August 4, 2020
By Evan Lepler - "Disc In" Interview Series Archive
Many players develop into stars, while others arrive with already established expectations. When Andrew Roney first joined the Tampa Bay Cannons—then located in Jacksonville—teammates knew his reputation and thought he would be one of their top players immediately.
And just as they hoped, it did not take long for the Florida State product to make his mark on the AUDL. After a preseason foot injury delayed his debut, Roney played “a perfect game,” as his head coach characterized it, against the Atlanta Hustle for his impressive opening statement on April 30, 2016, a 23-18 Jacksonville triumph. Then, in his second opportunity as a pro two weeks later, with the Cannons trailing by one late in the fourth quarter against the Raleigh Flyers, the 22-year-old rookie showcased his speed, skill, and sense of the moment by capping a long sprint with a superhuman full-extension snag. The remarkable highlight was the equalizer on the scoreboard and a critical turning point in the Cannons’ pursuit of victory. From there, they never trailed again that night against the defending South Division champs, prevailing by one in overtime, with Roney playing more points than anyone else in the game. The thrilling layout was also promptly picked up by ESPN.com under the headline “Ultimate frisbee player makes unbelievable catch.”
With six goals, five assists, and, most importantly, two wins in his first two games, Roney quickly illustrated that he would be a weapon to watch at the professional level, even if that early success did not necessarily indicate exactly how his abilities would impact the league in the years ahead. Limited to just six games in 2016, Roney scored 11 goals and dished 10 assists, a solid start but also a small fraction of what was to come. When the team’s personnel began to change in the ensuing seasons and he assumed greater disc dominance, he vaulted himself into annual All-AUDL conversation by becoming one of the sturdiest O-line anchors the league has seen.
Over the past three seasons, Roney is one of just four AUDL players who’s recorded at least 50 assists every year, along with Chicago’s Pawel Janas, Minnesota’s Josh Klane, and Philadelphia’s Sean Mott. With 171 assists since the start of the 2017 season, Roney has quickly moved into the top 25 on the all-time chart. And in the next game he plays—hopefully come this April with the AUDL safely returns—he’ll break Cole Sullivan’s Cannons’ franchise record of 179 career regular season assists, a mark that Roney matched in Tampa Bay’s regular season finale last year. For the 2019 campaign, in fact, he averaged 6.3 assists/game; while that was just for a single season, it’s worth noting for perspective that the all-time career assists per game mark is 6.2, belonging to the aforementioned Janas.
Furthermore, there’s no doubt that Roney’s individual performance over multiple seasons has earned him the respect of his peers and his opponents. Now, his focus shifts to helping his franchise return to regular contention in the AUDL’s new Atlantic Division, featuring two of the Cannons’ former South Division rivals (Atlanta and Raleigh) and three other organizations they’ve never faced before (DC, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh). With the alternate landscape—and no more trips to Texas—he brings a renewed sense of optimism about Tampa Bay returning to the postseason for the first time since 2017.
I caught up with Roney late last week to discuss his outlook for the Cannons’ new division, the weighty burden of responsibility he owns every time he takes the field, and the toughest matchups he’s dealt with during his four years competing in the AUDL. The conversation has been edited slightly for clarity.
Evan Lepler: Firstly, how are you and what has your life been like over the past several months?
Andrew Roney: Life has been about as good as it could be, all things considered. My wife and I are both still working, and my family is healthy – so I have very few complaints. We also recently moved into our first home. Our dog has been non-stop in the backyard since we moved in last week.
EL: How has your life been impacted, if at all, by the recent surge of cases in Florida? I understand that Florida is far from the only hot-spot in the country right now, but I am curious to hear your perspective on what it's like being where you are right now?
AR: I will say that life in Florida has been a little on edge recently. Given the current uptick of cases in the state we have started to be even a little more cautious. We haven’t been back to the gym, even though they are open. So that means a lot of running and body weight workouts at the house. Outside of that, I have been picking up disc golf with some of the ultimate guys in the area because it’s an easy way to get outside but not be right around people.
EL: Moving to ultimate, with a dash of geography still mixed in, can you share where you've lived throughout your Cannons career and how your commute to practices or games has changed each season, especially with the franchise moving from Jacksonville to Tampa Bay? Knowing that many Cannons have had long trips to be a part of the team, I wonder which player has covered the most miles through the years to be a regular part of the team?
AR: I have always lived in Tampa when I have played for the Cannons. So, when it was in Jacksonville it was about 3.5 hours each way, which meant we never practiced during the week. Gamedays at “home” were just as much travel as away games. So, when they made the move to Tampa, I was very excited. Being less than 30 minutes to the games or practices makes it way easier. I felt way more refreshed for games. As far as the player who has traveled the most, I’m not completely sure. With Tampa being home now my bet would be on Brad [Seuntjens]. He comes from Savannah, GA. So that’s about 5-6 hours from Tampa. And I believe it was still around 2-2.5 hours from Jacksonville.
