Arena football is coming to the beach.
However, fans of the sport will need to wait until next year.
The Myrtle Beach Freedom arena football team’s inaugural season isn’t slated to begin until March, but X-League Indoor Football President and Co-founder Kacee Smith said the organization is already ahead of schedule during the upstart team’s press conference Monday at the Sheraton Hotel in Myrtle Beach.
“I love what they’re doing here. They’re so far ahead,” Smith said of the Freedom. “Most people that want to get into indoor football usually don’t get much done this quick but they’re on top of things and they’re so far ahead it’s awesome.”
The X-League was founded in 2013 by CEO and commissioner Michael Mink and Smith and currently has 10 teams with the Freedom being its second expansion team heading into its third season of play.
The X-League brings it’s own unique brand and an innovative scoring system, while also keeping some of the more traditional rules.
If a team’s defense forces a turnover of any kind the team is awarded a point. If that turnover results in a touchdown on the same play, an additional point is added for a total of eight, which they coined the term “pick eight” instead of the traditional “pick six.”
Instead of a coin toss, the league uses what it calls “The X-Dash” at the beginning of each half. Two players lay down on their backs at the 20-yard line and whoever picks up the ball and scores first gives his team possession and two points.
“We’re just trying to do things a little differently,” Smith said. “We want to make things exciting.”
There is also no punting, but field goals are attainable for three points (place-kick) and four points (drop kick) and – unlike the Arena Football League – there are no nets on the field.
On top of all of the features, the league allows for a 4-point conversion in the final minute of the game and a special red football is used for the occasion.
All of the unique features and excitement are part of what drew Freedom owner and general manager Ronnie McCuin to start a team in Myrtle Beach.
“Myrtle Beach is a great place for football,” McCuin said. “Our goal is to provide a positive, affordable, fun family football atmosphere and fellowship among members of Horry County and surrounding communities for years to come while striving to win championships.”
And McCuin already has plans in place to give back to the community.
“The Myrtle Beach Freedom will be involved in the community in many ways. We’ve currently joined the Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Conway and Georgetown area chambers of commerce and will be involved in numerous upcoming events sponsored by the chambers,” he said. “We will create a scholarship to be awarded at one of our games. We will also be creating an elementary school reading program, a middle school mentor program and a high school/college volunteer internship programs.”
Teams in the X-League will play an eight-game season (four home, four away) and the Freedom will play all of their home games at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. McCuin said the team will be playing two preseason games in March to get a head start.
“They’ve been amazing throughout this whole process in helping me get this started,” McCuin said of the Myrtle Beach Convention center staff. “We’re looking forward to playing our games inside the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.”
Myrtle Beach mayor John Rhodes is also eager for the franchise to get off the ground and see what it may do for the Grand Strand sports tourism industry.
“This is exciting. Ronnie has done a great job so far; I think it’ll create a lot of excitement with a different set of rules and different set of play and grounds,” Rhodes said. “It gives us another opportunity to have some exposure for Myrtle Beach. It’s another addition, another attraction for sports tourism in this area. We’re trying to build Myrtle Beach in being the top sports tourism city in the country. We’re headed in the right direction and we’re right now in the top five and by the time we get through we’ll be right up there. This is just another step in the right direction.”
Myrtle Beach Freedom director of sponsorship Lon Leinke has high hopes for the program as well.
“[The X-League] has already got a great following. We’re really excited,” Leinke said. “With the support of the mayor, the city and the Convention Center, things should be good.”
While the Freedom don’t have players committed yet, they will be holding open tryouts in February. Smith said the league has attracted some good talent already like former Canadian Football League halfback Brad Lester – who is 24th all time in career rushing yards (1,400) at Auburn University – and former Western Michigan tight end Dallas Walker, who was signed by the San Diego Chargers in April 2013 before being released later that year in August.
“We have a lot of looked-over talent that is trying to get to that next level. We have a lot of guys that have played in the Arena Football League, but the ultimate goal is to get them to the NFL but that’s such a hard level to get to,” Smith said. “But it’s good to see them continue to play.”
Once the team gets going, McCuin said the main goal will be to bring a new brand of football to the Grand Strand.
“Our goal for our coaches and players is to encourage, motivate and help them continue their football careers,” McCuin said. “Whether it’s playing in the NFL, AFL, CFL or just simply for the love of the greatest game ever. … There are no professional football teams in the area. So what a better place than the beach.”
Contact MAX McKINNON at 626-0302 or on Twitter @mmckinnonTSN.