Start, Sit & The Front Yard (A Fantasy Story)
If you’re lucky as a writer, you’ll stumble across a few stories in your career that stop you dead in your tracks. Tales that are so unbelievable, yet so real, that they make you feel like there will never be enough words to do it justice.
This is one of those stories.
And it begins tucked in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the shores of Lake Hartwell, North Carolina, in a time where you can hear the song echoes of Darius Rucker’s cover of “Wagon Wheel” coming from the college campus.
Riggs Hall Room 301, Clemson University (Spring Semester, 2013)
During the orientation meeting for Theta Tau (ΘΤ), a coed engineering fraternity, we find three freshmen, John Luke (JL) Garafalo, Simon Groeneveld and Tim Wright. They didn’t know it then – sitting there just trying to find their place at university – but the three would come to not only become best friends, but they would begin a company that eight years later would change the face of fantasy football industry.
Prior to joining the fraternity, Simon and Tim met the same way many college roommates have met since the late 2000s: Facebook.
Simon, originally from Powder Springs, Georgia, a suburb roughly 20 miles northwest of Atlanta, was the type of kid growing up who was friends with everyone, anyone from his wrestling teammates to classmates in orchestra, in which he played the cello. Tim, on the other hand, was a spiky-haired, former junior Olympic trampolinist. He was first known to some as the dude to show up and go hard at casual campus sports like volleyball and ultimate frisbee.
JL, whom Tim and Simon didn’t meet until the second semester of their freshmen year, is originally from Montgomery County, Maryland. He grew up around the game of football with his brother, who’s 14 years older than him and played center at Maryland when JL was only 5 years old. But JL carved his own path, playing baseball and basketball competitively and finding other interests like music and film.
After JL grew close to Simon and Tim during the pledging process of ΘΤ, the three were part of a founding group of guys the following academic year that re-chartered Pi Kappa Phi (ΠKΦ), social fraternity at Clemson.
Spring Break, 2014
Later that academic year, while on a spring break trip up the East Coast and back, JL visited a shore house of a friend who was a part of ΘΤ and also lived in Montgomery County. There he met Maria V., who was their visiting the same friend JL had come to see.
“Maria and I met for only a couple of days,” JL said in an Oct. 4 interview. “Immediately, the first thing we did was face off in beer pong and start shit-talking each other – which is very much our relationship.”
After the semester ended and before JL left for the summer to go to Seattle, he invited Maria and their mutual friends to his bay house for his birthday. That’s where the two began talking, which would eventually lead to them dating that summer.
Fall Semester, 2014: The Glory Days
Nobody’s exactly sure what song was playing on the radio as JL returned to Clemson for his junior year in August, but odds are it was Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are Back In Town” – a precursor to what be some of the most important and best times of his life.
Upon his return, he and Simon began a keeper fantasy football league for their new-founded fraternity. This league not only caused the two to become deeply interested in the game, but it also helped cement their friendship, which never has a dull moment.
“On the way home from the draft, it was fun and exciting,” Simon said in an Oct. 4 interview. “It was mine and JL’s first live draft. Spirits are truly high as we’re driving home in my minivan when in the middle of the road, a possum jumps out. I nailed it, and we started screaming.”
After the draft, the two became more and more invested in the game as the season went on, tuning into shows like “The Fantasy Footballers” consistently. Collegiate weeks that were usually only marked with exams, assignments and gamedays, suddenly became filled with waiver wire moves, trade discussions and start/sit decisions.
While visiting Maria at Towson University back in Maryland that fall, JL met Josh Fewster. Josh and JL remained casual acquaintances for some time until the two learned of their mutual love for fantasy football, in addition to the content surrounding it. Once again, the game strengthens bonds.
Post-Graduation: The Real World
Eventually, JL, Simon, Tim, Maria and Josh all left their glory days behind and graduated at various times from 2016-2018. After graduations, the friends, like most college crews do, all went their separate ways.
With Simon and Tim spending some extra time in Clemson finishing their degrees, JL returned to Baltimore where he used his degree in computer science to work for a start-up company.
Josh, also graduated from college and residing in the Baltimore area, bounced around various jobs – working as an assistant manager at Sherwin Williams, doing mortgage broking, selling insurance and eventually working as an account manager for employee benefits.
