Entering their tenth season and coming off an Xtreme Football League championship last season, the Kansas Cougars have big expectations once again for the coming season. Leading the charge will be second year head coach Darrell Nave.
After a long playing career including a collegiate career at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, Minnesota State-Mankato and numerous semi-professional stops before landing with the Kansas Cougars five years ago, Nave has adapted well to being a coach and expects his team to repeat as XFL champions.
“I’m the defensive coordinator and head coach,” Nave said. “We are a defensive team. We are a base 4-3 defense. We run a different coverage than most teams in semi-pro and it’s really cool because it’s something we’ve had in place so we don’t really need to work on it too much and changes based on the different formations they come out in.
“Even though we are a defensive team, we are starting to get an offense together that will light up the scoreboard. We run a spread pistol offense. We want to use our quarterback’s athletic ability to run and pass.”
That offense will be led by league star Orlandus William, but Nave expects big things out of more than him on their high-powered offense.
“Our quarterback Orlandus William took the league by storm last year,” Nave told DFUSA. “He can get out and run and hit on the deep pass. A guy people need to look out for is a guy who played with us last year by the name of Lee Stewart. He’s a wide receiver and a big weapon for us. We also have a great tailback by the name of DePaul Murdock. He’s got very good quickness. More quick than fast, but he hits the hole. With those guys, the sky is the limit for our offense.”
In a sport where year to year you don’t know what you will have because of the attrition, the Cougars have maintained and coach Nave believes a lot of it has to do with having players from the area who stay in the area.
“A lot of our guys played ball locally,” Nave said. “We are out of Wichita, but some of our guys are from the surrounding towns. We actually play our games in Rose Hill that is like 5 minutes out of town. We want to be able to play in a centralized location so people can get there and fans will come out to watch. We also want to identify with our sponsors so we decided to go by ‘Kansas’ instead of ‘Wichita’ to make sure everyone is included.”
With their season set to kick off Feb. 27, the Cougars are eager to get the season started, but the coaches are also excited to see what their team is made of.
“We have a non-conference game to get a feel for where our players are at,” Nave stated. “We still need to make roster cuts. We are at 64 or 65 players and need to be at 50. We play the Wichita Assassins. They are a first-year team. It should be a good experience for them to go against a team with a lot of history and it should be a good game for us to see where we are at and where the maturity level of the team is. Can we handle adversity? What kind of charcter guys do we have? Where will the leadership come from? A win is good, but we want to see where we are at and not jeopardize our season. We don’t want to play against a team like Joplin who has a lot of history and national titles because it’s more important to gauge our players and see how our roster all fits together.”
The high hopes for the coming season come as no surprise to those familiar with the Cougars. After winning three championships in the Central Football League – the league they were in prior to the XFL – including a national title and the success last year under coach Nave, winning is expected. However, this team is about more than just wins.
This is a team centered around the community and helping these young men improve their lives and become better members of society.
Per their team website, in the 2008 season, 11 players went on to play for college teams after playing for the Cougars. In 2009, they assisted six players in finding full-time employment and helped enroll two other players in a GED program. In 2010, the CFL championship-winning Cougars assisted four players in finding full-time employment and sent two other players to college. In 2011, the Kansas Cougars repeated the CFL Championship and won the Mid-America National Championship Bowl Game all while assisting three players to move on to play college football and work for colleges. After all the success, 11 players then found part-time and full-time employment.
This is an organization and a team that values winning, as any sports organization does, but those numbers mean less and less over time. The most important numbers are in the people that they help and in that category, the Cougars have more valuable wins than any field could ever provide.