Last month I did something I had not done since September 29, 2019. I walked into one of my favorite stadiums of all time. Now called Choctaw Stadium, the loading dock area still smelled the same. It still looked the same. A couple of Rangers executives drove by to ask if I was walking down memory lane. I was! The memories came flooding back. We all have them. But then I walked through what was the grounds crew gate in left field and I realized that this is a vibrant new creation. It looked different at field level with bleachers extending from left field to reach the sideline of a football field.
The sounds were different too. The crack of the bat and the pop of the ball hitting a glove has been replaced with “hut-hut” and the popping of pads. The Arlington Renegades call Choctaw home now.
“It’s a great stadium,” says Renegades’ head coach Bob Stoops. He loves the way the old ballpark has been transformed.
“The way they configured it, it’s a great place to play. It is perfect for what we’re doing,” Stoops said.
Will Clarke is a co-captain on defense who has played in the NFL. In fact he has played down the street at AT&T stadium but he likes the atmosphere here better.
“It’s a great place. It’s amazing everytime we walk out of the locker room and see all the stands and all the fans,” Clarke raved. The Renegades are doing what all times hope to do. That is they are establishing a home field advantage at Choctaw. For the players and coaches that process involves total focus on football.
“I love it because it is all football,” coach Stoops said. I don’t have to go to a compliance meeting. I don’t have to go to an academic meeting. We don’t have recruiting meetings. It’s all football on and off the field.”
“Coach Stoops runs it like any major college or pro team is run,” says Clarke, who played his college ball at West Virginia and played for the Bengals and Buccaneers in the NFL.
“It’s top tier and professional,” Clarke added. “We get in, get our work done, learn what we are supposed to learn and get out.”
And when they get out, they get out in Arlington. Lot’s of them. Remember while the Renegades are the only team that calls Arlington home, all eight XFL teams are based right here. The league offices are in the Choctaw office building. The players live in close proximity to the stadium and close proximity to each other.
Clarke loves the centralized nature of the league, “It’s great,” he said. “You get to see so many of your friends. Especially guys you may know from other teams.”
So next time you see a large gathering of extremely large men in one of your favorite establishments, you will know it is most likely some of the 400 XFL players who spend the week here before traveling to their games on the weekend.
Stoops and the coaches have familiarized themselves with the Arlington recreation area too.
“You got everything around here. Texas Live is right across the street which has about twenty places to go and it’s 200 yards from our stadium. So it works out perfectly.”
Clarke is originally from Pittsburgh but says he enjoys what the Lone Star has to offer.
“Being down here in Texas, I love it a lot. I love being in the South and all the places to eat! We try them all out,” he says.
So if you haven’t done so yet, do yourself a favor and go to Choctaw for a Renegades game. If you haven’t been back you will probably have a nostalgic, memory lane moment. But then you will see this reconfigured stadium, this team, these guys and you will realize there are lots more memories to be made here.
Sports columnist John Rhadigan is an anchor for the Bally Sports Southwest