Five from area try to make a mark in indoor league

Saturday, March 22, 2003

The Show Me Believers of St. Charles, Mo., began their first season in the National Indoor Football League Friday night -- and with a distinct local flavor.

Three Believers are graduates of area high schools, another is a former Southeast Missouri State University player, and yet another is an ex-Southeast assistant coach.

Defensive end Jason Strickland (Central), linebacker Bryan Foster (Jackson) and wide receiver Scott Pingel (St. Vincent) all went to high school in the area; linebacker Donovan LaViness played for Southeast in 1999; and running back Don Brown was a Southeast coach from 1997 to 1999 and still lives in Cape Girardeau.

Pingel, Brown and LaViness had particularly distinguished college careers.

Pingel was the 1999 NCAA Division III Player of the Year at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., as he broke Jerry Rice's NCAA all-division receiving records.

Pingel finished his career at Westminster with 436 receptions for 6,108 yards and 75 touchdowns. He then attended the Buffalo Bills' training camp as a free agent but did not survive final cuts and now is the offensive coordinator at Westminster.

Brown was a two-time NAIA All-American at Benedictine College in Kansas, and he led the nation in rushing in 1993. He also played professionally in Europe.

LaViness earned second-team all-Ohio Valley Conference honors during his only season at Southeast after transferring from Tulsa.

Foster, a 1995 Jackson graduate, was a senior standout on the Indians' squad that reached the Class 4 championship game in 1994. He later played at Lindenwood University in St. Charles.

The path Strickland took to pro football is a bit more unique because the 1994 Central graduate didn't even play the sport in high school. He told me he and Foster have been working out together for several years and, after they read about Believers tryouts over the Internet, they decided to give it a shot.

The third-year National Indoor Football League is one of several professional indoor leagues in existence, the most high-profile being the Arena League. The NIFL consists of 24 teams divided over four divisions.

The Believers, coached by former Missouri coach Warren Powers, defeated the Lincoln (Neb.) Capitals 24-21 in Friday's opener. They play a 14-game schedule, their next contest being March 29 at home against the Omaha (Neb.) Beef.

Pingel caught two touchdown passes Friday, while Brown and LaViness also played. Foster and Strickland did not dress because the team is allowed to have only 21 of its 30 roster members in uniform, with the decisions on who dresses being made from game to game.

While the Believers don't make much money -- each player in uniform is paid $200 per game, so it's not a full-time job as players from outside the St. Louis area commute to practices and games -- playing pro football regardless of the level has got to be quite a thrill for anybody.

And that goes for the local five.

Congratulations to Delta's girls and Charleston's boys for making it to the state high school basketball championships over the weekend.

It's particularly nice to see how well Randy White -- one of the many truly classy and good guys among area coaches -- has done in his two seasons at Delta after he was stunningly and without explanation relieved of his duties following a highly successful 23-year run at Scott City.

And it also makes you feel good that Charleston's Danny Farmer -- another area good guy -- got Charleston into the state's final four for the first time under his direction after the tradition-rich Bluejays made it so many times under other coaches.

Also kudos to coach Larry Morgan for leading East Carter County's boys to a somewhat surprise Class 2 state title in his first season back in coaching -- and 10 years after taking Poplar Bluff to a second-place Class 4A finish.

I've known Morgan for a long time and have always thought really highly of him both as a person and a coach. The season he and the Redbirds had was a storybook one to say the least.

The NCAA basketball tournament is off to its usual wild and unpredictable start with a few upsets and many near-upsets again spicing the action.

There was a plethora of thrilling games over the first few days of the tournament, including Missouri's one-point win over Southern Illinois in the opening round.

Sure, the Salukis only have themselves to blame because they made just 11 of 21 free throws. But you still hate to see a game of that magnitude decided by an official's call.

First, it looked like Jermaine Dearman was in great position to draw a charge instead of being whistled for a blocking foul with four seconds left, which allowed the Tigers to hit a free throw and break a tie. But in that instance, I'd rather see a no-call so the players can decide things for themselves.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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