John Sears appeared on the Sunday, July 26 episode of a local, sports-talk radio show called Sound-Off.
Sears, a host on the popular Sunday night sports wrap-up show in Des Moines, IA had an interesting quote to kick off the episode.
The Iowa Barnstormers had just ended a 1-11 stretch to finish their season with a 4-12 record.
It was the seventh year in a row that Barnstormer fans had to watch their team miss the playoffs, something that veered from normality in a program that went to two championship games in its first six years.
“Seven straight losing seasons,” Sears said. “Is it even worth having a team anymore?”
Dixie Wooten turns Barnstormers into winners
Enter Dixie Wooten.
The loud, intense, high-energy, passionate, and relatable Wooten was hired in October by the Barnstormers front office to change the culture in Des Moines, and he has done so exceptionally.
When Wooten arrived, he made a complete overhaul to the roster and featured a high turnover rate during the off-season.
Only five players from the 2016 roster played in over half of the games in 2017, really cementing the new look Barnstormers as, “Wooten’s team.”
One of those players included a hometown favorite in Brady Roland.
“He has been great,” Roland said. “He brings a lot of energy from practice to the game.”
Roland was with the team through the 2015 and 2016 seasons before Wooten got to Iowa, and stressed that Wooten has turned the team into winners.
“He’s able to get good players here,” Roland said. “He relates with everybody so he’s a guy you want to play for, and that’s why I think we have been successful because he can get guys here.”
Wooten said in an interview that he was glad Roland stayed with Iowa when he took over, and that the Barnstormers wouldn’t be where they are today without him.
Wooten’s next step on the road to success was to bring in a couple of veterans to put some experience onto his team.
One of those veterans was B.J. Butler, a former Louisville lineman that stands at an intimidating 6’3” 290 lbs.
Butler played under Wooten when the two were in the Billings Wolves organization during the 2016 season, so he was familiar with Wooten’s ways.
“He’s known to coach any position,” Butler said. “He knows a little bit about everything.”
Butler was adamant that, ‘knowing a little bit about everything,’ actually meant everything.
He said Wooten can go all the way down the line from the quarterback position, where he played, to receivers, defensive backs, and even kickers.
“Having a coach that knows so much about everything helps out because not only can you got to your position coach, but you can also go to your head coach and get a different perspective of what your position coach is trying to teach you,” Butler said.
Then, the Barnstormers’ yearly tryout came around, and Wooten found a diamond in the rough.
He found what would be the 2018 F.A.N. Show defensive player of the year in Bryce Enyard.
Enyard, who has played exceptionally for Iowa hit it off with Wooten right from the start.
“He actually reminds me of one of my college coaches: Coach Gordon,” Enyard said. “They’re both from Texas. They’re passion for football is unbelievable. Just realizing how passionate they are about football just makes me want to work harder. Being in the, ‘Dixie era’ is pretty incredible.”
Those three players all played big roles in helping Wooten and his staff completely turn the team around.
Iowa’s 4-12 record in 2016 was blown out of the water by Wooten’s 13-3 mark in his first season in Des Moines.
The season ended with a loss in the United Conference championship game to the Sioux Falls Storm, which just so happens to be the team Iowa plays in this year’s United Bowl.
The formation of the 2018, United Bowl-bound Barnstormers
After a successful 2017 season, it could be assumed that the roster would remain mostly the same, though Wooten had other plans.
2017 saw six players earn all-IFL honors. Of the six, only one would return to Des Moines for 2018 in Roland.
Wooten would bring Roland, along with six more players to this year’s squad, forming a foundation before adding some star power through recruiting.
The only thing that remained constant with the program over the off-season was Wooten’s coaching staff.
“The first thing I have to do is make sure I have the right coaches with the same vision that I had,” Wooten said. “Those guys believe in me and believe in what I teach. That was the first thing. As a head coach, you can’t coach everybody. You’ve got to have guys that come in and help you just push the vision through. I think I hit a home-run with this coaching staff and putting all of that together is great to see.”
Following the 2017 season, Wooten hired former Nebraska Danger head coach Hurtiss Chinn, which proved to be one of his biggest off-season moves.
“He’s brought a lot [to the program],” Wooten said. “He brought a lot of knowledge to our coaching staff. The way he deals with players. He’s all about just having a key and understanding how to motivate guys to push them to be better.”
Not only is Chinn knowledgeable in his coaching style, but picking him up helped Wooten and the Barnstormers land MVP candidate Drew Powell.
Powell was the starting quarterback for the back end of the season under Chinn, who eventually pressured Wooten into making a big push for the star.
“That’s one of the big reasons why I brought Drew here,” Wooten said. “Coach Chinn spoke highly of him. [Powell] respects him to the fullest.”
Powell currently leads the IFL in rushing yards is in the top five in passing yards per game, passing, and rushing touchdowns.
Wooten also said that without Chinn’s arrival, Powell might have not been a Barnstormer.
“I think if [Chinn] had kept his job in Nebraska, [Powell] would be with him right now,” Wooten said. “Without Coach Chinn, I dont think we would have [Powell].”
After getting Powell, Wooten has corralled a number of stand-out’s from Rocky Hayes to future Toronto Argonaut Isame Faciane.
Another one of those players that has made leaps to their game this season was Sheldon Augustine.
As a former Sioux Falls player, Augustine came to Iowa with a different view of teams in the IFL and how things are run elsewhere.
“[Wooten has] been up front about everything,” Augustine said. “He keeps everything so honest and trustworthy. Some coaches in the IFL tend to just throw you stuff just to get you [to join their team]. Dixie has been real with me since the start, and I appreciate that from a head coach.”
That type of coaching from Wooten and his staff helped lead the Barnstormers to the championship game for the first time since 1997.
“He’s a people person,” Augustine said.
Last Word On Sports and Connor Ferguson are bring readers new Iowa Barnstormers’ content each and every day leading up to the 2018 United Bowl, which will be held at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, IA on Saturday, July 7.
United Bowl Coverage
Brady Roland: Hometown Hero