When Chris Coffin was announced as the head coach of the new Champions Indoor Football League team, that opens play against the Bloomington Edge at 7:05 p.m. Monday at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena, he made two promises.
“We’re going to give our fans an exciting brand of football,” said Coffin, a longtime metro area resident who was a standout quarterback in the Arena Football League for the past decade, “and we’re going to have players on our team who the fans will recognize.”
We’ll find out Monday about the excitement the Phantoms bring to Eastern Jackson County, but he’s kept his promise on the local players, as veteran arena league wide receiver, 2001 Truman High School graduate O.J. Simpson, and former Blue Springs all-state running back Darrian Miller will be on Coffin’s roster.
“O.J. tells the guys on the team he graduated in 2001 and you can see them start doing the calculations in their heads, and they’re like, ‘Man, you’re old!’” joked Coffin at a season ticket holder meet and greet earlier this week at SEC Arena. “He’s our veteran presence, a guy who can still get the job done. You see the young guys like Darrian watching O.J. – in practice, the way he handles himself with the fans and, when the season starts on Monday – he’s a pro’s pro and we are so lucky to have him.”
Last season Simpson, 33, played for an arena team in Grand Island, Neb., the Grand Island Danger.
He scored 23 touchdowns from his wide receiver position and immediately attracted Coffin’s attention when he was named the head coach of the Phantoms.
“I owe Coach Coffin and the Phantoms ownership so much,” said Simpson. “They brought me home. I’m home – I’m back playing football in Independence, and I am so very, very thankful.”
Simpson always maintained his home in the metro area, which meant 4 1/2 hour drives to Grand Island for practices and games.
“That’s 4 1/2 hours two times a day because I’d leave work, drive there for practices and games, and drive back home – usually, by myself,” said Simpson, who works with autistic and abused children at the KVC Wheatland Psychiatric Hospital in Kansas City, Kan.
“I love working with my kids, I love ‘em and would do anything for them. But I live, eat, sleep and breathe football. And to have this opportunity, to play back in my hometown, is a dream come true. It really is.”
Ditto for Miller, 24, who is still eyeing a shot at the NFL.
"I might have been the best (large-class school) rusher in the history of the state, but we had some great players and great coaches. I owe so much to my coaches and my teammates – I just wish I would have enjoyed it more,” said Miller, who played collegiately at Kansas and Northern Iowa after his standout career at Blue Springs.
“I still have something to prove. I'm going to enjoy my time with the Phantoms. I'm in the best place I've ever been in my life and we’ll where this takes me. After being around Coach Coffin and the guys on the team, I can tell the fans we’re going to work hard for them and give them a show (on Monday)."