Quick rise to the top

Published 6:34 am Monday, July 24, 2006

By By BRUCE HIXON – Sports Editor
His team did not go undefeated nor did it win the league championship.
On the flip side, Teddy Keaton accomplished just about everything else in his first season as the head coach the Lakeland (Fla.) Thunderbolts of the National Indoor Football League.
Keaton, a 1995 graduate of W.S. Neal High School, guided Lakeland to a 14-2 regular season record and the championship of the NIFL's Atlantic South Division. Lakeland downed Montgomery 70-62 in the opening round of playoff competition, but lost in round two to Fayetteville (NC) 44-18.
Much of Lakeland's success centered around a defense that allowed 30.2 points per game. While that figure may not sound like much in terms of outdoor competition, it was the best in the NIFL.
It was Keaton's defensive knowledge that helped him land the head job at Lakeland. Keaton had previously been at Odessa (Tex.) where he served as defensive coordinator. Odessa had a combined 20-2 record the last two seasons and led the NIFL in most defensive categories.
While most indoor offenses center around the passing game, Keaton said it is still important to be able to run the ball.
NIFL teams carry a 30-player roster. Of those 30, only 22 can be active on game day.
Lakeland's success did not go unnoticed within the Lakeland community. A year ago Lakeland averaged around a thousand fans a game. This year that figure more than doubled to 2,700. The Lakeland home arena seats just under 5,000.
One item the 29-year-old Keaton had to overcome was dealing with players who were older than him.