by Fran Stuchbury
June 30, 2016 - American Indoor Football (AIF)
OurSports Central contributor Fran Stuchbury recently interviewed American Indoor Football Triangle Torch kicker T.C. Stevens. Stevens played the 2016 season with the Torch after starting his professional career back in 2009 with the Rio Grande Valley Dorados of arenafootball2. He next played with the Professional Indoor Football League Richmond Raiders from 2012 to 2015. He was named PIFL Special Teams Player of the Year twice in 2012 and 2015. Also in 2015 he played four games with the Arena Football League's New Orleans VooDoo. Stevens played college football at Division III Hampden-Sydney (VA) from 2006 to 2009.
Fran Stuchbury: What interested you in playing for the AIF Triangle Torch? How did you like dealing with Triangle Torch head coach Josh Resignalo?
T.C. Stevens: Playing for the Torch was a great chance to continue my career with many of my former Richmond teammates. Even though the Torch was an expansion team, when I had the chance to play with Scooby Bryant, Brandon Sutton, Preston Hines, and Malik Cromartie, I knew we had a solid core group with a great chance to win.
Raleigh is also close to where I grew up, so my family could still watch me play. I could tell Coach Resignalo and the rest of the staff was passionate and excited to have me on the team. Once I added it all up, signing with the Triangle Torch was a great option for me.
FS: You played Division III football at Hampden-Sydney (VA) from 2006 to 2009. How was that experience?
TCS: Hampden-Sydney is an amazing school and I am proud to have a degree from such a great academic institution. My professional career has been surrounded by a lot of great players who went to big Division I programs. I hear them talk about their college days, and sometimes I get jealous of the stories about big stadiums on Saturday nights full of screaming fans, bowl game experiences, and the national exposure they received, but I love Hampden-Sydney. The guys I played with there will be some of my best friends for life. There is a lot of tradition associated with the H-SC football program and I'm grateful to be a part of it.
I got to play in The Game against Randolph-Macon, which is the oldest small-college rivalry in the South dating back to 1893, and help win an ODAC championship for the program in 2007, their first since 1987. Since that championship in 2007, Coach Favret has done a phenomenal job maintaining the success that he, the assistant coaches, and so many of my teammates helped build. Maybe if I had the chance to play at a Division I school my path to a professional career might have been easier, but coming from a small school has forced me to work harder to prove myself at the next level. Without that, I doubt my professional career would have lasted as long as it has.
FS: Your football career started back in 2009 with the af2 Rio Grande Valley Dorados and you played with them for your first part of their season; how was that experience?
TCS: That was my first professional team, and I was beyond excited to finally be playing football for a living. With the AFL not playing that season, af2 was the highest level of indoor football. I was playing for Hall of Fame Coach Kevin Guy and playing with Ramonce Taylor, who won a National Championship with the Texas Longhorns just three years earlier. To say it was a change from being a student athlete at a Division III school would be an understatement. I was supposed to be in my final semester in college. Instead, I was competing against two other veteran kickers for a starting job just days after my 22nd birthday.
I was the youngest player in the league that year and I let myself get too excited about the idea of being a professional football player rather than focusing on the things that would allow me to perform well. That led to inconsistent performances, and I was cut after my fourth game when I missed four extra points and nearly cost us the game. I was disappointed in myself, but I did not want to make excuses or feel sorry for myself.
I believe getting cut is when my indoor football career really got started. I was not ready to quit football, but I knew getting back on a team would require harder work and more focus, and I was eager to start. I'm not proud of the way my stint with the Dorados ended, but I am glad it opened my eyes to the type of work it would take to play professional football.
FS: How was your experience playing for the PIFL Richmond Raiders that you spent most of your indoor football career with? How did you like dealing with the Raiders fans?
TCS: My four seasons with the Raiders were terrific. They are well organized, they have a history of success, and Richmond is just an hour away from Charlottesville, VA, where I've lived since graduating college.
In my first season I started strong and struggled down the stretch, and the fans definitely let me hear it. I will admit to holding a grudge until the next season, which is not the most professional thing an athlete can do, but we have buried the hatchet and now I am glad to have the Richmond Raiders Superfans on my side. The fans are a huge part of what made playing in Richmond so great. They bring so much passion and hype to each game, home and away.
Whenever former players would get called up to the AFL or even move on to other teams in the PIFL, they made sure to follow their careers and keep us all up to date. They even supported me and any other former Raiders after the PIFL folded by coming to games in Raleigh. I cannot thank them enough for their continuous support. I've played in a lot of arenas and I can say that they are far and away the best fans in indoor football.
FS: How much of an honor was it to be named PIFL Special Teams player of the Year twice in 2012 and 2015?
TCS: That was my first time being selected as 1st-team anything, let alone player of the year, so it was a great honor. I do feel guilty being recognized as an individual when I had such a great team around me both of those years, including great long snappers like Derek Stout in 2012 and Christian Lacey in 2015 and incredible holders like James Steadman in 2012 and Jon Bane in 2015. Any kicker will tell you that success starts with a good operation, and I had some of the best in the game for four years.
FS: How did you like playing under Raiders head coach James Fuller?
TCS: I loved playing for Coach Fuller. He did an incredible job getting the most out of our team each year. He put a lot of faith in me to get my job done and he stuck with me when I struggled early in my first season. He has a unique ability to stay calm and fire his players up at the same time. There really aren't enough good things to say about Coach Fuller and how much I liked playing for him. But if I had to pick a couple things that really stand out about having him as a coach, it's that he was always on my side and gave me great advice about my career.
FS: Do you hope indoor football comes back to Richmond sometime in the near future?