A year after JL left his fellow Tigers at Clemson, Tim headed to Orlando to put his engineering degree to the test, working on large missiles for Lockheed Martin. The year following, Simon got his degree and had a job lined up with Panasonic in the Atlanta area for their automotive division as a project lead for an engineering team.
With the friends now scattered along the east, working in their chosen fields, real life seemed to sink in. They replaced their late nights together with early mornings at jobs that paid the bills but didn’t offer much personal satisfaction.
One of the seldom highlights during this time as the group adjusted to post-academia was the creation of “The Backyard Dynasty League,” which brought the guys all back together at JL and Maria’s house in Baltimore for the startup draft.
2019: Just Go for It
“I hit a breaking point at my job,” said Simon. “It was slowly sucking out my soul. One day, I don’t remember what set me off, but I just had to leave and walk out of the office or I was going to quit on the spot.”
Simon confided in JL, letting him know about his desire to leave his job but his uncertainty of what he was going to do next. JL, also no longer satisfied at the startup he was at, realized it was maybe time to do their own thing.
JL had been working on various fantasy football tools at the time, including a draft tracker that let you compare and grade your teams. He completed several market assessments which led him to believe that the fantasy football industry was a space that was underserved, growing fast and open to new products.
In April 2019, JL reached out to Andy Holloway, the host of his favorite podcast, asking to pick his brain about the business side of the industry. Though a lot came out of that conversation, one of the biggest things that happened was that Andy encouraged JL to attend the Fantasy Sports Gaming Association (FSGA) Conference later that summer.
Despite being on vacation in June, at the time of the conference, JL cut it short to make sure he could find a way to get there.
“I ended up making that move, and it ended being one of the biggest decisions of my life because it led to a lot of relationships that got us started. I remember distinctly at the conference… thinking that by fall I was going to leave my job.”
After the conference that that summer, the guys became serious about making this career shift and began working together, putting the wheels in motion for a trade tool that they planned to build.
In October, JL and Simon made the risky decision to ultimately leave their full-time jobs and go all-in on their new company, Front Yard Fantasy (FYF). They spent the next several months building the tool and solely focusing on product.
“I remember at one point talking to my mom saying, ‘I don’t know if this is the idea [referring to a previous business idea], but whatever JL is doing, I’m doing it,’” Simon said. “’I don’t know what he’s doing but whatever it is I’m in’… I’ve always known JL is going to be successful. Just his drive, motion and his ability to network is something I wanted to tie myself to.”
2020: Content, Community & COVID-19
Just as the COVID-19 pandemic began to hit the U.S. and change the world as we know it, JL, Simon and Josh recorded their first episode of the “Front Yard Fantasy Podcast.”
“The podcast, I wouldn’t say was rough, as I had a good time doing it, but we took way too long to record those,” Josh said in an Oct. 4 interview. “I was so happy when they asked me to do the podcast. I really enjoyed that process.”
Eventually, the guys shifted the focus of the podcast around a game they called “Poll Perception,” where they would guess the results of a fantasy football poll from Reddit or Twitter.
Following a stint of doing just “Poll Perception,” Josh pushed the group to think about shifting the podcast to be more like a game show and have various games including “Fantasy H-O-R-S-E,” “Fantasy Quiplash” and “Brackets.”
After having a successful run with the podcast during the early days of the COVID-19 quarantine, the guys put the trading tool on the shelf and decided to dedicate efforts to their content.
They quickly gained a following during the summer of 2020 and became faces within the fantasy football Twitter community. By the time the 2020 season kicked off, the group decided that the most effective way for them to gain traction was to do a livestream five days a week throughout the duration of that fantasy football season.
2021: Full Steam Ahead
The 2020 season was a success with FYF consistently growing their audience and adding new games to the show like “Fantasy Guess Who?,” “Fantasy Feud, ” “Tiers” and “Fantasy Spy.”
“I remember JL came back to me after the season and said that we’re going to keep doing this every day, and I told him, ‘you’re a maniac,’” Josh said.
Perhaps JL was a maniac. But their dedication and commitment, inspired by JL’s will, has begun to pay off. Over the summer, FYF finalized a partnership to do two shows a week with FanDuel, one of the U.S. leaders in Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) and sports gambling.
Yes, FYF has, too, had its fair share of adversity, like in 2020 when they pulled the plug on the draft tool after 10 months of work. But it’s been matched with breathtaking highs like guest-appearing on Sirius XM Radio and signing a contract with FanDuel. But despite all of it and everything in-between, it hasn’t changed who they are and their hunger to make an impact on the industry.
