Former Coyotes suit up for Sioux Falls Storm By Jeremy Hoeck
Yankton Press & Dakotan Adam Hicks is alone in the middle of the field, kicking footballs through the nine-foot wide goal post. In one corner of the short field, Mark Blackburn and Andre Fields are working on defensive drills with a coach. Itâ�?�?s 6:15 p.m., with still 45 minutes left before kickoff. The three players will soon take the field for the Sioux Falls Storm, the three-time defending champions of the United Indoor Football League (UIF). But tonight â�?�? Saturday, May 3 â�?�? the three University of South Dakota graduates are focused on their opponent and heated rival, Sioux City Bandits. Itâ�?�?s a game the Storm really want to win, but more than that, one they need to win. Sioux Falls, at 5-2, sits in a tie for second place in its division, and earlier this season had its 40-game win streak snapped. Itâ�?�?s now 6:30 p.m., still a half-hour left before the pregame festivities. The Sioux Falls Arena begins filling with crazed, red-clad fans, who have brought plastic Storm horns to make even more noise. Itâ�?�?s this environment that Hicks says only makes the team play harder â�?�? and as a result, better. â�?�?We have a lot of crazy fans who know their football,â�? Hicks said later, after spending 20 minutes signing autographs for fans. â�?�?Sioux Falls has the best atmosphere around, no question. â�?�?Itâ�?�?s more than just football for people here, its a chance to get to know the players.â�? From USD To S.F. The three former Coyotes may not have been the best or the most widely-known players in college, but each has found a home playing indoor football. Each have taken different paths to Sioux Falls, but together, have helped guide one of the most successful franchise in professional sports history. Hicks, who claims heâ�?�?s â�?�?oldâ�? and â�?�?slow,â�? spent four years playing for the Coyotes, graduating from USD in 2001. He later caught on with the Bandits before settling with Sioux Falls. On this night, Hicks will make 1-of-4 field goals for the Storm, but jokes that such a performance in indoor football â�?�?ainâ�?�?t bad.â�? His teammates Blackburn and Fields will both play a key role in the high-scoring game, which Sioux Falls went on to win 51-46. In a style of football predicated on offense, the Storm will rely on its defense late in the game tonight to secure the win. â�?�?You have to adjust your mentality, that because this is a scoring league, youâ�?�?re going to give up points; its just a matter of limiting it,â�? said Fields, who graduated from USD in 1999. He played with Hicks for two seasons in Vermillion and went on to play indoor football in Sioux City. â�?�?Thereâ�?�?s that old adage, â�?�?defense wins championships,â�?�? â�?�? the Chicago native added. â�?�?For us, thatâ�?�?s so true. In our last two championship games, defense has made the difference.â�? Ten years removed from his playing days at USD, Fields has spent six seasons with the Storm and says his time in Sioux Falls has been â�?�?amazing; more fun that I ever thought I could have playing a sport.â�? For Blackburn, a 2002 USD graduate, life in indoor football has proven to be the perfect outlet for his â�?�?love of exciting action.â�? â�?�?In this league, thereâ�?�?s a lot of running and a ton of hitting,â�? he says, with a smile. â�?�?We get to show our talents in so many different ways. As a defensive player, I hate giving up all those points, but you come to understand how important defense is.â�? Life Outside Football Itâ�?�?s now 10:05 p.m., and Blackburn has just emerged from the Storm locker room. He still has his uniform on, but has shed the pads and helmet. â�?�?Weâ�?�?re going to sign autographs for the kids,â�? he says. On his way to the on-field session, he high-fives two young Storm fans, who exchange smiles after catching the attention of No. 14. Playing the game requires more than just on-the-field time; it requires skills in time management, Hicks says. â�?�?During the season, it can be hectic, between practices, meetings and games,â�? he said. â�?�?During the week, I work a full-time desk job at Wells Fargo. After work, I head to the Arena, practice and get ready for the game. â�?�?On off-days, Iâ�?�?m lazy,â�? he adds, laughing. For Fields, his other job is as a personal banker at First Premier Bank, where he works 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he heads to the team practices, and on the other days, heâ�?�?s at team meetings. â�?�?There isnâ�?�?t much free time during the season,â�? Fields says. â�?�?For my wife, thereâ�?�?s definitely a routine we get into. And with my daughter, Iâ�?�?ve been playing in Sioux Falls almost her life. â�?�?This year was the first time she ever said something about me being gone,â�? he said. â�?�?I didnâ�?�?t know what to say. Itâ�?�?s hard, but you just have to balance both things.â�? Playing For Fun Itâ�?�?s now 10:20 p.m., and the Storm players have just finished signing autographs for the fans. Hicks begins his walk back to the locker room, where he will shower, change and head home for the night. Tomorrow â�?�? Sunday â�?�? heâ�?�?ll actually have somewhat of a day off, before beginning his weekly routine again. â�?�?Playing with veteran guys who have fun is what keeps me coming back,â�? he says, before leaving the Arena. â�?�?You see a lot of guys in their late 20s or even early 30s who just love this game. â�?�?Thatâ�?�?s whatâ�?�?s great about indoor football: the energy and emotion from the players.â�? And the fans? â�?�?Oh yeah, we canâ�?�?t forget about them,â�? he says, smiling. â�?�?Just look at them. The gameâ�?�?s been over for a half-hour, and some stick around. How can you not love this?â�?
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