in Tasleem Wilson. Wilson would start the next five games for the Pirates which included a June 25 win over the Storm in Sioux Falls that clinched a playoff berth for Massachusetts. In the 69-55 victory Wilson established a Pirates single game record for touchdown responsibility as he passed for seven scores and added two more rushing. For his efforts he was the IFL’s Co-Offensive Player of the Week.
The Pirates finished the regular season with an 11-5 record as Bennifield returned to the lineup in a 60-17 win over San Diego. Massachusetts appeared ready for the playoffs as all three phases of the team put points on the board. Defensive back Aarion Maxey-Penton returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown. It was his 12th in a regular season game which tied a Pirates’ record and his seventh of the season earning him IFL Defensive Player of the Week honors. The game also featured two kickoff returns for touchdowns by Jovon Durante of 52 yards and a 48-yarder by Isaac Zico.
The season would come to an end the same way it started with a game going to overtime at Phoenix Field at the DCU Center as The Quad City Steamwheelers defeated the Pirates 39-38 in the first round of the playoffs.
The Pirates saw four players earn All-IFL honors. Wide receiver Thomas Owens was a First-Team Offense selection. Owens finished the regular season leading the IFL with 899 receiving yards. He was second in touchdown receptions with 21 and ranked third with 63 receptions, 14.3 yards per catch and 59.9 receiving yards per game. He was also fifth with 4.2 receptions per game. Owens finished seventh in scoring averaging 9.3 points per game.
Aarion Maxey-Penton was a member of the All-IFL First Team Defense. The Defensive back led the IFL with seven interceptions during the regular season. He also finished second with 24 passes defended and in passes broken up with 17.
Defensive lineman Da’Sean Downey only appeared in ten games due to injury but his 30 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks, three passes broken up and a 15-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Green Bay earned him All-IFL Second Team defensive honors.
Offensive lineman Roubbens Joseph was selected to the IFL’s Second Team Offense. Joseph’s steady play helped the Pirates to average 41.8 points per game as the team ranked fourth averaging 21.7 yards per game and 146.7 passing yards per contest. He was part of an offensive line that allowed just 15 sacks which was tied for third best in the league.