CEDAR RAPIDS – Year to year, things within a franchise usually change.
Players come and go, maybe an assistant coach or two. Change is constant in sports it’s part of what keeps things interesting.
But for the Cedar Rapids Titans, this offseason has seen more of it than usual, including a new home for games and practice. Tonight, the Titans players and coaches get to put change in the mirror and start 2014 fresh in the U.S. Cellular Center.
“We’re excited (to play at the U.S. Cellular Center),” said Titans Coach Mark Stout, who was the 2013 IFL Coach of the Year. “Everything points to being that much more exciting.
“The changes don’t really affect us that much, as long as we tell them where to practice, they’ll show up. We’ve got a great group of kids who are working hard.”
The Titans, who went 9-5 last year before a first-round playoff loss, spent the last two seasons at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena while the U.S. Cellular Center was being renovated, and just recently moved from the Sportzone in Hiawatha to GWE Sports Center in northeast Cedar Rapids for practices.
With the exhibition tonight against the Bemidji Axemen – who are co-owned by Titan’s general manager and co-owner Chris Kokalis – as the first game in the Titans’ new home, the team was able to practice there this week to get used to their surroundings.
“The opportunity to come in here and practice is like a dream come true,” Stout said on Wednesday after practice. “They were kind enough to get the field put down early for us to let is in and get a practice for us. This is like gold for me right here. It’s a chance for us to throw (and) to get used to the lighting.”
For the players, the new digs provide a boost in pride, but not necessarily in functionality.
The Titans’ leading rusher from last season, Laron Council (892 all-purpose yards and 24 touchdowns, including 612 yards rushing) said it’s great to be in the U.S. Cellular Center, but that the players’ job on the field definitely wasn’t among the offseason changes.
“It feels good to be in here – it’s a lot bigger – but at the end of the day, we’re playing on the same 50-yard field, so it’s going to be the same thing for us,” Council said. “It’s going to be a big thing for our fans, I think.
“Hopefully we’ll have a bigger fanbase in here and hopefully they can have a better experience in this venue.”
That fanbase is one which has shown up in droves to support the Titans in their first two years as a franchise.
The team sold out five of its seven home games last season at the Ice Arena, and averaged 4,182 per game in attendance on the way to the IFL honoring Titans fans as the best fanbase in the league.
And amid all the changes within the franchise, players and coaches are most excited about the chance for those award-winning fans to get a beautiful venue in which to watch the team play.
“I was actually at Walmart the other night, and ran into a few fans in the line and they were all jacked up,” Stoute said with a laugh. “The Ice Arena was great for us – it was a beautiful arena. This arena now is our new home, and we’re going to take it to a different level.
“When the fans get rocking and we fill this place up (tonight) when we get ready to play, it’s going to be a great situation for us.”
The Titans’ exhibition game against the Axemen – which will serve as the last opportunity for coaches to evaluate players before final cuts – kicks off at 7 p.m.