“We haven’t made it yet,” Simon said. “We’re not there or even close. But there have been moments that have made us feel good and built confidence.”
We’re All in This Together
If you’re a fan of FYF, you probably recognize all three of JL, Simon and Josh, whether it be in-person or by looking at their college photos. But what you might not recognize are the other contributors to the company who have supported them along the way.And that starts with Tim, who appears on their livestream each Friday, adding a flavor of fun and excitement to the cast. His attitude of not giving a damn about what others think radiates and makes him a personality to want to be around.
The other member of the team who has been there supporting the guys from the beginning is Maria. She never questioned JL’s decision to switch career paths and often acted as a sounding board for many of the group’s ideas.
“She’s been there from the beginning, always encouraging us,” JL said. “There wouldn’t be FYF if it weren’t for Maria and the sacrifices she’s made. People don’t realize that starting your own company and going down this path consumes your life. Almost every waking thought is around this… And Maria is always that first person I bounce those ideas off and get perspective from.”
It seems clear that from that first meeting at the shore house playing beer pong to now, Maria has always challenged JL and his friends to be the best version of themselves.
“JL is one of the most hardworking people I know,” Maria said in an Oct. 4 interview. “I don’t have any doubt that he won’t succeed in whatever he puts his mind to, whether that’s software engineering or product. When he got together with Simon and Josh to do this, I knew there were no better people to do this with.”
The final and most recent addition to the FYF team is none other than Jay Felicio, a known member of the fantasy football industry, who serves as the company’s content manager.
JL originally met Jay in a Twitter group chat called “Thick as Thieves,” and instantly struck up a friendship. When Simon contracted COVID-19 during the spring, Jay stepped in booking guests for their shows and hasn’t stopped since.
“Jay does a lot that people don’t see,” Josh said. “He is the middle piece of the puzzle.”
Front Yard Fantasy: Final Verdict
The story of FYF and its founders’ relationships with one another, spanning eight years now, is complex and filled with twists and turns.
However, it’s one worth telling again and again. It reminds us that while we all make choices in this life, everything happens for a reason. If JL followed in his brother’s footsteps and went to Maryland, or just even didn’t pledge to ΘΤ, hundreds of viewers each day would be without their favorite show.
And if he didn’t decide to go to the shore that spring break, the fantasy industry may have been robbed of one of the best couples in it and Josh, one of the most-relatable personalities out there.
Their story also proclaims the power the game of fantasy football has to impact real lives. All the characters of the FYF cast’s lives have been affected forever because of this game.
And it’s a chain reaction. Countless others, including myself have been impacted by the presence of FYF in the fantasy football industry.
JL is someone I’ve turned to for advice at times. Simon is one of the first people I can count being in my messages if anything is ever wrong. Josh will drop everything at a moment’s notice to appear on our podcast or be interviewed and is one of the best conversations I’ve ever had.
I know Maria inspires other females to get involved with the fantasy football community. Every moment I’ve gotten to spend around Tim, online or in-person, has been an absolute blast in which I can’t stop laughing. And Jay, despite being the newest addition to the team, is one of my oldest and best friends in the industry that I feel like I can turn to for anything.
Being able to tell their remarkable story and learning lessons like “don’t let today be a bad day just because yesterday was” and “always understanding the why” along the way, is something I’ll be forever impacted by.
And isn’t that what this life is all about? Making an impact and being impacted by others?
Alright, and here we go.
The following start/sit selections are based on stats, trends and film research, reflecting value in Points Per Reception (PPR) Redraft Leagues.
Quarterback I’d Start this Week:
Trey Lance (San Francisco): I’ve been excited to see Trey Lance play in the NFL since late 2019. And with Jimmy Garoppolo, who’s dealing with a calf injury, not at practice so far this week, it looks like the time has finally come.
Last week, in just 51 percent of the offensive snaps, Lance scored more than 20 fantasy points. Though a majority of his passing production came on a few big plays, he rushed seven times for 41 yards. For reference, Lamar Jackson leads the league with an average of 10.5 rushing attempts per game, and Jalen Hurts is next with 8.5.
