Members of the Lake Charles Riverkats warm-up for practice behind Alvin Dark Stadium. (Karen Wink / American Press)
Coach Robert Eddie watches his players run a blocking drill during Riverkats practice behind Alvin Dark Stadium. (Karen Wink / American Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, May 31, 2012 7:55 PM
The Kats are back.
After a four-year hiatus, Lake Charles will again be the home of a minor-league football team — the Riverkats of the Southern American Football League.
The Riverkats were originally founded as a non-profit organization in June 2006, and they won SAFL King Bowl Championships in their first two seasons. But after a third season the team folded because of management issues, according to SAFL Commissioner Joe Bean.
Bean said the previous loss of the Riverkats was “upsetting,” but he’s thrilled to resurrect the team in its same market this year with new General Manager George Taylor, a Washington-Marion High School alumnus, and head coach Robert Eddie, a LaGrange High and McNeese State graduate with 11 years of minor-league football playing and coaching experience on his résumé.
“I never wanted them to leave; it was finding the right people to run the team who were community-oriented,” Bean said. “I was fortunate to meet (Taylor) and Eddie, and they were exactly what I was looking for to keep the team running. … Previously I had coaches and GMs who had no background, had no idea what to expect or how to do things. That’s where the team faltered in the past.”
The Riverkats have 23 players with a range of football experience, and anyone from ages 18-40 can try out. Eddie said they’re also expecting players from the Louisiana Swashbucklers, Lake Charles’ professional indoor team, to join after their season ends in June.
The Riverkats kick off June 30 in an exhibition game against the Slidell Steelsharks in New Orleans. They’ll play their first game in Lake Charles on July 14 at a location to be determined against the Jackson (Miss.) Juggernauts. According to Bean, optional locations for their five home games are Washington-Marion, LaGrange, Barbe and Lake Charles-Boston.
“What I really want them to get out of it is the opportunity to come together, to not have any animosity, to make better men of themselves,” Eddie said. “Here you have a lot of discipline and a lot of training is going on. For those guys coming out of high school who aren’t necessarily going to college, it’s an opportunity for them to get off the streets and use their talent constructively rather than just doing nothing.”
A wide variety of players encompass the Riverkats roster, including two Lake Area police officers, a McNeese graduate student and a client at the Calcasieu Association for Retarded Citizens, where Eddie works as a client supervisor.
Calcasieu Parish Sheriff and Jennings High alumnus Cade Doucet was a member of the original Riverkats squad, and he said it’s a great opportunity for the team to return to Lake Charles.
“For me personally, it’s one of the greatest things I could do right now,” said Doucet, a middle linebacker. “A lot of the guys out here are really good people. Some of them came from nothing, and this is the best thing they’ve got.”
Taylor said local flavor is of course crucial to the Riverkats’ marketability and competitive spirit, but they’re interested in branching out as far as they can to recruit players and open doors for them to potentially get scholarships to college and even advance to professional football.
“We’re starting all over again,” Taylor said. “I love to be able to provide this and be a part of it for these guys to have something to do and actually love the game.”
One player who fits the branching-out mold is Kevin Bratschko, a California native and former Belhaven (Miss.) College football player who’s now working on his master’s degree in kinesiology at McNeese. His parents own the Valley Predators, a minor-league football team based in Southern California.
Bratschko said the Riverkats provide a way for him to stay connected to the sport he loves in a fun way while balancing education and family life.
“It’s a little more fun than playing college football, more relaxed, more professional,” Bratschko said. “You’re able to be adult about it, not babysat the whole time.”
Eddie has a chance to restore and maintain a good name for the Riverkats in his hometown as he embarks on another football job. He played arena football for the Lafayette Roughnecks from 2001-02 before entering the coaching ranks as head coach/general manager for the Lone Star Pit Bulls (Arlington, Texas) and offensive line/defensive line coach of the Lake Charles Panthers, a team in the American Spring Football League now led by former Riverkats head coach Dexter Washington.
“I see a lot of dedication from these guys,” Eddie said. “One night we practiced from 7-9:30 in the rain; that’s quite commendable for these guys to stay and not complain. We’re back to take our rightful place at the top of the league.”
With the right people and some talented football, this time the Riverkats might have a chance to stick around for the long haul.NOTE: Players ages 18 and older interested in trying out for the team can work out for the coaching staff during practices at Cougar Stadium at 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Posted By: Eli On: 6/1/2012
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