April 24, 2018
Kevin Adkins: From VSU Grad to CEO in a Decade
On a bright, chilly day in March, around two dozen men took to a practice field at Windsor Academy, a private K-12 school nestled among picturesque farmland on the southern outskirts of Macon, Georgia. The men huddled together on the dry, worn grass as a brisk wind swirled around them and up into the cloudless, blue sky.
“Family on three!” the head coach shouted, leading them into the chant. Then they broke into smaller groups to run football drills — passes and catches, footwork and blocks. Dressed in pads and jerseys and fueled by Krispy Kreme donuts and water from blue Powerade bottles, the players behaved a lot like a family while they practiced, offering encouraging words to each other alongside playful verbal jabs.
Kevin Adkins watched quietly from the sidelines. Occasionally he walked from group to group, greeting a player or chatting casually with one of the coaches. He mostly stayed in the background, but he is the reason they were all there.
He is the one bringing professional football back to Middle Georgia, and the men are the team he is counting on to make that return a success. They are the Georgia Doom, a professional indoor football team hurtling into its inaugural season, eager to establish itself as a winner, both athletically and financially.
Adkins, 33, created the team in 2017 and serves as its owner and chief executive officer. The Georgia Doom is the first arena football team in Middle Georgia since the Macon Knights, a team that existed from 2001 to 2006, and the Macon Steel, a team that folded halfway through its first season in 2012 because of financial problems.
Arena football has a long, regular history of teams and leagues going under and merging and fighting — but often failing — to stay financially viable as a professional sports attraction that is second tier to the National Football League.
But Adkins said his team is different. It has staying power.
The difference starts with Adkins himself. His passion for football runs deep, but so does his business experience. The marriage of these two pursuits began at VSU, where Adkins played defensive back for the Blazers from 2002 to 2006 while taking classes at the Harley Langdale Jr. College of Business Administration.
Adkins, always a sports buff, grew up running track and playing football, basketball, baseball, and tennis in his hometown of Montezuma, Georgia, an hour outside of Macon. He played running back and defensive back for Macon County High School, a Class 1A school he described as a “traditional football powerhouse.”
It was there that “VSU chose me,” he said.
Kirby Smart, former assistant coach for Blazer football and current head coach at the University of Georgia, came to one of Adkins’ high school games and recruited him.
“I liked the atmosphere when I took the visit down to Valdosta,” Adkins said. “It gave me the Florida feel, and I felt like VSU at the time was on the come up as far as winning. It was a winning program, and I knew it was going to give me the opportunity to get seen and go to the next level.”
Adkins and his teammates won multiple Gulf South Conference championships and brought home VSU’s first NCAA Division II National Championship trophy in 2004.
On the academic side, he saw a business degree as a solid preparation for his future.
“I always wanted to be in business,” said Adkins, who was a member of Students in Free Enterprise (now Enactus) while at VSU. “Ultimately, I wanted to start my own business one day, so I felt like a major in management would give me the mindset I needed to do that.”
He graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor of Business Administration in management after a memorable four years.
“The best time of my life was at VSU,” he said. “We won a lot of games, and I learned a lot from a business standpoint. It prepared me for where I am now.
“I learned a lot of business principles, like how to prepare financials and how to manage different people. I also think football in general prepares you for life. You get through tough times and always expect to win in everything you do. It molds you into a better person and teaches you how to overcome adversity.”
After college, Adkins was not ready to stop playing football. He moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to play for the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz, a team that existed from 2004 to 2010. That is when he got his first taste of arena football.
“It was the biggest thing in town,” he said. “This was before they had the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team. The arena would be packed out for our games.”
Arena football differs in many ways from traditional football. It is always played indoors with teams of eight players instead of 11. The field is 50 yards instead of 100, allowing teams to rack up much higher scores. The field is surrounded by a short wall that separates the game from the seats that are just a few feet away.
“Without the walls, the players would get knocked into the stands,” Adkins said. “You get that up-close, personal feel. It’s more entertainment than it is football, but at the end of the day, it’s still football.”
Adkins played with the Yard Dawgz for a year before returning to Georgia to play for another arena team, the South Georgia Wildcats. Not to be confused with the dominant Valdosta High School team, the South Georgia Wildcats were based in Albany, Georgia from 2005 to 2009.
After a year with the Wildcats, Adkins was getting recruitment calls from arena teams all over the country, but there was a problem.
“I wound up getting hurt,” he said. “I hurt my shoulder for the third time in my career. It was very painful. After the third time, I decided it was time to try something different.
“Pittsburgh was calling, Tampa Bay was calling, so it was a difficult decision, but I had to make it.”
