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Wednesday, March 4, 2009 01:32 pm

The Outlaws can’t stop playing football

Springfield’s semi-pros play at home March 8

From top to bottom: Brent Bordenkircher, Dan Eck, Tony Shiffman, Edgar Ewing

Some guys hunt, some guys golf. Brent Bordenkircher plays football.

He’s not just talking about throwing the pigskin around the backyard or calling up some buddies for a ragtag round of flag football in the park. He’s talking about competitive semi-professional eight-man football, right here in Springfield.

The Capital City Outlaws, founded in 1991 as the Springfield Statesmen and formerly known as the Springfield Buccaneers, gives Bordenkircher, a 35-year-old Edward Jones financial adviser, the chance to play every Sunday with former standout high school and college athletes. Guys who, he says, can’t quite get the game out of their system.

“When you play your last high school football game, for 95 percent of those people, it’s the last time you’ll ever play,” Bordenkircher, a past lineman for Jacksonville Routt, says.

“You can pick up a game of basketball anywhere there’s a 10-foot hoop, and there’s a thousand of them around Springfield. You can play tennis on any of the 500 courts that are probably in Springfield. But to get an organized game of football, with contact, with full NFL rules, you just can’t get that anywhere.”

Head coach Chris Lawson, a colonel with the Illinois Army National Guard who has previously been deployed to Iraq and Europe, has led the team since 1995 and gets credit from his players for keeping the organization stable and successful.

In Lawson’s first year as head coach, the Springfield team was the only one in central Illinois and traveled as far as Cleveland, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Indianapolis to compete against other 11-man teams in the Midwest Football League. In 2004, they signed on to the Eight-Man Football League, a start-up semi-professional league based in Peoria that plays March through May. When Lawson became involved in the league’s management, there were four teams; there are now 12 within two hours of Springfield (including the two-year-old Sangamon County Seminoles).

Lawson facilitated a unique leadership strategy by recruiting his brother, Alex Lawson, a lieutenant colonel with the Illinois Army National Guard currently deployed to Afghanistan, and childhood friend Tomas Akers, a captain with the Illinois Army National Guard who has also previously deployed to Iraq, to his coaching staff.

“One thing I always tell folks, if you’re a coach, you have to fit a certain personality type,” Lawson says. “You have to be able to lead, you have to be able to follow, you have to take orders and you can never quit. It’s all about attitude.

“The coaching administration of the Outlaws is people who are military-minded. I like it that way. There’s less convincing to go on. Everyone takes their assignments and gets their work done.”

Dan Eck, a 27-year-old former player for Sacred Heart-Griffin who Lawson calls the most prolific quarterback in the 8FL, throwing for more than 150 touchdowns, started with the Outlaws in 2003. He’s convinced that the team’s special leadership has produced special results.

“Chris Lawson, Tomas Akers being involved in the organization, they are quality individuals, both in their professions and in their personal lives,” Eck says. “When they take their personal experiences and their professional experiences and put them into a program like the Outlaws, it’s destined to have good things come from it.”

The Outlaws won the Midwest Football League Championship in 1999 and the 8FL Championship in 2004 and 2007. They’ve competed in the championship game four other times in their history, Lawson says, and won 80 percent of their games. They’ve sent both coaches and players to the Casino Bowl All-Star game in Las Vegas multiple times.

Lawson, inducted into the American Football Association’s Semi-Pro Football Hall of Fame in December 2007, recognizes a sound financial set-up as another part of the Outlaws’ longevity. They never borrow money, he says, and instead seek local business support in exchange for advertising.

The coaches donate their time, and use the funds to provide everything from uniforms, helmets and shoulder pads to transportation to and from games for the Outlaws’ 30-plus players.

“When you go out and you can provide this for the players, and provide some expertise as far as coaching, not only does that instill in them the quality to work harder for you, but it gives them a little bit of loyalty, too,” Akers says. “They see what they’re getting for this and they see what other teams provide. It makes them proud to play for us.”

The Outlaws’ players range in age from 20 to 40, and come from all of the Springfield high schools. In addition to SHG, Lanphier, Southeast and Springfield high schools are represented.

Tony Shiffman, a 27-year-old former player and now football coach at Springfield High, returned to the capital city and started as an offensive lineman for the Outlaws after a four-year football career at Illinois College. At first he played because he didn’t want to hang up his cleats, but now, he says, the camaraderie and competition keep him going.

“We’re good football,” Shiffman says. “We’re not trying to toot our own horn or anything, but we’re going to be competitive, and we’re going to win a lot of ball games. There are names that people will recognize on our team.”

In spite of negative attention last year after fights erupted during a game against the now-defunct Springfield Stallions arena team, Lawson says, the Outlaws want to show the community that they’re good for Springfield.

Edgar Ewing, a 26-year-old defensive end from Southeast High School and Western Illinois University, agrees:

“We’re out here because we want to be out here, and we’re having fun and enjoying playing the game.”

The Capital City Outlaws beat the Mid-State Thunderbirds 18-0 in the season opener in Morton March 1.

The Outlaws’ first home game begins at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 8, at Knight’s Action Park. For more information, visit www.ccofootball.com.

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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