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INDOOR FOOTBALL: Axemen QB Kirby's work ethic won over new team

Axeman quarterback Cody Kirby throws a pass under pressure from a Green Bay Blizzard defenseman during a recent game at the Sanford Center. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- Regardless of the length of practice -- or if it is before practice or after -- it is almost a guarantee that Bemidji Axemen quarterback Cody Kirby will be working on routes and timing with his receiving corps.

Kirby, who joined the team midseason, has won over his new teammates and coaches with an undeniable work ethic.

"I have always prided myself on my work ethic," Kirby said. "I do not see myself as overly-talented, but I want to hold myself accountable to do whatever it takes outside of practice time to help the team win."

Kirby and the Axemen will try and get back above .500 tonight when they travel to face defending IFL champions Sioux Falls Storm tonight in Sioux Falls. Kickoff is set for 7:05 p.m. at Sioux Falls Arena.

Axemen head coach Robert Fuller said Kirby downplays his physical ability, but praised his "blue-collar" work ethic.

"Coming in mid-season is a challenge for any player, let alone a quarterback," Fuller said. "To try to assimilate into a new system with a group of guys that you don't really know is a true testament to his ability as a leader and his work ethic."

To make things even more difficult for a quarterback joining the team midseason, Kirby has had wide receiver Maurice Patterson leave the team, has seen Nick Truesdell leave for a tryout with the Green Bay Packers and has missed De'Markus Washington and DeMario Pippen for one game each due to injuries.

"We have had an unusually high number of roster changes this season and a lot of those have happened at the wide receiver and offensive line positions," Fuller said. "Cody overcame that by taking ownership of our offense."

Kirby admits the turnover amongst his receivers is a challenge, but he does not use it as an excuse.

"You always hear the cliche 'it is a business,'" Kirby said. "Well, it is. You have to learn how to deal with it. At the same time, we bring a lot of good athletes in that are hungry to win. When you bring guys in with that kind of ability and character, it makes things a lot easier."

Kirby, last season's IFL rookie of the year with the Chicago Slaughter, began the season with the Nebraska Danger, but left when starting quarterback Jameel Sewell returned from his second injury of the season.

"It just was not the best fit," Kirby said. "I have nothing but respect for that organization and all of the great people I met there."

For Bemidji, the timing could not have been better.

The team had just played its previous game with wide receiver Ryan Balentine as its starting quarterback.

Balentine, a former signal caller in college, guided the Axemen to a 33-14 win, but only completed four passes on the night.

"Cody becoming available to us could not have come at a better time," Fuller said. "He was doing very well at Nebraska, but when Sewell came back from injury a second time, it was obvious Cody needed to make a move for his career.

"Hunter and Josh were doing a great job for us, but when they both went down to injury that opened the door for Cody to join the Axemen family."

"Bemidji did not have a quarterback at that time," Kirby added. "Everything seemed to fall in place and I was just thankful to step in and play the game that I love."

Kirby played his college football at Missouri State University -- where he was a four-year starter -- and signed with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League (CFL) after graduation.

Despite a successful college career that was highlighted by 7,984 yards and 46 touchdowns through the air, Kirby had doubts about his chances of playing college football thanks to a pair of ankle injuries that sidelined him for two seasons.

"In my sophomore season, I broke my left ankle that sidelined my entire season," Kirby said. "Before my junior season, I broke my right ankle and missed the entire season. So heading into my senior season, without any film, I was starting to wonder if my dream of playing at the college level would ever come true."

A successful senior campaign earned him a single scholarship offer -- from Missouri State.

"It's crazy looking back," Kirby said. "It would be easy for me to say I kept my focus or any of those 'politically correct' answers. But obviously, I started to think about those 'what-ifs' in life. It was a test."

In his first four games with the Axemen, Kirby has thrown for 959 yards and 21 touchdowns with just two interceptions to go with three rushing touchdowns.