Pro Football Giving Cedar Rapids a Try

CEDAR RAPIDS- A major milestone in the post-flood rebuilding of downtown Cedar Rapids came with a sports “bonus” on Tuesday.

Cedar Rapids city officials and others officially broke ground on the $75-million dollar convention center complex.  And right on the heels of that ceremony, owners of a new indoor pro football team unveiled plans to begin play in Cedar Rapids next March.   The team eventually wants to become a regular tenant at a refurbished U.S. Cellular Center arena.

The Cedar Rapids Titans are the 23rd team in the developmental Indoor Football League (IFL).  The Titans plan an inaugural season of eight on eight indoor football at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena in 2012 and then a move to the downtown convention center complex and arena in 2013.

Chris Kokalis, a co-owner and general manager of the Titans, said the indoor game played by the IFL is similar to the Arena Football League, a league that includes the Iowa Barnstormers from Des Moines.  But he also said there are some differences.  For one, the indoor league does not use a net to separate players from fans so more balls will fly into the stands to be kept as souvenirs. Also, the indoor league features more running plays and rules that more closely resemble outdoor football.

Still, the idea for players is to make a mark in a developmental  league and move up to a higher pro level.  Kokalis said he expects the team to appeal both to college players who want to keep pro dreams alive and former pro players who want to work towards a return.

That last category includes Xzavie Jackson, a defensive end from the University of Missouri, who played a year on the practice squad of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008.  Jackson said he sees a stop in Cedar Rapids as a step on the road back to the National Football League.

“God has a plan for me and my plan is to come to Cedar Rapids and play one more year for Coach Brown and that’s what I’m going to do,” Jackson said.

Jackson and two other players at a news conference  Tuesday had played most recently for the La Crosse Spartans of the same league.  Co-owner Kokalis was also an owner in La Crosse as well as the general manager there.  Kokalis did not say he was transferring the La Crosse team to Cedar Rapids and emphasized a franchise still exists in that Wisconsin city with other owners.  Kokalis also did not name the manager of the new team saying that will come later.  But at least one player referred to the incoming Cedar Rapids coach as the current coach of the Spartans.

Kokalis noted some pro teams have struggled in Cedar Rapids—notably basketball.  But he also praised the operations run by the Cedar Rapids Kernels baseball team and the Cedar Rapids RoughRidgers hockey club.  He also expressed hope fans will give pro football here a chance.

“On a Friday or Saturday night, folks have the football itch in February or March.  We hope to fulfill that and give fans a reason to come out and support something they can believe in,” Kokalis said.

The Titans co-owner promised a family-friendly product with ticket prices starting as low as $10. 

The city and the new Cedar Rapids Titans have not worked out a lease agreement either for the first year at the Ice Arena or the rebuilt U.S. Cellular Center beginning in 2013.  Kokalis said the Indoor Football League plays a 14-game season with seven home and seven away games.

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