Believers never quit

Saturday, April 26, 2003

Don Brown had last played professional football in 1995, in a league in Sweden. After a few years passed, the former Southeast Missouri State University assistant coach who still lives in the area figured his days of getting paid to perform were long over.

But in January, Brown heard about tryouts for the Show Me Believers of St. Charles, Mo., who were preparing for their first season in the National Indoor Football League.

"I thought I'd give it a shot, for something to do," Brown said with a laugh. "I had a good tryout and I made the squad."

Brown, the Believers' starting running back, is just one of several players with area ties who are giving the squad a distinct local flavor.

Scott Pingel, who attended St. Vincent High School in Perryville and now lives in Fulton, is a starting wide receiver for the Believers. Donovan LaViness, who played for Southeast in 1999 and now lives in St. Louis, is a starting linebacker.

In addition, Central High School graduate Jason Strickland and Jackson High School graduate Bryan Foster -- both still live in the area -- practice with the Believers and, although they have not yet been activated for a game, are hopeful of that in the near future.

Brown sticks around town

Brown, who has scored eight touchdowns for the Believers (1-3) and leads the squad in rushing, moved to Cape Girardeau in 1997 to become an assistant coach at Southeast under John Mumford.

When Mumford resigned following the 1999 season and a new coaching staff came in, Brown no longer had a job with the Indians, but he decided to remain in Cape Girardeau and has lived in the area ever since, currently residing in Jackson.

"I liked it around here so I decided to stick around," said Brown, who works at Rust & Martin.

Brown had quite a collegiate playing career, twice earning NAIA All-American honors at Benedictine College in Kansas and winning the national rushing title in 1993. He also performed well playing professionally for two seasons in Sweden.

Still, even though the rock-solid 5-foot-10, 190-pound Brown has stayed in tremendous physical condition, he knew not playing competitively for so long would be a jolt to the system.

"It did feel awkward at first. I had played flag football here all the time, but the first couple of practices, it was hard. I'd had eight years off," he said, laughing. "But then it kind of all came back."

The 30-year-old Brown had to adjust to not only simply playing football again but also to the indoor game, which is unique. The field is 50 yards long and 28 yards wide, with eight players per team on the field at one time.

"It's way different than 11 man," Brown said. "With the short field, you don't have the gaps. It took a little adjustment that first game, how I need to be hitting the holes."

Like all the players who suit up for games, Brown is paid $200 per contest, and he must commute several times a week to practices. But money is not his object for getting back into football.

"It's just a lot of fun to be out there playing again and being a part of a team," he said. "I'd like to keep doing this and maybe even get into the main Arena League if possible."

Foster, Strickland hopeful

Like Brown, Foster and Strickland learned about the Believers tryouts and the workout partners decided to give it a shot.

"We saw it on the internet, we were in shape and we thought we'd do it," Foster said. "We didn't really know if we'd have a chance to make it or not."

Foster, a 1995 Jackson graduate, was a standout linebacker and offensive lineman on the Indians' 1994 team that reached the Class 4A state championship game. He played collegiately at Lindenwood University in St. Charles. The 5-10, 230-pound Foster is a linebacker for the Believers.

Strickland, a 1994 Central graduate, didn't even play football in high school.

"I was skinny. I just wrestled," he said, chuckling.

But the ripped 6-2, 232-pounder, who plays defensive end, is skinny no more. Still, he originally couldn't imagine himself surviving the tryouts.

"I turned in good numbers, but I didn't really know anything about football," Strickland said.

Foster and Strickland said they both have enjoyed practicing with the Believers -- they sit behind the bench during home games -- and hope to suit up for a contest soon. There are 30 players on the roster but only 21 dress out, with those decisions being made from game to game.

"The first few games, the guys who dressed out were mainly the ones who had played on other teams before," Foster said. "Being our first year, indoor football is so different and it was kind of nice to just sit back and watch for a while. But hopefully we'll get to play soon."

Pingel, LaViness are starters

Pingel has had an interesting football career to say the least.

The 6-1, 185-pounder finished his playing days at Division III Westminster College in Fulton in 1999 as the all-time NCAA receptions leader with 436, breaking Jerry Rice's record.

Pingel, who also left as the NCAA's all-time leader in receiving yards (6,108) and receiving touchdowns (75), was the 1999 Division III Player of the Year after a senior season that saw him catch 136 passes for 1,648 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Pingel was in the Buffalo Bills' training camp in 2000 but was cut. He played professionally in the German Football League in 2001 and has returned to the pro ranks this year as the Believers' leading receiver, in addition to his full-time job as the offensive coordinator at Westminster College.

LaViness, a 5-11, 220-pounder, played just one season at Southeast after transferring from Tulsa, but it was a good one as he earned second-team all-Ohio Valley Conference honors. He has been among the Believers' leading tacklers, recording 16 in one game.

The Believers, who play a 14-game schedule, compete in the Pacific North Division of the 24-team NIFL, along with the Lincoln (Neb.) Capitols, the Omaha (Neb.) Beef, the Tri-City (Neb.) Diesel, the LaCrosse (Wisc.) Night Train and the Sioux City (Iowa) Bandits.

Coached by former Missouri coach Warren Powers, the Believers play their home games at Family Arena in St. Charles. Their next game is tonight at home against LaCrosse. For ticket information, call (636) 916-0132.

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