May 31, 2014

Rampage optimistic about 2015 outlook

Owner highlights planned changes

Expect more Saturday night games, more coaches, more advertising and more players in preseason camp next year for the Georgia Rampage.

Team owner Kacee Smith hopes that means something more in the win-loss column, too. Smith would like for 2015 to be the first winning season — both on the field and in the bank account — for Dalton’s professional indoor football franchise.

The team’s 2014 season came to a quiet conclusion last week when its scheduled X-League finale was dropped from the slate. Since both the Rampage and their host opponent, Birmingham’s Alabama Outlawz, were eliminated from contention for the X-Bowl (the league’s title game), Smith said the teams decided not to play the game.

The Rampage finished 2-5 in the X-League’s inaugural season, which concludes June 14 when the St. Louis Attack hosts the Florida Marine Raiders in the X-Bowl.

The Rampage began play in 2012, when they had no home games and no official hometown as a travel-only franchise in the Ultimate Indoor Football League. After that one-win season, they moved to Dalton and began playing home games at the trade center in 2013, when they went 3-5 while still competing in the UIFL.

The 2013 season included the upfront costs associated with such a move and mostly Monday night home games, which hurt attendance and put the Rampage in a financial burden, Smith said. The owner said that while the team didn’t make a profit this season either, the franchise did much better financially.

“Hopefully, we keep getting a little better until we break even,” he said. “I love challenges, but it’s tough in a city the size of Dalton. I knew it would be tough, though. Going into (next year), we’ll be more financially sound and can rev up more of our advertising and marketing.”

Smith said the addition of a Saturday game this season opened eyes and will segue toward a full slate of weekend games.

“One thing that was positive was our Saturday game with the Attack,” Smith said. “That was good to show the trade center, ‘Hey, look what we can do on a Saturday.’ ... As a league, we don’t want teams playing on games other than Fridays, Saturdays and mid-afternoon Sundays. The only reason we haven’t made that rule is because of us.”

In addition to his team duties, Smith is also president of the X-League, which he helped start. The league was built around a revenue-sharing business model and scoring quirks, including double points for last-minute scores and extra points for defensive stops and scores.

“I think it went really well,” Smith said. “It was very risky because we changed a lot of the sport. ... People loved it, which is what we thought would happen.

“The first two games were tough. Even in the last game, my wife was telling me that when we were in Lakeland a fan said, ‘I love this but don’t understand it.’”

Smith said the Attack are averaging around 5,000 fans per home game in St. Louis and the X-Bowl could bring 8,000 fans to watch the league’s biggest game. When asked about league expansion, Smith said there are potential ownership groups, but the league’s main officials want to progress “slow and steady” in regard to size.

In addition to the Rampage, Attack, Marine Raiders and Outlawz, the league’s other team is the Steam, which began the schedule as the Pennsylvania Steam but changed ownership at midseason and is moving to Savannah. The Rampage’s only two wins this season — one by forfeit — came against the Steam.

The Rampage lost 44-43 to the Outlawz at the trade center in the new league’s first game on March 3. Projected starting quarterback Telford Chatman injured his foot during the game and the Rampage struggled at that position until the sixth game of the season, a 66-44 win against the Steam on May 12 in which quarterback Bart Gloyd shined in his first start. After Chatman’s injury, the Rampage moved Demarcus Simons, who Smith labeled the team’s “best receiver,” to quarterback before signing Gloyd at the halfway point.

“Coming in, we were pretty excited,” coach Mark Bramblett said. “We had a lot of talented players. I thought we had a good scheme going for us and this could be the year we push for a run to the playoffs.”

It wasn’t, but the team had some highlights on the field. In X-League awards announced this week, Jarred Tarrant was named Co-Defensive Back of the Year and Morgan Alexander was named Kick Returner of the Year. Smith earned the Best Sportsmanship Award, George Allen won the Best In-Game Arena Announcer Award and the organization won the league’s Best Community Involvement award.

Smith said he believes Gloyd will return — and will do so with more players when the team holds its preseason camp. Teams are allowed to invite 40 players (the roster must be cut to 23 for the first game), but the Rampage have invited less than the maximum the past two years. Smith said it hindered competition, and Bramblett agreed.

“I think part of it was complacency,” Bramblett said. “They didn’t feel the pressure.”

Smith also wants a larger coaching staff next season. He said Bramblett will remain in his head role, but Smith wants to add a player personnel expert to take over general manager duties, which Smith has handled the past two seasons.

“This year we had three coaches on the staff,” Bramblett said. “We were stretched pretty thin.”

Focusing on his duties as owner will provide Smith more chances for promotions and community involvement.

He is planning a youth indoor football league at the trade center next spring. The original plan was to begin it this season, but the scheduling of home games on weeknights made it difficult. If more home games are on Saturdays, the team can get more use from the venue because it rents the trade center’s arena for most of the day, Smith said.

“It also grows our roots (to the community),” he added. “People come in, watch the (youth) games and want to come back to watch our game later that night.”

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