The minor league football team will host an open workout Saturday in Little Rock.
It’s been a successful inaugural year for the Arkansas Punishers. The Little Rock-based minor league football team, which was undefeated this season and won the Southwest Minor League Classic Championship, announced this week it’s moving from the Triumph Football League to the Amateur to Professional Development Football League, a higher tier division. The Punishers have also received an invitation to compete in the inaugural National Football Events’ Mid-South Regional Tournament.
“Winning these games is really how you gain national notoriety so to be a first-year team and play in something like this, this is huge,” general manager Chris Goodman says.
Goodman has been part of the minor league football scene for about six years and worked with a group of guys last year to establish the new team.
“Little Rock and Arkansas really has a lot of talent,” he says. “We could really go national with this and put Arkansas on the map.”
One of those talents is cornerback Akeemeon Parks from Pine Bluff. He started playing football at four years old and continued playing throughout his life. Parks previously competed for the Hawks, another semi-pro team, but when they disbanded, Parks and some of his teammates joined the Punishers.
“We all gelled together and it was kind of instant, it didn’t take long,” Parks says. “It’s more like a family vibe than anything.”
Parks’ passion for the sport and the opportunity to compete at a high level drive him to continue playing.
“Going out every Saturday, just competing at War Memorial, I mean, what Arkansan do not want to play at War Memorial,” he says.
Fellow cornerback Keewan Kelly hails from Camden and played for Henderson State University. He also continues to compete because of his love of the game.
“When I’m on that field, I’m at peace. It’s a safe haven for me so any opportunity I get to go out there and play I try and take advantage of it,” Kelly says.
In addition to providing a way to continue competing at a competitive level, playing for the Arkansas Punishers also provides athletes with various opportunities like getting recruited by colleges as well as other minor league or professional teams that could pay them.
“Our main focus is getting our players out of here because a lot of Arkansas high school athletes are overlooked because we’re so close to Texas and Louisiana, Mississippi, these states that have strong recruiting pipelines already,” Goodman says.
To help high school players or college eligible athletes who advance to the collegiate level, Goodman talks to recruiters and shares videos highlighting his players’ skills.
“It may not be the big D-1 offers that everybody wants, but there’s a school out there that will take you no matter what size you are, how good you are, there’s a school that will take you,” he says. “And a free education’s a free education. You can’t beat it.”
For players like Kelly and Parks who are both 29 years old, Goodman works to give them access to professional tryouts with arena teams or teams in the Canadian Football League. The pandemic limited those talks in 2020, but Goodman says they plan “to go full force” this year to help players advance in their athletic careers.
In the short term, officials hope to keep building up the team and continue playing at War Memorial Stadium. Long term, Goodman says he’d like to be the state’s first professional team.
“Whether that be NFL, XFL, whatever league is around then,” he says. “NFL will be the hardest to do, but if we can get an XFL franchise or something like that where it’s big and Arkansas is on the map, that’s what our ultimate goal is.”
The Arkansas Punishers are hosting an open workout at 5 p.m. Saturday on the side field at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. Participants must be at least 18 years old and have completed their senior year of high school football.
Team tryouts are being delayed because of the Punishers’ tournament game on Sept. 11, but no official date for tryouts has been scheduled. To keep up with the latest on a tryout date as well as new developments with the team, visit the Arkansas Punishers’ Facebook page.