Just enough has stayed the same that the Wild’s debut in the Champions Professional Indoor Football League can be considered a follow-up to last season, when Wichita advanced to the Indoor Football League Intense Conference championship game.
Even with a new league and new opponents, much of the Wild’s personnel has stayed the same and it has improved in some key spots, including quarterback. Wichita was on a nine-game winning streak when it lost to Green Bay in the conference title game.
Wichita opens its 14-game schedule Saturday night in Tulsa against the Oklahoma Defenders. The home opener is on March 23 at Hartman Arena.
"It’s somewhat of a continuation," Wild coach Morris Lolar said. "Of course we’re going to try to build off of last year. We’ve got some new faces coming in, also, and we’ve still got questions of young guys, can they play this game? I’m really confident in what we’ve got coming in and lining up and playing."
Wichita opted out of the IFL after last season to join a more geographically friendly league, following other IFL teams away from what the Wild considers a floundering organization.
The CPIFL’s other nine teams include seven in Kansas or bordering states. Wichita won’t travel farther than Bloomington, Ind., for a road game and Tulsa is its farthest destination before April 12.
Lolar expects the Wild’s new league to look much like its last, if not better, because of the teams and players jumping from the IFL and other indoor leagues.
"I think this is a real good opportunity," Lolar said. "I think people are going to be surprised when they see the talent that lines up on both sides for both teams — very competitive. It’s a win-win situation for the city of Wichita."
A new league meant a new approach toward roster construction and an emphasis and searching for talent. That was the plan, anyway, before several players expressed interest in playing for the Wild, greatly reducing his responsibilities.
One such player is new quarterback Rocky Hinds, who threw 40 touchdowns last season for Bloomington, which moved from the IFL to the CPIFL. Hinds texted Lolar during the offseason.
Wichita also added former University of Washington defensive back Chris Hemphill and defensive lineman Darius Parish, a North High product who played briefly at Kansas.
The players the Wild brought back are its stars. Among 12 returners are Tywon Hubbard, who led the IFL in all-purpose yardage last season; Callahan Bright, the anchor of a defensive line that placed a new emphasis on sacks because of his ability; and Kendrick Harper, a big-play cornerback who returned three interceptions for touchdowns.
"I was searching around for a quarterback and (Hinds) falls in my lap," Lolar said. "It’s a good, good situation for these guys. There’s a lot of talent that we’ve brought in and a lot of talent that we brought back."