By John Boyle Herald Writer
MARYSVILLE — In a cold indoor facility at the end of a quiet road in Marysville, 40 football players are getting ready to chase their dreams. But first, they have to wait for a couple dozen kids to finish their indoor soccer practice.
Such is the life of players in the unglamorous world of the Indoor Football League, which has added the Everett Raptors to the league this season.
The Raptors are now in their final week of preparation before kicking off their season Saturday in Kennewick, and like every team in the league, they’re an eclectic mix of former small-college standouts, players from big-time college programs, and even a few athletes who didn’t play any form of college football for various reasons.
But while their backgrounds may differ, every player has a couple of things in common. For starters, they are doing this for the love of the game. The IFL is a $225-a-week job — $250 if they win (how’s that for a lucrative win bonus?). Housing is provided during the season, but most players have day jobs, which is why the players are at Marysville Indoor Sports at 6 p.m. waiting until a bunch of kids finish playing indoor soccer to start practice.
The other reason these players are here is that, despite the long odds of which they’re well aware, they still are clinging to bigger dreams.
“My motivation of course is to get to the next level,” said Andre Piper-Jordan, an all-league receiver last season for the Kent Predators, who were later rebranded the Seattle Timberwolves.
Piper-Jordan played baseball and basketball at Everett Community College and played three seasons in the Oakland Athletics organization and one in United League Baseball. He knows he and everyone else on the team is fighting an uphill battle to get to the next level, but whether this is the last stop of his football career or not, he plans on enjoying the ride.
“That’s everyone’s dream to get to the next level, play in the NFL, but if not, shoot, I’m fine with that too,” said Piper-Jordan, who is from Federal Way. “I’m still at home, playing in front of my family, playing in front of my kids. I’m good, I’m content. I got paid to play baseball, paid to play football, what else can you ask for? Not too many people can say that.”
If the NFL may be an unlikely goal, it’s not an impossible one. Raptors coach Sean Ponder estimates six IFL players have moved on to the NFL in recent years, and last month cornerback Reggie Sullivan signed with the Carolina Panthers not long after signing with the Raptors.
“It’s a big scramble bag of guys that are out here,” said Ponder, whose team plays its home opener on March 1. “I always tell the guys, ‘There are a few reasons why you’re here. You either got overlooked or you’re not good enough.’ We want the guys who got overlooked. We’re trying to find that diamond in the rough, a player who can help the team win football games, but also do it the right way, be kind of a role model in the community. It’s not just always finding the best player, but finding a guy who has the ability to step to the next level but also has the personal skills.”
The challenge of uncovering those diamonds in the rough is one of the things that have kept Ponder coaching in the relatively obscure world of indoor football for more than a decade.
“I like it, because you get to take these guys who are really that one stepping stone away from getting there and you try to figure out why they’re not there,” said Ponder. “Is that player maybe not coachable? Maybe he doesn’t understand the football intelligence of certain positions, maybe he wasn’t coached very well in college. What are those things and how can we correct them and give them the best opportunity to get to the next level? You get to see if guys can move up, that’s the fun part. They’re willing to do whatever you need them to do to try to make that one last-ditch effort to make it.”
Of course for anyone on the Raptors roster to move on from this level, it would help if the first-year team finds success on the field, and that goal comes first ahead of any NFL dreams.
“Everybody who does anything at life, you always look to reach the next level, but while we’re here, we’re not taking it for granted,” said running back Anthony Gay, who is from Orlando and was a walk-on at the University of Florida. “It’s one game at a time and one goal at a time, so when I come out here today, my mind is not on the NFL, but on what we need to do to win the next game and win a championship.”
The Raptors are officially an expansion team, but are owned by Tom Dowling, who previously owned the Predators/Timberwolves, a team that was also coached by Ponder.
In their first year in Everett, the Raptors are hoping to match the success of the last football team that called Comcast Arena home. In 2005 the Everett Hawks enjoyed an undefeated regular season in the National Indoor Football League and played in front of big crowds. And while the wins and big crowds became less frequent in 2006 and 2007 when the Hawks played in af2 — leading to the demise of the team — that first season showed fans will turn out for a good product.
“We’ve got some big shoes to fill,” said Piper-Jordan. “So we’ll see how it goes.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.