Indoor football in Wichita has a dubious past — recall the defunct Aviators playing on a makeshift field at the downtown Ice Center — but the Wild earned legitimacy last season thanks to a well-connected coach, a much-traveled quarterback and a new building.
Coach Ken Matous, a 30-year veteran of the college and indoor ranks, used his contacts to rebuild the roster with higher-caliber players than the franchise's previous two seasons. And the team was respectable early, but it wasn't until the late-season arrival of quarterback Dixie Wooten that new Hartman Arena became an exciting place for football.
Under Wooten, the Wild won its last two regular-season games in the Indoor Football League, clinched the Central Division title and reached the conference championship.
With Wooten in town for a full season, and several other key players back, expectations are even higher.
"Last year," Matous said, "we took it to a level that was good."
But not quite good enough for Matos' tastes. As the Wild begins training camp today, there is already talk within the team of winning a championship.
"We've upgraded at a lot of spots," said Matous, whose team opens the season at home on Feb. 26. "The big thing is the maturity level of our kids; we had so many guys last year who hadn't played any arena football, and now they've got a year of experience."
The offense is expected to be dangerous.
The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Wooten finished the season with 2,121 passing yards, 53 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.
"Dixie is 30 years old, so he's not a young guy, and he's been through a lot of wars and battles," Matous said. "He's a great leader. When you've got a confident quarterback, you've got a confident football team."
Clinton Solomon, a University of Iowa product, returns as Wooten's top weapon after a 1,000-yard receiving season. Workhorse running back Darius Fudge, who led IFL with 936 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns, is also back.
"I still want to run the ball, but I want to use him a little smarter, maybe not run him 25-30 times a game," Matous said.
Defensive back Randy Kelly, who had a team-high six interceptions and 72 tackles, returns to lead a defense that was ranked sixth in the IFL.