International Sack Exchange
|Defensive lineman Joe Sykes has made quite the name for himself this season, his first with the SaberCats
By: Michael Guthrie
Any fan that watches the Arena Football League knows that it is predicated on scoring and not 28-21 scoring, more like don’t blink because you might miss two touchdowns type of scoring. The New York Dragons put up an AFL record 99 points in 2001, and it is not unheard of to have a quarterback throw for double-digit touchdowns in a game. Players are putting up numbers in one season that would be considered a great career in the National Football League. For example, the league record for touchdown catches in a season is 61; set in 2006 (Damian Harrell of the Colorado Crush) and the record for touchdown passes is currently being set this season, right now it’s at 118 and counting (Tommy Grady of the Utah Blaze).
So if you’re a defensive coordinator, how do you counteract these offensive tyrants? You get a man with a particular set of skills; you get a man by the name of Joe Sykes, who throughout his collegiate and professional career has been a player who is relentless in getting to the quarterback. It has been no different in 2012 for opposing offenses and the league is taking notice.
The 6’4”, 280-pound athletic phenomenon out of Southern has been wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks all season and it only stops when they are firmly planted into the turf. Sykes understands that offenses in the AFL have an advantage but responds by saying, “I don’t worry about the advantages the offense has in this game, I just play my game and the defense stays focused as a unit. We might not get all the calls, but we have to force the issue, force the offense into mistakes. As long as we play within the defensive scheme, we should be able to get some turnovers.”
During Sykes’ prodigious run in the 2012 season he has won the Riddell Defensive Player of the game award twice and the league’s Defensive player of the Week award once. He now owns the AFL record in sacks for a season and currently sits at 16.0; coincidentally he broke the previous record of current teammate Gabe Nyenhuis. When asked if he has gotten any grief from Nyenhuis about taking sole possession of the record, Sykes says, “We haven’t even really talked about it. We just root for each other during the game. I think he knew about the record but would tell me to just go out there and get sacks and I would tell him the same thing. I guess records are meant to be broken, you can’t think about it, you just have to go out there and perform, try to win.”
While Sykes has inscribed his name into the record books, it has not been about breaking records; it has been about playing winning football. “I just came in here and played. I wasn’t thinking about breaking the sack record, I just wanted to win and play with a great group of guys. The whole defense should take credit, all the way from the defensive backs to the defensive line. I give credit to everybody on defense who has helped me get to this point.”
But Sykes hasn’t done it all alone, as the SaberCats coaches and staff have put a plethora of talent around him. They basically have a who’s who of defensive line players, having Gabe Nyenhuis, Tim McGill, and Jermaine Smith, all of which rank in the top ten in sacks all-time in the AFL. “I couldn’t ask for anything more, it’s been an honor to play with three future hall of famers. Everybody just feeds off of each other. Tim (McGill), Jermaine (Smith), and Gabe (Nyenhuis). We play really well together and it shows,” says Sykes.
While his artistry on the field is unmistakable, there is much more to Sykes than meets the eye. During the offseason he lives in Canada, has even grown affection for hockey and is finally getting used to people saying “eh,” Sykes says with a grin, “ It’s funny because they actually do. It was sort of weird to get used to at first, but I find it pretty funny now.”
What is even more impressive is that he spends his spare time teaching youths in the area everything from math to giving guidance. Sykes explains by saying, “Just helping kids in any way I can, helping them to get on track and stay there. It can be anything from giving guidance and insight, to helping with schoolwork or whatever they need. It was great to do something in my free time and be able to help kids and be a role model.”
Sykes’ combination of talent both on and off the field exhibits the type of person that fits very well within the SaberCats organization. It is character like his that hopefully helps guide San Jose to a long and prosperous postseason run.