Adkins chose to step into the business field, working briefly as a store and district manager at Family Dollar in the Atlanta, Georgia, area before joining Dollar General as a district manager in 2011. He stayed in Atlanta, working his way up to a regional director position with the company.
But he never got arena football out of his head, and he began eyeing Macon as a potential home for his very own team.
He got a practice run with his own team in early 2017 when he received a call about the Dayton Wolfpack, a new arena team in Dayton, Ohio. The team was on the verge of falling apart after the owners failed to secure a lease agreement for a venue. The team’s league, the National Arena League, needed a new owner to carry the team through the rest of the season as a traveling team.
“They had heard through the grapevine that I was trying to start up a team in Macon,” Adkins said. “They said I was the perfect candidate. At first I said no about three times, and then one of my guys finally talked me into it. He said, ‘You’ve got the mindset; you know the arena game. You’d be great for it.’
“So I jumped on board with it, but in the back of my mind I was thinking Macon hasn’t had a team in over a decade. I’m from Middle Georgia, and I knew we were missing that.”
After guiding the Wolfpack through the rest of its season as a traveling team based in Atlanta, in Spring 2017 he turned all his attention to bringing the Georgia Doom team to life.
There was competition right out of the starting gate. Three other management teams were interviewing with the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce in hopes of starting their own arena football team in the city.
“Macon was going to have a team this year whether I was here or not,” Adkins said. “I just happened to have the better business background, and that’s why they chose me.”
Adkins knew he needed a top-notch coaching staff and administrative team to make his team a success, so he reached out to fellow VSU alumni to find that “winning attitude.” He now has two VSU alumni on staff. Both played football at VSU around the same time he did.
“Not only did I play with them, but they gave me good interviews,” he said. “They’re young, and they’re willing to learn. They’re very energetic, and I think they’ll bring that winning attitude to our organization, that VSU winning attitude that I like. I want to translate that onto the field.”
Reginald Rhodes, who attended VSU from 2000 to 2002 and returned in 2012 to earn a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice, is the offensive line and defensive line coach. Carlton Lofton, who graduated from VSU in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts in general studies, coaches the receivers.
Adkins has implemented an aggressive marketing campaign in a robust attempt to fill the 9,000-seat Macon Coliseum, where the Georgia Doom will play its home games.
The team is revving up appeal for home games by offering special discounts and entertainment throughout the season, such as College Night, Teacher and Military Appreciation Night, Battle of the Bands, and surprise performances from musical artists.
“We’re doing a lot of things that most arena teams haven’t done,” Adkins said.
He hopes that the Georgia Doom will fill a void in Macon’s entertainment scene.
“Here on a Saturday night in Macon, there isn’t anything to do, so with arena football back, you’re bound to get those football lovers back out,” he said.
But at the end of the day, the best thing the Georgia Doom can do to stay in business is win games. Adkins hired Derek Stingley as head coach to help make that happen. Stingley, the son of former New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley, has 25 years of experience playing with and coaching arena teams.
Adkins also hosted tryouts in multiple states to find the best players. Many of his 24 players have NFL experience.
“We want to be the bad boys of arena football. I think we’re going to surprise the league.”
The Georgia Doom, a member of the American Arena League, played its first game March 24 and will continue to play through June 9. They share the Macon Coliseum with Macon’s other professional sports franchise, the Macon Mayhem hockey team. Once the hockey season wrapped up mid-April, the ice rink was permanently replaced by turf and the Georgia Doom players traded the Windsor Academy practice field for their indoor home, where chants of “Tic, Tic, Doom!” are now heard on Saturday nights.
Adkins is looking to let VSU students in on the arena football experience by hiring them as interns throughout the spring and summer.
“We’ll take the students and put them in a variety of positions, such as sales or marketing or game-day operations or daily operations,” he said. “We’ll give them academic credit for it, and we’ll pay them as well. We’re trying to get everything in place so we can do that.”
As for Adkins, he finally has a career that combines his two areas of expertise — business and football.
“I feel like it’s not work,” he said. “It’s a passion. I love football, and I got my feet wet in running a business, so it just made sense to get out on my own. We’re going to be a winning team back in Middle Georgia.”
As his assistant coach and fellow VSU alumnus Reginald Rhodes put it, the Georgia Doom is looking for “nothing less than a championship ring.”
On the Web:
Salaries for arena football players are determined by talent, but Kevin Adkins said most players never have to work a second job during the season. The season only lasts around four months, though, after which players usually find a job or join another team. Arena football is a transition profession of sorts for athletes trying to reach a higher level of play.
“Ultimately, the goal is to get picked up by a Canadian football team or get called up to the NFL,” Adkins said.