Coaches with HBCU connections lead teams to indoor football titles
July 15, 2007
While most of the nation's indoor football attention is focused on the heavily promoted, nationally televised games of Arena Football. Two teams have already won indoor football championships with head coaches from HBCUs.
The Lakeland ThunderBolts, led by head coach and Stillman College alum Teddrick Keaton, won the American Indoor Football Association championship June 23 in Florence, SC.
Saturday night, July 14 in Fayetteville, NC, the Fayetteville Guard completed a season of controversy by winning the Indoor Football Championship Bowl, defeating Wyoming, 48-34 in the Crown Coliseum. The Guard is coached by Elizabeth City State product Charles Gunnings.
The ThunderBolts defeated Reading, 54-49, to take their title in Keaton's second year as head coach and director of football operations.
This was Lakeland's first season in the newly formed AIFA after spending two years as members of the National Indoor Football League (NIFL). Ironically, the ThunderBolts' 2006 season ended in Fayetteville with a 44-18 loss to the Guard.
Lakeland chose to leave the NIFL in August, 2006 but Fayetteville decided to stick with the seven-year-old league which started the 2007 season with 24 teams in six divisions.
Financial and organizational problems plagued the NIFL so much that on May 7, a group of owners led by Fayetteville's Richard King, voted to take control of the league by agreeing to only play games against one another for the remainder of the season.
“Basically, we’ve made our own schedule,” King told the Fayetteville Observer newspaper, the day after the takover. “It was something we had to do to make sure we get to play all our games.
“Everyone knows the NIFL is in trouble. This is a bad situation. But it’s better to do this and know we’re going to finish out the season than not do anything.”
Throughout it all, Gunnings kept his team focused, leading the Guard to an undefeated (12-0) season with a roster that included seven HBCU products on its 25-man squad.
Livingstone's Wilmont Perry shared championship game MVP honors with 20 carries for 87 yards and two touchdowns.
“Unbelievable,” said Gunnings following the game. “Who says prayers aren’t answered?”
Keaton's season was less traumatic.
He was able to lead his team to a 14-2 regular season record followed by playoff wins over the Carolina Speed, Mississippi Mudcats and Reading Express. His team had seven HBCU products on the roster, five from Stillman.
“We are very fortunate to have great owners and front office staff at Lakeland,” said Keaton. The ThunderBolts boast another HBCU alum in the front office in general manager Bennie King, who attended Tuskegee University.
”It is very special to me to have won the National Championship, but what makes this more special is having two African–Americans succeeding in the sports industry in the front office," King said. "This is a testament to the foundation that was started at Tuskegee and Stillman”.
Prior to getting involved in indoor professional football, Keaton spent six seasons as an assistant coach at Stillman College. This season was Keaton's fourth with indoor football. He served two seasons as the defensive
coordinator for Odessa in the NIFL.
Gunnings was the defensive coordinator for the Guard when Fayetteville stopped Lakeland last year in the playoffs, spoiling Keaton's rookie season as a head coach.
After spending this season in separate leagues, the two may face each other again soon. Fayetteville has just announced that it will be joining the AIFA next year.