Like the snowbirds that have descended upon Florida for the winter, the Tampa Bay Vipers have officially settled in at their second home.
The Vipers, who will play home games at Raymond James Stadium and practice at Plant City Stadium, got the ball rolling on their offseason with Thursday afternoon’s light workout session at the former spring home of the Cincinnati Reds. Though it wasn’t anywhere near as intense as practices will normally be — the players didn’t wear pads, helmets or any other official team gear for its round of cardio — the team walked off the converted baseball field with a positive outlook.
“We got a lot out of it today,” head coach/general manager Marc Trestman said. “Players really locked in. Coaches were excited to coach. A lot of us haven’t coached for a while, so it was great to get up in front of the team and interact with the players.”
Plant City Stadium has been modified to give the Vipers everything they need to be the best they can be. The field’s been adapted for football with yard lines applied through most of the outfield. The team has access to the facility’s locker room and can lift weights in an enclosed space a short walk away from right field.
“We’re excited about it, and the players are as well,” Trestman said. “It’s really easy to see in their demeanor that they’re happy to have a home. They’re very appreciative of Plant City and appreciative of this environment we have. I mean, look at what we have. We get three meals a day and we go out and have recess every day in this gorgeous weather. And the players and the coaches are really appreciative to be here, and the way the community’s wrapped around us here and provided with this environment to be able to do our job — who wouldn’t want to come to work here every day?”
Quarterback Aaron Murray, who last played in the Alliance of American Football, said Plant City has been able to provide things for the team he didn’t have easy access to while with the Atlanta Legends.
“It’s a great feel so far,” Murray said. “I think the facilities, just comparing facilities for us compared to our team in Atlanta, we were practicing out at a high school and working out at LA Fitness. Now we have our own facility. We have our own fields. We have our own weight room.”
Next week, the Vipers will begin a round of OTAs before heading into the mini-camp series that will conclude on Dec. 18. The Vipers will start regular practices afterward and get fully prepared for the upcoming regular season. Tampa Bay will kick things off at 2 p.m. Feb. 9, 2020, with a road game against the New York Guardians. The Vipers’ home opener against the Houston Roughnecks is scheduled for a 2 p.m. start on Feb. 22, 2020.
With the start of a new chapter in their football lives just about two months away, the energy on the field at Plant City Stadium was excitement. Trestman said his group of players, like the rest of those in the XFL, is battle-scarred from previous pro football experiences. They were cut from their NFL teams, they were victims of the AAF’s midseason implosion, they were college standouts who couldn’t quite catch a break at the next level — they’re all getting another chance in a league that’s getting its own second chance.
“Every day you go on the field, you’ve got to be grateful for that,” running back Quinton Flowers said. “Every opportunity you get, you’ve got to capitalize on it.”
Local Vipers fans will have the chance to meet players, get autographs and get to know the team with next weekend’s VIPer Day event at Plant City Stadium. This fan fest runs from 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 14 and will have food, family-friendly fun and front-row seats to watch the team work. VIPer Day is an RSVP-only event, but you can register for it by either purchasing season tickets or signing up for the team’s newsletter online. Visit xfl.com/teams/tampa-bay to do so and to get more information about the team, ticket sales and merchandise.