By Devin Golden
Last summer, the Georgia Rampage announced that it was settling in Dalton.
Despite the excitement, the season’s start felt like it was forever away to those associated with the professional indoor football franchise.
Now kickoff is close enough for them to stress about it.
“No matter how prepared you think you are, in the last week, you’re pulling your hair out,” Rampage co-owner and general manager Kacee Smith said on Friday. “I’m ready for that downhill slide. As soon as the ball is kicked, everything will be downhill.”
Following their preseason camp on Feb. 16 and 17, the Rampage have narrowed down their roster to the required 24 names for the regular season. On Tuesday at the trade center, team officials and coaches will finally have the chance — as will spectators — to see those players in competition during a preseason game against the Georgia Panthers, an outdoor football team from Marietta.
Doors will open at 6 p.m. and the game will begin at 7:15, and the routine will be the same for the regular season, as will ticket prices. Single-game tickets are available for purchase on the team’s website, georgiarampage.com, or through the trade center by calling (706) 272-7676. Tickets range from $8 to $25, depending on the section. Season ticket packages range from $40 to $125.
However, there is a special promotion for Tuesday’s game, with “Hometown Heroes” receiving $3 off all floor seats. Any teachers, police officers, firefighters or EMS workers can show their work ID to purchase discounted tickets.
It was this past August when Smith and co-owner Amer Awad held a news conference at the trade center to announce that the team, which spent its first season as a travel franchise in the 2012 Ultimate Indoor Football League, would play its six home games for the UIFL regular season in Dalton. After a series of tryouts, schedule releases, coach hires and roster cuts, the team is only two days from the exhibition debut and a little more than a week from the March 4 season opener against the Lakeland (Fla.) Raiders at the trade center.
One of the last steps was trimming the roster from the mid-30s to 24. Those who made it are: defensive backs Andre Powell, Aldrickious Shumake and Akeen Scruggs; linebackers Albert Catron and Manny Rodriguez; defensive linemen Emanuel Nkana, Samuel Chester and Omarr Pittman; offensive linemen Roberts Stephens, Lamond Williams and Josh Andrews; wide receivers Jeff Phillips, Dallas Walker, C.J. Dial, Lee Hilt, Sydney Haynes and Magic Mitchell; running backs Brad Lester, Marquis Chapel and Clarence Goines; fullback James Boatright; quarterbacks Joel Statham and Javares Taylor; and kicker Jaye Tyroff.
Only 19 players will be activated for each game-day roster during the 11-game regular season, which includes at least two matchups with each of the other five teams in the league — the Rampage face the Corpus Christi (Texas) Fury three times. The Rampage hopes to improve on its 1-6 record from last year, when the team practiced in Calhoun but traveled for every game.
“There’s a couple teams in the league who I can’t tell a thing about,” Smith said. “But knowing what we have and what the UIFL has had in the past, I think we match up really well. ... We have a lot of rookies, a lot of guys who are just out of school and others who have been around a while.”
Statham and Andrews are both from the area and should be familiar to local high school football fans. Statham, a 2002 Murray County High School graduate, played at the University of Maryland and Carson-Newman University.
“He’s our best bet at quarterback right now,” Rampage head coach Mark Bramblett previously said of Statham. “Athletically, he has a cannon of an arm.”
Andrews is a 2011 Northwest Whitfield High School graduate.
“This is the craziest Cinderella-type story I’ve seen,” Smith said. “We were at camp and the coaches were concerned about the center position. He was at the practice facilities with his buddies and walked up and said, ‘What is this?’ We explained it and ... said we were in the middle of camp. He asked us to just give him a shot. And so we did, and he wasn’t that bad.
“He’s local. We don’t know anything about him. But we’re giving him a shot.”
Smith said the Rampage have sold close to 70 season tickets, nearing the goal of 75 to 80 he’d hoped to reach before the season opener. The trade center can fit some 2,000 people for an indoor football game — the smallest capacity for any UIFL franchise — but there could be plenty of noise on Tuesday if enough people pack the stands and establish a home-field atmosphere for the Rampage.
“Basketball, when the trade center hosts the (state) tournament, always draws a large crowd,” Bramblett said. “I know it’s high school and they’ve got that atmosphere. This is something where folks can come out here and come to a professional game. ... If there’s a loud hit in here, with 1,500 to 2,000 folks, it causes a boom factor. When people start stomping the bleachers and causing a home-field factor, it is a detriment (to opponents). This place is phenomenal, the amount of noise it will have.”
Games are also expected to be fast-paced and packed with offensive action. While it is not unlike outdoor football, the dimensions, rules and pace are quite different for the indoor game. Each artificial turf field is 50 yards long and 26 yards wide with end zones that are 5 to 8 yards deep. A four-foot high padded wall surrounds the field.
Each team has eight players, with two allowed to go in forward motion on each play. There are three linemen on each side of the ball, and only one player may blitz on a given play.
“It is an offensive game,” Smith said. “The defense is a speed bump. In (indoor) football, you hope to get three defensive stops a game. If you get three defensive stops, that’s huge. And hopefully your offense continues to score. ... It’s an offensive advantage by far. The fans like scoring. They want to cheer. That’s what it’s all about.”
One of the things Smith and Awad promised in their announcement of the franchise’s move to Dalton was that game nights would be entertaining even when the ball wasn’t moving. They’re trying to deliver on that promise immediately.
At halftime of Tuesday’s game, Mark Muir and Tim Geib will perform with their world champion Frisbee dogs. The two have combined to win five World Frisbee Dog championships, and Smith said they’ve performed during Atlanta Falcons games.
“We’re wanting to come out and have a lot of fun that first night,” Smith said. “It’s the first arena football game at the trade center. ... It’s also going to polish a bunch of bells and whistles. There’s a lot of things we have to get worked out before the March 4 game.”
Also scheduled before Tuesday’s game are two meet-and-greet events where fans can see some of the Rampage players.
An autograph session is scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m. today at Academy Sports and Outdoors in Dalton. At 6 p.m. Monday, Oakwood Cafe in Dalton is hosting a free meal for the team and allowing fans to meet the players.