TCS: Absolutely. Richmond indoor football will always be special to me as a player. Everyone involved with the Raiders was committed to a successful team that played quality football and entertained the fans. There are so many fans who love Richmond football. Those fans deserve a team that can bring them a championship. There are plenty of great players in the area that can make that happen. I would love for that to happen sooner rather than later.
FS: You made a lot of UNO's (one point for kicks through goal posts) in the PIFL during your career. Do you like that rule in the game?
TCS: It's a great rule. It does so much more for a team than put a point on the scoreboard. An UNO could turn a game around so quickly. The crowd is already pumped after a touchdown. When you factor in the excitement of tacking on one more point and forcing the other team to start on their own 5 yard line, the crowd (especial our fans) goes nuts. And when Richmond fans are loud, it's like our defense is playing with two extra players on the field. That can change the momentum of a game in a heartbeat. Thankfully, our teams did a great job scoring enough touchdowns to give me those opportunities.
FS: Was it a little frustrating for you and other members of the Richmond Raiders team to have lost in three PIFL Championship games (2012 lost to Albany Panthers 60-56, 2013 lost to Alabama Hammers 70-44, 2015 lost to Columbus Lions 64-38)?
TCS: It was more than a little frustrating. I was dejected for weeks after each one of those losses. I can honestly say not a day goes by that I don't think about those games. But they added fuel to my fire. They're the reason I practice in the snow, rain, and heat, early in the morning, in the middle of the day, or until the last ounce of sunlight. Every time I practice or work out, I think about getting back to that point and finishing what we started.
FS: In 2015 you played the last four weeks of the AFL New Orleans VooDoo season. You were 1-3 on field goals and 15-18 on extra points. How was that experience? How was playing with head coach Dean Cokinos?
TCS: Playing in the AFL was a dream come true. I was excited to represent my family and the Richmond Raiders on the national level. I was also excited to prove to myself I could play well at that level. From the moment I arrived in New Orleans, I could tell how much that team meant to the fans and the city. Everyone in the front office, the coaching staff, the players, and the fans were welcoming and committed to seeing that team win. I was honored to step in at the end of the season and help the VooDoo win their last home game. That was a special moment and I'm so glad I got to share it with that group of men.
I was familiar with Coach Cokinos from his time in the PIFL where he coach the Alabama Hammers to a championship in 2013. I was excited to get there and play for him. He was a great coach and that team was far better than the final record said. I will always be grateful to Coach Cokinos for giving me the shot to play at that level. I would love to play for him again because I know any team he is leading is bound for success.
FS: In indoor football your strategy on kickoffs was to kick the ball through the goal post. In Arena Football what strategy did you have?
TCS: The main objective for a kickoff in the AFL is to hit the rebound net. That gives the kick a little extra hang time, allowing your coverage team more time to cover the kick. There is a slack net between the goal posts that, when you hit it, causes the ball to trickle down slowly, usually causing the referee to blow the play dead and eliminate any chance for a long return. But the best scenario is to hit the iron, which gives the coverage team the chance to recover the kick and hopefully score. So when I went from kicking in the PIFL to kicking in the AFL, my strategy changed from trying to kick the ball between the uprights to trying to hit the uprights, hoping for a good ricochet that my teammates could scoop and score.
FS: If the Arena Football League is able to add more teams and not lose any, could that improve your chances in playing for a team next season?
TCS: You never know what each offseason will bring and which teams will be looking for a new kicker. Just eight spots to compete for is tough, so having more teams certainly cannot hurt my chances. But I can't count on a league expansion to get back to the AFL. My mindset is to work as hard as I can so when another AFL team gives me a shot, I can help that team by being the best kicker in the league, not the ninth or tenth best.
FS: When you were not playing football what did you do?
TCS: After being cut from the Rio Grande Valley Dorados in 2009, I came back to Virginia and started working in a restaurant. I still had hopes of catching on with another team that year and the restaurant industry gave me the flexibility to train and travel to tryouts. Unfortunately, I did not have any background in the industry and had to start as a bus boy, eventually working my way up to bartending.
Once I found a stable kicking job with the Richmond Raiders, I moved into an office job working as a data analyst. I still work as an analyst during the week. The consistent work schedule allows me to train at night and travel to camps and tryouts on the weekends.
FS: For kickers who want to play professional football would you recommend them trying to get involved in any indoor football team that is near them?
TCS: Indoor football has been great to me. It has allowed me to continue playing and testing myself while working to make a full-time career in football. When I came out of college, I had a strong leg without much control. The indoor game has forced me to focus on developing that accuracy while maintaining that leg strength. I still have goals of reaching the NFL and the indoor game is the best developmental league available, especially for kickers.
FS: How many people have helped you during your football career?
TCS: I want to thank everyone who has had an impact on my career so far. I have been blessed so much, and playing indoor football has helped me realize that. My parents have always been supportive of my dreams. They encourage me to keep going after the things I want. My sister and her family has given me a place to stay for each home game in Richmond and made sure I was ready to play my best. My girlfriend has made countless sacrifices to make my training easier, every single day. I have so many family members and friends who have supported me by coming to games.
I've worked with a great kicking coach, Michael Husted, who has helped me refine my technique and improve my physical and mental abilities in the past year. There are so many coaches and players on all my former teams, college and professional, that have inspired me and never let me think I wasn't a good enough kicker. And last, but not least, I want to thank all the fans for their support. Indoor football is not an extremely popular or glamorous sport, but the fans who come to the games make playing so much fun. Without any of these people, I would not have enjoyed the past seven years nearly as much. And it's because of them that I'm so excited for the next seven years.