Flag football games are not a traditional place for IFL teams to find talent. But La Crosse Spartans wide receiver Christopher Headd is not a traditional IFL player.
In October 2009, the Spartans were looking for players to fill their inaugural roster. One of their first open tryouts was in St. Louis, and one of the first players who stood out was Headd.
Except Headd wasn’t at the field looking for an IFL contract. He was playing in a rec flag football league.
Spartans general manager Chris Kokalis and other members of the staff had showed up early at the field to prepare for the tryout, set to follow the rec game, and kept noticing Headd making plays.
“They liked what they saw and asked me if I’d like to stay for the tryout,” Headd said. “I said yeah, I’ll take the chance. I guess things happen for a reason.”
Kokalis admitted flag football games aren’t prime recruiting grounds, but his initial impression of Headd proved correct.
Headd, who did not play college football, turned in a strong rookie season for the Spartans in 2010. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound St. Louis native caught 17 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns.
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This season, Headd has nine catches for 62 yards. He caught three touchdown passes in the Spartans’ season-opening 69-48 loss to Chicago on Feb. 19.
“It’s one of the more unique stories in the league,” Kokalis said. “He got an opportunity to try out with us and he’s taken advantage of it. He’s got raw talent. And he knows that because he didn’t play college football, he has to work that much harder.”
It took a while to get used to the nuances of the game in his first season, like running starts to the line of scrimmage and the 50-yard field.
“I got smarter and smarter about it as the year went on,” Headd said. “The more you play, the more you feel comfortable with it. I’m still getting better and better at it. Last year was an all-out growing experience.”
Not long ago, Headd, 22, had planned on playing college football. He was a standout defensive back for his St. Louis-area high school and was getting interest from Iowa and Iowa State.
In the blink of an eye, all that changed.
“My senior year, October 13 of 2006, Friday the 13th, I will never forget it,” Headd said. “The day before one of our biggest games; I was on my way to school riding with a friend and he crashed into a wall.”
Headd had a deep cut on his forehead and his friend cut his lip open. Headd needed stitches — “A lot ... I can’t even give you a number,” — and his football season was over.
“I never cried through the whole thing until they said I couldn’t play the next day,” Headd said.
College recruiters stopped calling, so Headd focused on baseball. During a pre-season practice, he was playing shortstop when he went back for a pop fly, calling for the ball, and collided with the center fielder. Headd suffered a kidney injury, forcing him to sit out baseball season.
“I thought maybe I shouldn’t be playing these sports,” Headd said. “Maybe I just need to go to school for something else.”
Headd was looking at enrolling at a local St. Louis college for baseball when the Spartans found him.
“When I got this opportunity I jumped right on it,” Headd said. “Football’s my first love. Since I had the chance, why not?”
LA CROSSE SPARTANS PREVIEW
Spartans (0-2) vs. Kent Predators (1-1)
7 p.m. today, La Crosse Center
Radio: KQYB-FM 98.3
Storyline: The Spartans’ offense took a step backward last week in a 40-20 loss at Omaha. Neither Buddy Rivera nor Ryan Maiuri have emerged as the clear-cut starter at QB yet.
Scouting the Spartans: RB Antonio Overstreet is second in the IFL in all-purpose yards (347). La Crosse has suffered slow starts, with 19 total first-half points in two games, including zero in the loss at Omaha. LB/DB Kevis Buckley leads the team with 14 tackles.
Scouting the Predators: Kent is third in the league with 63.5 points per game on offense. QB Charles McCullum has passed for 458 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception. Gregory Trent leads the defense with 13 tackles, 11 solo, and 2½ sacks, all of which came in a March 6 win over Fairbanks.
– Joel Badzinski, La Crosse Tribune