Raiding the Revolution 

As arena football season kicks off, the Richmond Raiders have a familiar look.

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Donning capes and black Stetsons, they stare menacingly into the camera, arms crossed, towering over cheerleaders wearing silver boots. The poster advertising the 2011 season of the Richmond Raiders, one of Richmond's two professional arena football teams, doesn't mention the irony.

All five players shown — Noland Burchette, Brandon Isaiah, Bryan Randall, Stephen Cason and Derek Stoudt — defected from the Richmond Revolution, the other arena team, after steamrolling through the Indoor Football League a year ago.

They were high-profile college stars — Burchette and Randall at Virginia Tech; Isaiah at the University of Virginia; Cason at William & Mary; and Stoudt at the University of Richmond — and key cogs in the Revolution's championship run in 2010. Randall, who holds Tech's career passing record, was named the league's most valuable player.

They weren't the only ones who left the Revolution to join the Raiders. Nearly half — 19 of the 40 players on the Raiders' training camp roster — fought for the Revolution last summer. The Revolution's head coach, Steve Criswell, also jumped to the Raiders this year.

At 8 a.m. on Saturday, the poster pinups warm up inside the former National Guard armory on Dove Street, which was converted into an indoor practice facility with a 50-yard carpeted field and wall-pads. The ceiling, a little more than 30 feet high, is taller than the one at the Arthur Ashe Center, where the Revolution played last year. Field goals often bounced off that ceiling.

Why did so many players defect? Gary Criswell, manager of business operations for the Raiders and Steve Criswell's brother, says it's just business. Unlike the National Football League, every player is a free agent after the season. “We were lucky enough to attract players who felt like this was the best move for them professionally,” he says. “It's purely business.”

The two teams play in different leagues. The Revolution is part of the more established Indoor Football League, launched in 2009; the Raiders are in the Southern Indoor Football League, also circa 2009.

There's a clear difference in resources. While both teams pay players between $200 and $250 per game, the Raiders are owned by Michael Fraizer, chief executive of Genworth Financial, and his wife, Elizabeth. The Revolution is part of SportsQuest, the sprawling sports company in Chesterfield County.

The Revolution, oddly, will play its home “indoor” football games outdoors, off Genito Road, on an artificial turf field that's part of SportsQuest's tournament complex. The team lost its first home game on Saturday, 41-38. The Raiders will play indoors at the Richmond Coliseum, starting with an exhibition game March 11.

That Richmond has two football teams while the NFL threatens to lock out players, possibly canceling part or all of next season, isn't lost on these players.

Tech star Randall was unable to make an NFL roster after his collegiate career. He was briefly picked up by the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay before being released, then cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had a standout season in 2010. Now he hopes to shine again, for a different team, and break back into the NFL. “The goal is to get another shot,” he says.

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