21 Jan

Breakers dominate; former Chiefs LB tabbed as Defensive Player of the Year

And then, there were none. After a 4-0 start, the New Orleans Breakers suffered their first loss of the 2023 season following a 17-10 loss to Memphis Showboats in Week 5. While the loss ended their perfect season, it did little to dampen what was a glittering start for coach John DeFilippo and his team.

The Breakers have been the USFL’s best team so far, but everything is still up for grabs as the league heads into the second half. Each team in the North division currently has a 2-3 record. New Orleans has a one game lead in the South division, with the Gamblers and Stallions just one game behind. Memphis closed the gap between themselves and the Breakers in the standings this past weekend after holding New Orleans’ explosive offense to just one touchdown.

Before Week 6 kicks off, here’s a look at our USFL midseason awards.

Winner: RB Wes Hills, Breakers
Runner-up: QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Breakers

Hills epitomizes what the USFL is all about. Despite a successful college career and a brief run of success in the NFL, Hills was largely inactive over the last two years while playing in the Canadian Football League. After a long wait, Hills has finally gotten his chance to be a featured back at the pro level with the Breakers. To say that Hills has taken advantage of the opportunity would be a vast understatement.

The league’s current leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, Hills set the modern league’s single-game records after racking up 191 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries in New Orleans’ Week 3 win over the defending champion Stallions. A week later, Hills ran for two scores in the Breakers’ 20-17 win over the Generals. Even in defeat this past weekend, Hills tallied 82 total yards that included seven catches for 46 yards.

“All the ups and downs, it’s great to see that I’m able to show the world and prove it myself that I can play,” Hills said during a recent interview with CBS Sports. “I’ve got a little game. It’s a good feeling. It’s a really good feeling.”

Offensive Player of the Year
Winner: QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Breakers
Runner-up: QB Alex McGough, Stallions

Bethel-Thompson jumped to the USFL this year after a highly successful six-year run in the Canadian Football League that included two Grey Cup victories. The soon-to-be 35-year-old has nearly 300 more passing yards than the league’s second-leading passer, the Stars’ Case Cookus. Along with completing nearly 67% of his passes, Bethel-Thompson is also tied for second in the USFL with seven touchdown passes.

“He’s a great leader, great person, even better father,” Hills recently said of Bethel-Thompson, who prior to the CFL played for five different NFL teams that included a stint with John DeFilippo in Philadelphia in 2016. “He’s a great guy. It means a lot to be able to play with a veteran that has won championships and has been so successful at his position. … He came in and took control of the offense.”

McLeod Bethel-Thompson had himself a day yesterday 💪 pic.twitter.com/8Yqp4lggdb

— New Orleans Breakers (@USFLBreakers) April 30, 2023
Defensive Player of the Year
Winner: DE Breeland Speaks, Panthers
Runner-up: LB Chris Orr, Generals

The Chiefs’ second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Speaks has finally reached his potential as a pro player in the USFL. Speaks, who played with five NFL teams from 2018-21, currently leads the USFL with 6.5 sacks. He was tabbed as the league’s Defensive Player of the Week for a second time this past weekend after having six tackles and 2.5 sacks in Michigan’s loss to Pittsburgh.

Coach of the Year
Winner: John DeFilippo, Breakers
Runner-up: Ray Horton, Maulers

A longtime NFL assistant who won a ring as the Eagles quarterbacks coach, DeFilippo is enjoying a strong start to his career as a head coach. His offense currently boasts the league’s passer (Bethel-Thompson), rusher, (Hills) and receiver (Sage Surrett). The Breakers currently lead the USFL with an average of nearly 354 total yards per game.

In a short amount of time, DeFilippo has created a winning atmosphere in New Orleans that could result in the Breakers’ first championship.

“I love him,” Hills said of his coach. “He blessed me with this opportunity to come here and showcase what I can do. He’s a real players coach. … He’s not wound too tight. He’s a pretty laid back guy, but when it’s time to focus up and he needs to reel us back in, he does that with no problem.

“He has the team’s respect, by far. Everybody in that locker room loves him.”

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