EL: In 2019, perhaps no individual had more impact on his team's overall performance than you, a statement reinforced by the sentiments of your coach and several teammates. What was it like to shoulder such a significant responsibility last year, and how did you balance the mindset of trying to lead by taking control on the field vs. deferring and giving others an opportunity to do more? Additionally, how'd you balance wanting to play as many points as possible while also trying to maximize your impact when out there?
AR: Last year was a roller coaster for me. At times I can say I didn’t do well with balancing leading on the field/taking control and letting others succeed or fail on the field. It’s a tough balance. Development of that younger talent comes from allowing them to make those mistakes and learning from them, and at times we didn’t allow our group to do that as much last year. I watch a lot of our film and can say there was a few times I watched myself take a throw and just think, “Oh no”.
We were looking to make some strategic changes this year. I was looking forward to seeing how that would work. Play time was difficult too because I always wanted to be out there. But AUDL games are a different animal and you just can’t do that. I typically know when I’m running myself too much. But towards the end of the game, it’s empty the tank.
EL: Before going further, can you briefly share your narrative regarding how you entered into ultimate? What sports did you play growing up, how did you discover the disc, and when did your passion for frisbee really begin to blossom?
AR: I grew up playing baseball mostly. I played a lot of pickup sports in the neighborhood with kids: basketball, football, etc. I started playing [ultimate] with a church youth group with no backs to end zones and no structure. Once I got to college I really fell in love with the game. I went out for the club team at Florida State University. The years playing for that team are by far some of the best years of playing ultimate to this day. We were a middle of the pack regionals team my freshman year and eventually made the semis of Nationals my last year.
EL: So, this chapter of the "Disc In" series is featuring players who have registered at least 20 goals, 20 assists, and 20 blocks in a season. Over the course of your career, how have you balanced the desire to be as well-rounded of a player as possible while also trying to emphasize or specialize in a certain area? Between cutting/receiving, throwing, and defending, which is the category that you still feel you can improve the most in?
AR: I’m always trying to develop areas of my game. Watching what others do well and implementing that at practices to see if I can add it to my skills. I’ve been fortunate to line up against some of the best players in the game at practice—being guarded by them or having to guard them—so that helps tremendously.
The second part of this question is a little loaded, but I still think its throwing for me. Watching film, you can see that there are other guys around the league that have throwing characteristics that I don’t have, but I can replicate with practice. Whether that be release points on their throws, power on backhand hucks, etc. And considering how much handling I do it makes sense to continue to develop as much as I can there.
EL: You are one of four players in the AUDL who has recorded at least 50 assists in three straight seasons. I wonder if, from your perspective, this is just a random fact that you happen to be involved in or if it's something at all meaningful that you take any pride in, either in terms of the consistency of production or the elite group of throwers that it puts you in? The next layer follow-up is about stats in general and how often you look at your stats and what you value most from your statistical resume?
AR: Yeah, I take pride in that. I work hard outside of games to try and be productive on the field, so this validates that in some way. But I’ll be happier when I can say that I’m more consistent and have less turnovers for the year. That will put my team in a better spot to win. I’ll be honest here; I look at the stats too much. I wish I was the guy that said I don’t and don’t care. I love the assists, but I value the blocks category the most. On the AUDL field, it’s so difficult to continually produce blocks in games.
EL: Considering you've played plenty of offense and plenty of defense throughout your career, I'll ask you both: who are the toughest players you've had to guard when you've been on D? And who are the most difficult defenders that you've had to deal with when you've been on offense?
AR: Guys like [Raleigh’s] Terrence Mitchell or [Dallas’] Carson Wilder are the most difficult for me to cover. I don’t get matched up on them very often, for good reason. But both guys have straight line speed and some HOPS. Glad that one of the two are out of the division now. Tim McAllister on Raleigh has been one of the most consistent guys to cover me on the field. He started to learn my tendencies and what I want to do, which makes it more difficult to be as productive.
EL: What were your initial thoughts when the AUDL announced divisional realignment, giving the Cannons three new divisional opponents to match against?
AR: Not looking to give any of our new opponent’s bulletin board material here, but we were excited. We were hopeful for a more balanced division. Excited to play some new teams. And I was most excited about not having to travel to Texas for the doubleheader over there. Just brutal.
EL: Finishing with a couple non-ultimate questions: outside of ultimate, who's your favorite athlete, and why? What's your favorite team, and why?
AR: My favorite athlete is Tiger Woods. One of the best golfers of all time and at his peak was unstoppable. I also really like watching Russell Westbrook. He’s a fiery competitor. Plays with a chip on his shoulder and wants to be the best player on the court. My favorite team is FSU. I’m really hoping for some college football.
EL: What’s the best tv show or movie you've watched at some point during the quarantine?
AR: The best show I’ve watched during quarantine is Psych. I had friends watch it when I was younger and never gave it a chance. I’m glad I did though.