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Elby

Elby Pope was the first Bismarck Bucks player signed when the team was introduced to the city in 2016.

Richard Davis is a traveling man whose football coaching odyssey has taken him to several states and on to Europe.

 At age 52 he finds himself in Bismarck as the coach and general manager of a Champions Indoor Football League expansion team, which was introduced at a Wednesday press conference. He said he didn't arrive in the Capital City by happenstance.

 "This has been an endeavor of much due diligence," Davis said of the effort to place a CIFL franchise in Bismarck. "... I started to do economic research on communities that did not have this product. ... This was where we felt comfortable building this house. It was not even close."

 Davis, a veteran coach, began investigating indoor football possibilities near the end of 2015. The Bemidji, Minn., Axemen, who hired him last year as coach and general manager, lost their Indoor Football League franchise before he coached a game.

 Davis first made contact with Bismarck Event Center manager Charlie Jeske last November. The ownership group he represented received one of four expansion franchises the CIFL awarded for the 2017 season.

 The as yet unnamed team will be the third indoor football team to represent Bismarck. The Bismarck Blaze were a success in 2000, their first year in the Indoor Football League, going 13-4 and reaching the league championship game.

 In 2001, Arena Football League 2 absorbed the IFL and the Blaze spent the year on the sidelines. The team returned in 2002 under new ownership with a new name in a new league, the National Indoor Football League. The Roughriders finished 12-4. Things went downhill in 2003, but the team still posted a winning record of 9-6 amid a nasty financial crisis.

Davis said he's well aware of Bismarck's indoor football history, including an average attendance of over 4,700 in 2000.

 "A lot more was good than bad with the indoor football that was here in the past. ... It was very well-supported and well-received," he observed. "It's a fast, exciting, high-scoring pace."

 The five-month CIFL season begins in February with the playoffs wrapping up in late June. Teams play a preseason game and a dozen regular season league games. Last season the 12 CIFL teams were split into two divisions. With 16 teams due to play in 2017, Davis anticipates a different structure. His best guess is four four-team divisions.

 "We anticipate being aligned with teams in the north half of the league," he said.

 Sioux City, Iowa, is Bismarck's closest geographic neighbor at 512 miles, followed by Omaha, Neb. (611), Salina, Kan. (689), Dodge City, Kan. (737), Wichita, Kan. (775) and Kansas City, Mo. (789).

 CIFL football is an eight-man game with a 21-man game-day roster. Davis said he's already signed one player, former University of Mary wide receiver Elby Pope.

 Davis said he wanted Pope on his roster at Bemidji last season before the team was shut down.

 "He was a kid I found who was the steal of them all. ... This kid can play," the coach said.

  The signing of Pope is apparently typical of the CIFL, which has no draft procedure. 

 "Player acquisition is free agents. The first squad I signed at Bemidji had 16 players who came directly from NFL camps," Davis said.

 He said he's well prepared to ferret out and sign players in such a dog-eat-dog environment.

 "I have a lot of contacts. A lot of people trust me and I've been able to resource players," Davis said. "... Also, there's a lot of regional talent that would be good for a product like ours."

 It's not surprising that Davis knows football people everywhere. He's a coach's son, and he's coached at virtually every level in a blizzard of Zip Codes over the last 23 years. He's played and coached at the high school and collegiate level, and he's coached for several pro teams, among them Canadian Football League and NFL Europe organizations.

 "I've coached in arena ball for 10 years," he said in retrospect.

 His indoor football background includes stops at Richmond, Va.; Albany, N.Y. ; Stockton, Calif., and Tri-Cities, Wash., all Arena Football League 2 franchises, and Bemidji. Bemidji played in the Indoor Football League.

 Davis said the CIFL's rules give the game a true football feel. 

 "Rule-wise, we're as close to the outdoor game being dropped indoors as you can get. I love it," he said. 

 Davis said Bismarck-Mandan area fans can rest assured that this team doesn't have a here-today, gone-tomorrow mentality. He said the ownership group, which consists of local and Northern Plains-based entities, provides a solid foundation.

 "Our ownership is deep and wide. We are set for the future. ... We'll hit every standard the community expects us to meet," he noted.  

 Bismarck is one of four new CIFL franchises selected for 2017. The others are Belton, Texas; Kansas City and Muskegon, Mich.

 As CIFL venues go, the Bismarck Event Center is among the larger facilities with a capacity of about 7,500. Arena capacities in the league range from 13,450 in Wichita, Kan., to 4,000 in Omaha.

 Sales of season tickets will begin Oct. 10. The CIFL schedule for 2017 is expected to be available in about a week. The team can be reached by phone at 701-595-0771, by e-mail at bismarckprofootball@gmail.com and on Facebook at Bismarck Pro Football.

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Sports Reporter