Four Teams Later, Raterink Earns Second Chance with KISS
Just like any sport, many personnel handle their teams like a business. Every week, they make so many decisions that affect so many lives, whether it would be trading someone to a new city, letting someone go, or placing them on reassignment.
If you look at the Arena Football League's transaction list, you will always see activity on a daily basis. With players not guaranteed to even be on the roster after each game, many teams are trying to build their rosters to put out a winning product. While many of the players in the league are in it for the love of the game, they certainly know the risks they are making in a second-rate league.
But what about trying to handle a situation where you have bounced around from team to team in one season? Ask J.J. Raterink, who was recently traded back to the Los Angeles KISS this past week, and once again is trying to revive his role as a starter.
Before arriving to Los Angeles, the former Wyoming Cowboy backup quarterback had a breakout year in 2012 with the Iowa Barnstormers, setting single-season franchise records in passing yards and touchdowns, surpassing Kurt Warner and current KISS quarterback Aaron Garcia. He has also been in the league since 2010, and even before that bouncing around from a number of minor football leagues.
Raterink was one of the first players to arrive on the KISS roster after he was traded from the Iowa Barnstormers. At the time he would be the backup to Heisman Trophy finalist Colt Brennan, who was a stud playing for the University of Hawaii. When Brennan was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury which may have stemmed from a car crash back in 2010, it forced Brennan to be sidelined, and then later cut from the team. A few days later, it was Raterink who stepped up to the podium and answer questions about trying to gather a team ready to play.
After the KISS started the season off 2-1, things began to snowball for Raterink. Nearly every pass from the fourth game on was either completely underthrown or would end up a few rows into the first section. Defensive backs had a field day with Raterink's inaccuracy, picking off 11 passes in his final five games as a starter. By the Cleveland loss, it seemed as if the team had enough, giving one final chance to Garcia and letting Raterink go, sending him to Jacksonville. Jacksonville, on the same day, sent him back to Iowa, reuniting with Mike Hohensee.
He was immediately placed as a starter and it seemed as if he was given a second chance, seeing as days before Hohensee saw his two quarterbacks go down. Familiar with the offense, he was able to bounce back the Barnstormers into playoff contention, as well as improve his image on the field. Throwing 22 touchdowns to just one interception, it seemed as if he could find a way to revive himself.
“Right now I am just living the AFL dream,” Raterink said. “I go back to Iowa and get placed again with Hohensee and become used to their system once again. Going back it felt like I was having fun again and my rhythm got back into sync. Coming back to LA, I talk to Coach and he was wondering how I was able to bounce back so quickly. Asking me about the difference, it was a matter of me feeling more comfortable having this kind of movement. If there is a lot of outside factors and deal with the hands you are given, you just have to make the best of it and I did so with Iowa.”
Coffman though, later returned after his injury set him back, and it seemed as if the Barnstormers wanted to work around him instead. Just before Week 17, the Barnstormers sent him to Philadelphia. Philadelphia didn't want him, so they sent him back to Los Angeles, who seems now they can find some use for him with Garcia possibly sidelined for a while.
The humble 32-year old came back onto the team wanting little conflict. Understanding that this team is somehow still fighting for a playoff spot, he wanted his role to just be as much help as he possibly could.
“The first thing I did was grab Garcia and Kenny Guiton at my first practice back,” Raterink said. “I told them that I was not here to make waves or cause any kind of distraction. I just want to make the game and this team better. Anything that they wanted me to do I will do it, whether it would be needing an extra set of eyes on the bench, up in the press box, or even on the field, which I do prefer. I will always be in my comfort zone, providing the same amount of talent I have done throughout my career.”
Yet, injuries seem to provide Raterink with an advantage. With Garcia out agains the San Jose SaberCats and later wide receiver Brandon Thompkins suffering a shoulder injury forcing him out of the game, this allowed Raterink to step up back where he started off the 2014 season. A few possessions later, Raterink found his favorite target, Donovan Morgan, for a four-yard strike late in the second quarter. The KISS were already down big, but the confidence in Raterink remained. Even in a blowout loss to the SaberCats, Raterink did go 8-for-14 and strike his receivers three times in the endzone, while scoring himself once against a defense that was seeking a division title.
“In a game like this, it was only a few games that dictate the outcome of an Arena Football game,” Raterink said. “This game is very avid flow, and mainly it's gone against us. It was just nice at least to bounce back and help out as much as I can, and seeing as if things are flowing nicely after a game like this, we can get back in our own comfort zone.”
As crazy as this may sound, this could possibly provide the KISS a chance to revamp their image. While the team has struggled to consistently find its offensive spark, sending Raterink packing midway through the season could very well be a blessing in disguise. At 3-12 and facing Portland next and most likely playing in the biggest game in the KISS' young history, it could yet again be decision time for a team that may have its playoff season start this Saturday.
“Saying it best, somehow we are still alive,” Raterink said. “We are only one game out and we still have a lot of control of our own destiny. You sit back and look, always thinking when all of this is going to get right. At the end of the day though, we are still in the race and hopefully there will be some good karma and be that last teams that gets in.”
Manny Nunez is a freelance writer who resides in Los Angeles. He has been an arena football fan since 1996 while living in Phoenix, dedicated to the Arizona Rattlers. Although he lives in Southern California, he still reps his Arizona teams. He is also a beat writer for the Phoenix Coyotes for InsideHockey.com.