INDOOR FOOTBALL: Inaugural season for the Bemidji Axemen had its ups and downs
BEMIDJI -- Heading into a home game on May 10 against the Tri-Cities Fever, the Bemidji Axemen were fresh off two single-possession victories and were above the .500 mark with a record of 5-4.
Then, things started to go downhill.
The Axemen suffered a heart-breaking 51-50 loss to the Fever to start a downward spiral that lasted for the remainder of the inaugural season.
Bemidji went on to lose its next four games, including another by a single possession, and a loss to each of the two bottom teams in the United Conference -- the Texas Revolution and the Green Bay Blizzard.
"I came into the season with the goal of this team being in contention for a playoff spot late in the season," Fuller said. "So the end result down the stretch was a bitter pill to swallow."
The losing streak was experienced by plenty of players who were not around for the more successful part of the team's season, as a total of 67 players wore an Axemen uniform in the 14-game season.
"I have never experienced anything like this in my indoor coaching career," Fuller said. "It is very tough to win in the IFL as it is, but when you have that type of turnover, just staying competitive is an accomplishment. We did that up until the last game."
Bemidji ended its campaign with its worst showing of the season, a 52-35 loss last weekend in Green Bay. The final score was more respectable than the 39-point difference late in the third quarter.
Despite the disappointment as a whole, members of the Axemen did experience a successful season. Wide receiver Ryan Balentine nearly set an IFL single-season record with his 1,029 receiving yards and Nick Truesdell's seven-game stint with the team helped him earn a tryout with the Green Bay Packers and an eventual spot on the roster of the Spokane Shock -- of the Arena Football League.
"From a coaching perspective, this is what it is all about," Fuller said. "We are in the business of trying to win games, but we want to make a difference in the community and we want to help players advance their careers.
"To see Nick and Ryan have the success they have had is great," he added. "We also had a lot of other players resurrect their careers. We hope to be able to help a number of our players get the opportunity to play at a higher level next season."
Even bigger than seeing his players succeed, or the high-points of the season, Fuller said the support from the Bemidji community for a new franchise was his favorite part of the year.
"The support we have received from the people of Bemidji has been the best part of the journey for me," Fuller said. "Win or lose, the fans kept coming to support Axemen football and they really helped make this first year special."
Fuller sees the 5-9 campaign as a building block to what he hopes will be a successful indoor football franchise in Bemidji.
"I definitely believe the Axemen can be successful here long-term," Fuller said. "We have obviously had very good community support, which will only continue to grow. We are already very successful for the 2015 season. The potential is there."