When Sioux City Bandits football coach Carl Reinhardt heard there was a former National Football Leaguer living in northeast Nebraska, he was quick to make a call.
Brad Ottis, who played the bulk of his seven professional seasons for the Arizona Cardinals, signed a contract to resume his football career with the Bandits. Ottis, a second-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Rams in 1994, held up his black and silver uniform, No. 96, during a press conference Wednesday at the Sioux City Convention Center.
"The Bandits are big news up here," said the 6-5, 295-pound former Wayne State standout, who will play defensive end for the three-year-old National Indoor Football League franchise. Ottis, who recorded 168 career tackles and four quarterback sacks during an NFL career that concluded in 2000, spent the 2001 season playing on the defensive line for the semi-pro Norfolk (Neb.) Thunderbirds.
Among Ottis' Thunderbirds teammates was 6-4, 320-pound offensive lineman Jon Gass, who incidentally, works in security at The Depot, the sports bar that Ottis owns in Norfolk. Gass also inked a Bandits contract and was introduced to the media along with the seven new assistant coaches who will work with Reinhardt, in hopes of improving last season's 9-5 ledger.
Reinhardt plans to insert Ottis into the position vacated by Darwin Bishop, who injured his knee late last season. Bishop is among the Bandits' new assistant coaches, working with the defensive line.
"Brad runs a 4.8 40," said Reinhardt. "He has tremendous strength and he's very explosive. He gives us an attacking defensive end as opposed to a contain defensive end. It makes us more of an attack defense instead of a read defense."
Ottis, a native of Fremont, Neb., had 215 tackles, 45 sacks, 75 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles during his career at Wayne State. Drafted one year ahead of another former Wayne State standout, current Minnesota Vikings tight end Byron Chamberlain, Ottis lined up next to linemen like Eric Swann and Simeon Rice while with the Cardinals.
Ottis was limited to just nine tackles while playing for the Rams' special teams as a rookie in 1994 and had just three tackles one year later. He opened the Rams' 1996 season on injured reserve due to a right knee injury, but was released on Oct. 1 and signed by the Cardinals.
Outside of the 1998 season, when he was placed on injured reserve because of a foot injury, Ottis was productive with the Cardinals, at times replacing the injured Swann and Rice in the starting lineup. He played 80 career games with the Cardinals and the Rams, starting 23 of those.
"I've played in every kind of scheme you could think of," said the 30-year-old Ottis. "I've gone against people who've played in the Pro Bowl, people who are the best in the league. I feel like I did six years ago and I feel I can get back into the shape I was. I have strength and I weigh 15 pounds more than when I was drafted.
"I'm a smart player," he added. "More than having one strong point, I don't have a weak point. I'm good at everything. I can stop the pass, play the goal line, be on the rush, play the nickel package. This is a great opportunity to play football."
"Brad's a dynamic player," said Reinhardt. "He can do a lot of different things on the defensive line, but having Brad will also help us recruit other athletes. People see him and it gives us more exposure. It'll be fantastic to play along with a guy like that."
Basically, after Reinhardt sold Ottis on playing for the Bandits, Ottis contacted Gass. The 38-year-old native of Silverdale, Wash., played one season at Montana State, then transferred to Olympia Junior College, which prepared him for three seasons at the University of Puget Sound.
Puget Sound won just five games in Gass' three years. However, he won all-conference honors as a guard during his junior and senior seasons. He spent two years as a tackle and a guard for the semi-pro Puget Sound Jets, then was out of football totally before spending the last three years as an offensive tackle with the Thunderbirds.
Reinhardt plans to utilize Gass as a left tackle or a right tackle. Gass, during his collegiate and semi-pro days, has never been injured.
"Jon gives us a lot of leverage on the offensive line," said Reinhardt. "You like to have those guys who have more weight. It helps you on the run for blocking and it helps you on the pass. He's in good shape. I'm excited to have him."
"I can help them," said Gass. "I can bring leadership, experience. I'm good in one-on-one situations. I'm a good pass blocker and that's what this league is all about."
Matt Vandry, currently the offensive coordinator for the Morningside football team, will serve the Bandits as offensive coordinator. Other assistants hired by the Bandits were Bishop (defensive line), Rick Vanderloo (special teams coordinator/defensive backs), Kirk Walker (receivers), Paul Dacres (offensive line/equipment manager), Jason Walding (offensive line assistant/special teams) and Bob Litz (special teams assistant).
The Bandits have scheduled their first tryout camp for Dec. 7 at the Southridge Golf Club and Dome in South Sioux City. According to Reinhardt, 65 individuals have received personal invitations for the tryout and out of these will form the 25-man roster, 21 of whom will suit up for games.
The Bandits' 2003 season will start March 14 at LaCrosse, Wis. The home opener at the Sioux City Auditorium is March 29 against Rapid City.