Former Battle Creek Crunch Players in CIFL Title Game
by Randy Snow
Originally posted on OurSportsCentral.com, Thursday, June 26, 2008
At the end of their first season in 2007, the Kalamazoo Xplosion finished with an 11-3 record and narrowly missed going to the league championship game when they lost to the Michigan Pirates, 37-29. Being so close to the title game was a major factor in many of the player's wanting to return for a second season in Kalamazoo. They wanted to finish what they started last year.
The Xplosion are 13-1 this year and playing the Saginaw Sting for the CIFL title this Sunday at Wings Stadium. But for five players on the Xplosion team, the journey to the league title game began back in 2006, a season when they played for the now defunct Battle Creek Crunch.
Those five players are wide receiver Brian Dolph, backup quarterback/wide receiver Eric Gardner, kicker Brad Selent, linebacker/wide receiver L.J. Parker and offensive lineman/tight end Kyle Lackscheide. The 2006 Crunch season was chronicled in the book, "Paper Tiger," by Lansing, Michigan author Ted Kluck. Kluck played on the team and wrote about his experience, similar to the way George Plimpton did with the Detroit Lion for his book, "Paper Lion."
The Crunch started out the 2006 season as one of just six teams in the new Great Lakes Indoor Football League, but things began to go sour soon after that. Players were not getting paid after the first few games, the team owner eventually dropped out of sight and the league had to take over the team.
The Crunch struggled on and off the field in 2006, posting a 4-6 record during the regular season, but they managed to secure a playoff spot. The Port Huron Pirates manhandled Battle Creek in the first round of the playoffs, 74-3.
"It was the first year for this league," said L.J. Parker. "Everything was pretty much new for everybody. I still say I had a great time playing. It was a good time, besides all the off the field stuff we had to go through. It was kind of funny. We started out getting paid. We had a team full of characters and practice was always funny. Then we even stopped practicing. We just showed up for games and it was like, ‘Let's see who shows up this week.'"
After the 2006 Crunch season, L.J. Parker signed a two-year contract with the Grand Rapids Rampage of the Arena Football League. He was with the team through the 2007 preseason, but was one of the last players cut from the roster just before the regular season began. He also tried out for the AFL Arizona Rattlers, but things didn't work out there either. He came to Kalamazoo and wanted to join the Xplosion, but there was no spot for him on the team. So, he joined the expansion Muskegon Thunder and played there in 2007. He was more than happy to rejoin his former Crunch teammates in Kalamazoo this season. Parker will not be back with the Xplosion next season, however. He has accepted an assistant coaching position at a high school in Glendale, Arizona.
Eric Gardner said Kluck's book was very accurate as far as what went on that season. "Everybody who played and stuck through (the Crunch) season knows it was a hell of an experience. Reading the book and listening to Kluck's side of the story was very interesting and very exciting. (The book) was excellent."
Gardner scored the first touchdown in Battle Creek franchise history when he took the opening kickoff in their first game against the Port Huron Pirates and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown. However, Battle Creek went on to lose that first game, 62-22. Gardner feels that he still has a couple of good years left and plans to play again next season.
Kyle Lackscheide was in his final months at Olivet College when he wore the uniform of the Battle Creek Crunch in 2006. He says that things have been much better in Kalamazoo. "You actually feel like a professional in Kalamazoo compared to Battle Creek. The fans are better in Kalamazoo. I was still going to school (during the Crunch season) so I was still in college mode. We had some good times. We still had fun. It was unorganized madness (at times). People were showing up five minutes before game time and wearing different colored helmets."
Lackscheide says he is hanging up his cleats after this season. He is going to be an assistant high school football coach at Grand Rapids Catholic Central next season.
Brian Dolph had the most experience of anyone playing the 50-yard variety of football. He had played a year and a half in the Arena Football League, a partial season with the Houston Thunderbears in 2001 and a full season with the Indian Firebirds in 2002.
Dolph says he can sum up the difference between the teams in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek with one word. "Stability," he said. "I think once you have that kind of ownership that steps up and guys are getting paid, it just made a big difference. I think that's why we've been able to keep guys around."
After playing in front of huge crowds in the Arena Football League, it was a bit of an adjustment playing in a much smaller league. "I remember walking into (Kellogg Arena) the night of the first game (in Battle Creek), looking around and seeing the stands were half empty. The excitement was there because you're getting ready to play football, but it was a little different. I didn't get back into it for the money or the crowds, I just wanted to keep playing football."
Dolph has been hired as the head varsity football coach at Galesburg-Augusta High School, where he graduated from in 1996. He says that, right now, he is leaning towards returning to play for the Xplosion next season.
Brad Selent joined the Battle Creek Crunch in the fourth game of the 2006 season. He played college football at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo and also played in the Arena Football League in 2002 for the Detroit Fury. He sees some similarities between the Crunch and the Xplosion. "We had a great group of guys who stuck it out in Battle Creek and we have a great group of guys in Kalamazoo," said Selent.
Gardner, Dolph, Parker, Selent and Lackscheide have all been in the league for three years and they all feel the same way. As bad as things were that first season in Battle Creek, they still have some fond memories of the experiences they shared with their Crunch teammates.