If Lance rushes for somewhere between the two, he will have fantasy value. The 49ers will need to be aggressive this week to keep up with the 4-0 Cardinals and Kyler Murray this week. Their defense is solid, but they allow the fifth most Yards Per Carry (YPC) to opposing quarterbacks. Expect a safe floor with the potential for more in Lance’s first-career start this week.
Quarterback I’d Sit this Week:
Matt Ryan (Atlanta): Matt Ryan had his first QB1 performance of the season last week against Washington last week, completing 25 of 42 passes for 283 and four touchdowns. Those looking to ride a Ryan hot streak this week as he heads across the pond better think twice.
Last week’s performance could be an outlier for the 36-year-old quarterback as he faced Washington, who have surprisingly allowed the most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks. Three of his four touchdowns also went to scatback Cordarrelle Patterson.
His opponent this week in London is the New York Jets. While the Jets are by no means a stout defense, they’ve been exposed mainly to the run and held tight against quarterbacks with second-year cornerback Bryce Hall looking like a star. They are currently allowing the third least amount of points per game to the position.
With Calvin Ridley now missing the trip due to a personal reason, I’m hands off Ryan here in Week 5.
Running Back I’d Start this Week:
Leonard Fournette (Tampa Bay): Leonard Fournette (Playoff Lenny) was a favorite value pick at the position coming into the season. With Giovanni Bernard still banged up and Ronald Jones still not performing up to par, Fournette seems to have taken control of the backfield.
He saw a season-high 82 percent of snaps last week and averaged a solid 4.6 YPC. Averaging 4.8 targets per game, we know Fournette has a safe floor. We’re still just waiting for the touchdowns to come to bring his fantasy ceiling with it.
This week he has as good of a chance as any to fall into the end zone a time or two as the Buccaneers play at home to the underwhelming, 1-3 Dolphins. Tampa Bay should lead, leaving the door open for Playoff Lenny to expose Miami’s rush defense, which has allowed 123.3 rushing yards and 1.3 touchdowns per game to the position.
Running Back I’d Sit this Week:
Kenneth Gainwell (Philadelphia): Rookie Kenneth Gainwell is the latest of the University of Memphis running backs to make some noise early in their NFL career. Gainwell is currently the PPR RB24, eight spots ahead of starter, Miles Sanders.
He’s rushed for a sound 84 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries but has made most of his chops in the passing game, hauling in 13 receptions for 114 yards. Moving forward most week, he should be as good of a play as Sanders. Just not this week.
The Eagles travel to the Carolina to face the 3-1 Panthers, who have been a strong defense all season, particularly against running backs. They’re allowing an average of just 2.3 receptions per game and have allowed only one touchdown to the position all year. This includes games against Pro Bowl running backs Alvin Kamara and Ezekiel Elliott.
Wide Receiver I’d Start this Week:
Marquise Brown (Baltimore): Marquise “Hollywood” Brown seems to be taking the third-year leap alongside Lamar Jackson, who looks to be improved as a passer. Brown is top 10 in the league in yards (326) and Yards per Reception (YPR) 17.2.
The Ravens’ Week 5 opponent, the Indianapolis Colts, have struggled against receivers this season, allowing an average of 161.5 yards and two touchdowns per game to the position. They’ve also fallen victim to the deep shot to receivers, allowing an average of 15 YPR to them. All this should play in the favor of Brown this week, making him a WR2 with sky-high for Week 5.
Wide Receiver I’d Sit this Week:
JuJu Smith-Schuster (Pittsburgh): I was among the crowd who thought JuJu Smith-Schuster would have a bounce-back season. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case as Smith-Schuster sits fourth amongst Steelers pass catchers in targets and yards.
We all knew receivers Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool would diminish Smith-Schuster’s value, but what we didn’t know is that rookie running back Najee Harris would have a 31 percent target share through the first month of the season.
Ben Roethlisberger missed Smith-Schuster twice on routes that could have gone for touchdowns. Smith-Schuster’s volume floor is gone, and his big play ability is now diminished because of Roethlisberger’s sub-par accuracy. With the Denver Broncos having reliable cornerbacks in Patrick Surtain II and Kyle Fuller, I’m sitting Smith-Schuster this week everywhere possible.
If you have a feel-good story that you would like to share for an opportunity to be featured in an upcoming edition of “Start, Sit & Seth,” please reach out.
And for more fantasy football and uplifting content, you can find me on Twitter @Between_SethFF.