Albuquerque, New Mexico, holds a special place in the heart of Kansas City Phantoms quarterback Donovan Porterie.
He established himself as a hometown hero when he played for the University of New Mexico. He threw for more than 3,000 yards and led the Lobos to a New Mexico Bowl victory against Nevada in 2007 as a sophomore.
Not only that, but he earned league Champions Indoor Football MVP honors with Albuquerque’s Duke City Gladiators last year, and he led his team to a league-leading 3,036 yards of total offense. But even after a breakout season in his seventh year playing arena football, he decided to come to the Phantoms for his eighth season. Why?
It was his connection with first-year Kansas City head coach Meadow Lemon that brought him to the Phantoms and has led him to another successful year.
“I have been used to this style offense when I began my arena career in Green Bay,” Porterie said while preparing for the Phantoms' regular season finale 7 p.m. Saturday against the Salina Liberty at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena. “Coming here was a comfortable fit because of the coaching.”
Lemon was Porterie’s offensive coordinator at Duke City, the Iowa Barnstormers and the with the Green Bay Blizzard. The two built a strong rapport with each other, and Lemon jumped on the opportunity to bring in the 6-foot-4, 225-pound signal caller, despite having interest from other quarterbacks.
“We trust each other and have a nice working relationship,” Lemon said. “We can brainstorm and we’re always on the same page.”
While the results have not shown in the Phantoms' record (3-8), Porterie has made an impact with his new team as he leads the league with 52 touchdowns and is second in yards per game (207.6).
So what makes him such a valuable asset to the Phantoms?
“I am going to say without a doubt that he’s the best quarterback in this league,” Lemon said. “He ranks in the top three or four in arena football period.
“His ability to anticipate where the receiver is going to be is his biggest asset. He puts the ball where they are going to be and not where they are open. He also has great vision and really observes the field well.”
Porterie is still putting up solid numbers despite losing three of his top four receivers at various points in the season — Dee Washington, O.J. Simpson and Jared Elmore. He’s found a way to adjust to having a brand new receiving corps. Since he’s worked with a new group that includes Thailand Pierce, Antonio Bray and Trey Cooper three weeks ago, he's averaged 183 yards per game.
“We definitely have the playmakers out there,” Porterie said. “The guys at the skill position know the timing now. You have to do a lot of teaching in practice (the past three weeks). At the start of the season, we had some really savvy veterans and we were able to take advantage of deep passes.
“Teams have started to play us a little differently and have dropped defensive linemen and linebackers back into the zone. We had to use our short passing game to extend the run lately. But we still take our shots when we have the opportunity.”
In those three games, the Phantoms have gone 1-2, which included a big 42-28 win against the Texas Revolution at home two weeks ago. Because of that win, Kansas City is still in the playoff hunt.
Julian Walker, whose nickname is “Juice,” has led the way in guiding the new receiver group and has emerged as Porterie’s go-to man. It should not be a surprise however as the two played together at Duke City.
“He’s making big plays for us,” Porterie said. “He’s been a big help with some of the new wide receivers. Being the leader of that group is something he has had to take on. Him being in the system, he can coach the other receivers on the fly.”
Offensive lineman Zachary Flordal has been a big part of the new passing game, as well. He sometimes lines up as a receiver and is a load to take down for opposing secondaries at 305 pounds.
“It’s definitely brutal for the other team to have to bring a big guy down like that,” Porterie said, laughing. “He actually has really good hands. He’s a big part of our offense.”
Porterie, Lemon and the rest of the Phantoms hope the new receiving corps can continue to produce today against Salina in the regular-season finale. With a win and a Texas Revolution loss, the Phantoms could sneak into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed, according to Lemon.
“It depends which one of our teams shows up,” Lemon said. “We have been up and down all year. When we’re clicking, we’re clicking. Last time we played Salina, our offense was clicking. We had 71 points. (Salina) has the No. 1 or 2 defense in the league. This is going to be a good test for us.”