There’s nothing quite like a Saturday night in the Tyson Events Center during Bandits season. The atmosphere is electric, the fans are loud and the players are straining to hear the calls on the field. The quarterback receives the play from the offensive coordinator and joins the rest of the players in the huddle. He gives them the play, breaks the huddle and the team assembles on the line of scrimmage. The offensive coordinator, Jarrod “JD” DeGeorgia, is squatting in the end zone behind his offense, hands on his knees, waiting for the outcome of the play.
JD used to be on the other side of the things. Originally from Lompoc, Calif., DeGeorgia grew up playing baseball and football. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1992, right out of high school. He decided instead to go to Santa Barbara City College, a community college in California, and got drafted again – this time by the St. Louis Cardinals. He went to the Cardinals’ rookie training camp, but it just wasn’t the right fit for him.
“I liked baseball, but I didn’t love it,” DeGeorgia said. “I loved football.”
After his brief stint with the Cardinals, DeGeorgia decided to go back to college and back to football. He could only play at a Division II school since he had been drafted by a pro team, so he chose Wayne State College in Wayne, Neb. This is where DeGeorgia fell in love with the Midwest.
“It was the best experience of my life,” he said.
Right before starting his senior year at Wayne State, he got a call from the Iowa Barnstormers to work out for them. At the time, the Barnstormers just so happened to have a starting quarterback by the name of Kurt Warner. The team was leaving the next week for Paris to promote arena football in Europe, so DeGeorgia dropped out of school to spend a few months in Europe.
Warner didn’t show up. He was working on getting into the NFL while DeGeorgia was working on getting the starting quarterback position for the Barnstormers. He started a few games for them and did well, seemingly winning the position of QB1.
“I remember calling my mom, saying, ‘Hey, I think I got a team here. They’re going to pay me some money. They’ve got some guy named Kurt Warner, I’ve never heard of him,’” DeGeorgia said.
After initial attempts to reach the NFL failed, Warner joined the Barnstormers in Paris and played lights out. During Warner’s time with the Barnstormers, he and DeGeorgia formed a bond and a friendship that persists to this day.
“I remember calling my mom, saying, ‘Yeah, this Kurt Warner’s pretty good. I don’t think I’m going to start, but I’ll get a chance to make some money and sit behind him and learn a little bit.’”
DeGeorgia got to learn from Warner for two years until the NFL called Warner’s number. DeGeorgia took over for a few more years until he went to Sweden to play in the NFL Europe for a year and a half. After not receiving an invitation from any NFL team, he thought his playing career would be over there and he’d move on to something new in his life. Until a former college teammate called him up.
In 1999, Erv Strohbeen, the now-head coach of the Bandits and DeGeorgia’s center at Wayne State, urged DeGeorgia to check out the new team that was forming in Sioux City (then the Sioux City Attack). He decided to check it out and play for a year or two. Five years later, he traded in his cleats for a headset to begin coaching, a position he still holds today.
The play clock winds down. The center snaps the ball to the quarterback, who hands it off to the running back, a play style Sioux City is known for. The running back breaks free and finds the end zone for six points. The crowd goes wild and music starts to blast in the arena. The players celebrate together in the end zone and there’s no person in the Tyson who’s more proud at that moment than Coach JD.
There’s no doubt that being a former arena football player seeps into DeGeorgia’s coaching. As a former quarterback, he knows every offensive position fluently, as well as what the defenders are thinking. Maurice Young, a wide receiver DeGeorgia coached during the 2017 season, says his play calling is always steps ahead of the other team.
“JD plays chess, most people play checkers,” Young said. “As a quarterback, you have to know every position. Everyone looks up to the [quarterback]. You have to know the defensive skills to run the offensive plays.”
As a former quarterback, DeGeorgia forms a special bond with the quarterbacks he coaches. He tries to talk to them every day during the season and let them know he’s there for them. Not only does he act as coach, but also as a mentor for many of the young players who look up to him.
“JD just taught me to have fun with whatever I'm doing,” said Taylor Genuser, Bandits quarterback during the 2017 season. “I'm also a football coach and want to pursue it for a career, so JD was a great mentor to me. The biggest thing I've learned is always be in control of the game and make them play your brand of football, don't play down to theirs.”
Passion is shown from DeGeorgia in his coaching. Since he used to play, he knows what it’s like to be in those tight situations on the field and everything about him is a competitor. DeGeorgia can also keep his offense calm during big plays and knows how to loosen them up. He always wants to get the best out of his players.
“He coaches with the same love and passion as he did when he was a player and it definitely makes us as players want to give our best effort for him,” Genuser said.
Young recalls a late drive in a game last season when the Bandits had the ball and were in a timeout.
“Everyone was a little nervous,” Young said. “[Coach JD] came to the huddle, relaxed everyone, told us a joke to get us laughing. He gave us the confidence to get us over the edge. He told us, ‘Relax, fellas, we got this. We’re going to score.’ [He] always gave us confidence.”
DeGeorgia says it’s his job to prepare his players for games and the way they perform is credit to their hard work. He coaches with passion for the game that gives his players the confidence to perform well.
“I was never in a situation that I wasn't confident in his play calling,” Genuser said.
Anyone who observes DeGeorgia can tell he has a love for the game of football. The same love that allowed him to give up the MLB to pursue football, not knowing whether or not he could make a career out of it. After all these years, it’s safe to say DeGeorgia’s life would not be the same if it weren’t for the game he loves.