Orlando Predators reap benefits of improved practice facility


Danny Morales / Valencia Voice

The Predators now practice at Thunder Field after having to find a new facility for the 2014 season.

Recruiting players to your team can be hard for an organization that has faced the trials and turmoil that the Orlando Predators have had in recent seasons.

However everything turned around when the Predators were bought by local millionaire David Siegel of Westgate Resorts. Siegel purchased the team and gave them their first real sense of stability in years after former owners had left the team in shambles.

With the new ownership came new practice facilities at Thunder Field, new offices in the Citrus Bowl, more funds for advertising and even the ability to return to their former home of the Amway Center for the 2015 season.

“Last year, it was a difficult sell from a recruiting standpoint, two losing seasons, going away from the Amway Center, maybe not having the best ownership last year,” said head coach Rob Keefe about the struggles of the organization. “The CFE Arena was a great marriage but this year was such an easier sell, it was Citrus Bowl practices, Citrus Bowl facilities,

“It was Amway Center game days, ESPN, local news stations covering us, it was just that much better than what we had last year.”

Last season the team practiced at the Robert Hungerford practice field located up I-4 in the historic town of Eatonville. The facilities were that of an inner-city high school with a poorly maintained field and a classroom turned into workout room and office for the coach.

Removing the team from their home of the Amway was a tough transition for players, having to bare the traffic and distance of traveling to Eatonville everyday for practice.

“You save a little gas, you don’t have to drive as far. We are able to rest a little more and get to the field sooner rather than have to wait in traffic all morning.” said wide receiver Greg Carr in regards to the new facilities at Thunder Field.

For others, the quality of the field itself was tough to deal with, dead spots and crabgrass plagued the field that also served as preparatory high schools field.

“It’s nice here [at Thunder Field], we have great grass, were not over at Hungerford anymore with the ditches and weeds out there,” said quarterback Bernard Morris who joined the squad late last season. “Hungerford played a good role for us, it kept us humble as far as what we did last year, but now that we have everything for us we have to really hone in and do the small things to make sure we come out successful.”

Morris played high school football right around the corner from the Citrus Bowl at Jones High School and has family all in the neighborhood, bringing him and his teammates the sense of home and belonging.

“It’s a luxury, we have a training table here and if there’s nothing I want to eat in there I can just go to my mom’s house,” said Morris as his young son tugged his arm. “It’s all good, I tell the guys, if you ever need anything, I can walk to my mom’s house from here, so it’s just a blessing to be able to play in front of family.”

Prior to leaving the Amway Center the team averaged over 12,000 in attendance almost every year since its inception in 1991. The move to the CFE Arena cost the franchise dearly, averaging just over 5,300 fans per game.

The elimination of the debt by Siegel that allowed the Predators return to the venue will hopefully bring the team back to the numbers they are used to at the Amway Center.

With over 4,000 season tickets sold and 3,000 more tickets already given away to veterans, the opening game on March 29, is expected to have a crowd of over 10,000 people in the upper and lower decks of the downtown arena.

The team is also offering a special if you purchase two sideline season tickets priced at $250+ you get two additional upper level season tickets for free. Dozens of other promotions and giveaways are expected throughout this coming season to help fill the seats of the 17,192 seat Amway Center.

The team will kickoff its 2015 season on Sunday, March 29, at the Amway Center at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at their website www.OrlandoPredators.com