March 6, 2014
By BJ PICKARD
There’s not much that Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley do quietly.
Ever since the KISS rockers introduced themselves as the new owners of an AFL expansion franchise at ArenaBowl XXVI Media Day last August, the LA KISS have dominated Arena Football headlines.
The rock star owners have toured the talk show circuit, promoting the return of pro football to the Los Angeles market. The team made very public overtures towards a certain southpaw quarterback whose name evokes what can only be described as a 21st century Beatlemania furor from all forms of media. The KISS franchise will even star in an upcoming docu-series on AMC.
Before even hitting the field, it’s already clear that the LA KISS is bringing Arena Football into a world of spectacle and entertainment the likes of which it has never seen before. But with all the hoopla and fanfare about reality shows and celebrity sightings, one thing seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle.
Somehow, Arena Football’s most covered team has also become its most overlooked. It turns out, the KISS have actually put together a pretty good roster of players.
Veteran Arena Football quarterback J.J. Raterink was the team’s first acquisition. They added two-time Heisman Trophy finalist Colt Brennan to compete with him for the starting job. The receiving corps is set with a talented trio of Donovan Morgan, Samie Parker and Markee White, who have combined for 240 career touchdown receptions.
The offense shouldn’t have too much trouble putting up points.
But Arena Football isn’t about scores – it’s about stops.
That’s why KISS head coach Bob McMillen
recruited Beau Bell
and David Veikune
– a pair of relentless pass rushers – to be the building blocks of the franchise’s hard-nosed defensive unit.
Bell – who has made a name for himself as a Mac linebacker by harassing quarterbacks through A-gap over the last three seasons – says the key for the KISS defense will be patience.
“Most guys come from playing outdoors where we can get stops more often,” Bell said. “In the AFL, we know guys are going to score. We have to learn to be patient and persistent.”
Bell’s understanding of the game and the leadership he brings to the huddle is precisely what prompted McMillen to build the defense around him.
“Beau’s incredible size and speed, coupled with his high ‘Football IQ’, make him a beast on the defensive side of the field,” McMillen said at the time of Bell’s assignment to LA.
Once the first selection the Cleveland Browns made in the 2008 NFL Draft, Bell has thrived since coming to the AFL. In three seasons with the Spokane Shock, Bell recorded 137.5 tackles and became the franchise’s all-time sack leader with 17.
The Browns actually traded away two draft picks to acquire Bell, who was viewed as one of the top inside linebacker prospects in college football coming out of college. The 2007 Mountain West Conference Defensive MVP finished his career at UNLV ranked second on the school’s all-time tackles list with 320 tackles to his name. He added 10.5 sacks, 27 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles and four interceptions.
However, his NFL career didn’t pan out quite the way Bell nor the Browns expected it to. The linebacker played in just five games with the team.
“In 2010, I wasn’t playing football at all,” Bell said. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to keep playing football and I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. The Spokane Shock gave me a call and an opportunity to play in the AFL and from there I just ran with it.”
When Bell’s contract in Spokane expired after the 2013 AFL season, the Orange County native saw LA’s expansion team as a great fit.
“It was my first free agent year in Arena Football and I felt like it was a great opportunity to be a part of the LA KISS,” Bell said.
One of his former teammates in Cleveland – David Veikune – had a similar thought.
“When the KISS group decided to make a team, it really swayed me towards the AFL,” Veikune said. “They had some really good players on the roster already. It seemed like a good fit.”
An All-Western Athletic Conference selection in 2007 and 2008, Veikune recorded 118 tackles, 18 sacks and four forced fumbles in 41 games at defensive end for the Hawaii Warriors. His production led to the Browns making him the 52nd overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft. However, Veikune’s run in the NFL followed a similar path to Bell’s. Actually listed behind Bell on the depth chart at inside linebacker during the 2009 preseason, Veikune only saw action in 10 games with the Browns.
“We played against each other a couple years [in college] and we played together in Cleveland,” Bell said of his relationship to Veikune. “He’s a good guy and a great football player. He has that relentless attitude to get to the quarterback. That’s what you need to be a great defensive player in the AFL – to be relentless.”
Though his aggressive pursuit of the passer is certainly what led to the KISS offering him a contract, Veikune’s motor is being revved by something even more powerful than his natural ability.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity,” Veikune said of his assignment to the KISS. “I didn’t play football last year, so I’m ready to get back into it and play the sport I love.”
While the Browns experimented with playing Veikune at linebacker, McMillen says the pass rusher will return to a more natural position in the AFL.
“David is a big, physical defensive end who is violent with his hands and plays with an attitude and is always on the move,” McMillen remarked of the acquisition.
Veikune says he is prepared for the transition back to defensive line.
“I would definitely say there will be an adjustment period,” Veikune said. “I’ve been working with offensive linemen to get that step back and into a regular pass rush. I think I can help the defense a lot.”
While Veikune gets re-acclimated to defensive line play, Bell says it won’t be the only transition the rookie defender will have to make. Three years into his AFL career, Bell insists he’s still growing accustom to the Arena game, despite being among the best in the League at his position.
“I’m still adjusting,” Bell said. “It’s a different game. It’s quicker. I’m still looking to get better every day. I can’t say I’m adjusted yet because I learn something new every day.”
When Bell leads the KISS onto the field in San Antonio on March 15, the rest of the League might learn something too – there’s a lot more to the KISS than glitz and glam.
From powerful pass rushers like Bell, Veikune and former All-Big XII Nebraska lineman Steve Octavien, to Arena Football veterans like Andre Jones, Jorrick Calvin and Mervin Brookins patrolling the secondary, the KISS aren’t just some publicity stunt. This is a team built to contend.
“[Fans] should expect high energy, great entertainment and great football,” Bell said.
Expansion teams generally aren’t expected to be championship teams. But since when have Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley done anything ‘by the book’? They stole the show during ArenaBowl Week last August. Considering the roster the team has quietly assembled since then, the KISS could very well be positioning themselves to steal a few more headlines this August as well.