CEDAR RAPIDS — Mark Stoute knows what it takes to bring an indoor football winner to Cedar Rapids.
Six years ago, Stoute took over as coach of a four-win Cedar Rapids Titans team and won 47 games over four playoff-filled seasons.
After the club floundered with a 4-26 record in the two subsequent years without him, the franchise was sold, rebranded as the Cedar Rapids River Kings and Stoute was brought back to once again resurrect the city’s indoor football fortunes.
“Very similar,” said Stoute, 61. “A little bit like going back home after you’ve been away for four years at college or something, and now you’re coming back home. Things are still the same, but some things have changed. But for the most part, we’re running into people that we know and going back to the restaurants that we ate at and dealing with the different businesses around town. … So it’s an exciting time from that point of view.”
The River Kings opened training camp on Feb. 5 at the Twisters Gymnastics facility in Hiawatha. There are currently 46 players on the roster, a number that will be trimmed to 25 by Feb. 21, two days before the Indoor Football League season-opener against Sioux Falls at the U.S. Cellular Center.
“For the most part, we’re young,” said Stoute, who also brought back assistant coaches Michael Custer and Joey Smith from his previous stint in Cedar Rapids. “A lot of good athletes. A lot of athletic ability there, too, as well. Just a matter of getting them in the scheme. A lot of them are non-indoor football players from before, so we’ve just got to learn the game. Get used to it.”
The team traveled to Moline, Ill., for a three-team scrimmage Saturday with the Green Bay Blizzard and the Quad City Steamwheelers. Quad City has joined the IFL from the Champions Indoor Football League.
The River Kings will host a second scrimmage and season ticket holder pick-up event this Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at the U.S. Cellular Center.
A lot of eyes will be on the two quarterbacks. Former UNLV signal-caller Kurt Palandech (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) is competing for the starting position with Ben Wilkerson, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound prospect from Division-III Alfred State (N.Y.).
“Both of them are doing very well and adjusting to the indoor game,” Stoute said. “Neither one is an indoor player from before, so they’re outdoor, big-field guys that are working to learn the indoor nuances. The biggest thing is the game speed.”
Receivers Marquel Wade and Javon Bell are in camp after playing for the Titans last season, while former All-IFL Titans defensive back Ricky Johnson returns to Cedar Rapids after two seasons in the AFL and one year of training and welcoming a new baby.
“Everybody wants to come back now because of Coach Stoute,” Johnson said. “Coach Stoute is a great coach. He is one of the best coaches that I’ve played under. And to get back to Cedar Rapids where we started at and to bring the excitement back. When you see the new ownership, new name, we love it. We’re excited and we can’t wait to get started.”
Off the field, new Cedar Rapids General Manager Ryan Eucker has been busy assembling a front-office staff for a host of positions that include promotions, ticket sales, corporate partnerships, group sales, sports information and game day operations. Eucker has also incoporated several interns through a partnership with the University of Iowa.
Stoute — who is the one individual that has worked for both ownership groups in the eight-year history of the franchise — raved about the support from Eucker and Los Angeles-based owners Roy Choi and Matt Stone.
“My owners have been absolutely great,” Stoute said. “Whatever we have needed, we have been able to get from them. … I’ve been lucky that I’m just doing the football. Ryan is handling all of the business aspects of it and he is doing a fantastic job. We’ve got quite a few interns. We’ve got a good tie-in with the University of Iowa with some interns from down there, so that program has done very well. It’s just a matter of getting people’s butts back in the stands so that we can go on and put on a great show.”
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