Varsity Kansas

Best of 2010: Solid nucleus turned Wichita Wild into contender

The Eagle's sports staff looks back at the Best of 2010. Each writer shares a memorable moment from his or her beat.

I've covered indoor football for The Eagle for nine seasons — a stretch that, at times, has seemed like a punishment no reporter deserves.

It's certainly not that I've grown tired of that all-too familiar announcement, the one I've heard the PA guy make four or five times every single game since 2001: "Fans, if a football goes into the stands, you can keep it, but if a player goes into the stands, you gotta throw him back."

Never gets old.

Rather, I have been routinely frustrated with the tumultuous, often-unprofessional state of the sport in Wichita, which has fielded four indoor teams: Warlords, Stealth, Aviators and, currently, the Wild of the Indoor Football League.

I've seen indoor football games played in a hockey rink. Games played on turf held together with duct tape. Games — championship games, no less — decided by forfeit.

I remember rock bottom — the time two assistant coaches for the opposing team, dressed in team gear and wearing headphones, pounded beers while sitting in the Kansas Coliseum press box. Nothing makes play calling easier and the offense more creative than when the assistants are swigging a few ales. "Come on, let's give the Statue of Liberty a try! Yo, beer man, over here!"

I mention the anecdote in the context of a season review because, well, who doesn't enjoy a good coaches-getting-drunk-in-the-press-box story and because the Wild franchise, in 2010, maintained itself as a solid, winning organization.

That's no small feat. Did I mention I've seen football games in a hockey rink?

Indoor football fans should thank Ken Matous, in large part, for the transformation. The veteran coach has contacts all over the country, he's a steady leader, and he handles himself with professionalism.

Prior to his arrival, the Wild was filled with questionable talent, to say the least. No offense to local players, several of whom have played key roles, but a truly professional team should extend its recruiting beyond the KCAC. Matous has done that.

Of course, having Hartman Arena, the best venue in the IFL, makes Matous' job much easier.

The Wild finished 9-4 in 2010 and, for the second consecutive season, reached the Indoor Football League conference championship game. And, because it possessed more star power that any other team in the league, the Wild was enjoyable to watch.

When he was motivated, wide receiver Clinton Solomon was virtually impossible to cover. The best performance by any Wild player during 2010 may have been when running back Darius Fudge rushed for three TDs and passed for another. Explosive return man Randy Kelly was the best in the league.

All three are talented, and they have oversized, friendly personalities — a plus when players often interact with fans during games and, sometimes, even end up in the stands. But you gotta throw them back! (I'll be here all week, folks, and don't forget to tip the waitstaff.)

The Wild still has work to do. New general manager John Blazek has to figure out a way to sell out Hartman Arena, and Matous, with the talented trio returning, needs to get the team into the championship game.

As for me, I'm content covering indoor football now. During the games, I sit next to Wild assistant coach Troy Black. Black is the excitable sort, often yelling and pounding the table on press row. He's been known to have a few drinks, too. Thankfully, it's only water.