Randy Hippeard still has some gas in the tank!

NASHVILLE – Randy Hippeard thought he still had some gas remaining in the tank.

Then again, the 2017 Arena Football League Most Valuable Player and one of its most prolific passers ever had not taken a snap professionally under center for five years. 

But there he was coming out of retirement at age 38 to lead the Nashville Kats on June 8 to a stirring 57-54 win at the previously unbeaten Billings Outlaws.

The win helped propel Nashville into the AFL playoffs that kicked off Friday with the Kats traveling to face the Orlando Predators. And Hippeard showed his return effort was no fluke as he led the Kats to an impressive 62-32 win at Orlando to help advance the squad into Saturday night’s playoffs semifinal round at Billings at 9 p.m. (TV: CBS Sports Network; Radio: 102.5 FM and 106.3 FM).

The other semifinal Saturday pits Salina at Albany. Saturday’s winners advance to Arena Bowl XXXIII on Friday, July 19 at 4:30 p.m. at the American Dream Entertainment/Retail Center in East Rutherford, N.J. 

The Kats (3-4) returned to practice Sunday after three weeks off and have Hippeard leading the charge. Saturday’s will play at the Billings Outlaws next weekend in the AFL semifinals.

Heading into Billings, the Kats were in a quarterback bind with the loss of previous starters Ramone Atkins and Dalton Oliver to injuries, so it didn’t take long for Kats coach Dean Cokinos to reach out to Hippeard, whom he had previously coached against in the AFL.

Hippeard was nearly flawless in his return, completing 34-of-39 passes for an amazing 87 percent success rate with 322 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. Then against Orlando, he completed 15-of-21 passes for 165 yards and seven touchdown passes as the Kats scored a TD on all nine of their offensive possession.

“When I first got here, the receivers and I had a couple days to get together and throw and work out,” Hippeard said. “Dean did a great job of allowing me to come in and not necessarily do everything my way, but allowing the time for the receivers to adjust to me and to what I do best.”

The numbers don’t lie in the win over Billings. Four receivers had at least four catches and a score each, including Milton Williams (11 catches for 74 yards and one touchdown), Marquise Irvin (10-141-1), Kendrick Ings (8-68-2) and Braxton Haley (4-35-2).

Hippeard then spread the wealth again to multiple receivers at Orlando with Haley leading the way with three touchdown receptions, while Ing had a team-high four catches and a touchdown. Williams and Carrington Thompson had two catches, while “big man” James Atoe – he’s listed at 6-foot-7 and 360 pounds – had a TD catch from his tight end position.

“Randy is the perfect Arena Football League quarterback,” Cokinos said of the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Hippeard. “He’s a pure pocket passer and a big, strong guy who gets the ball out so fast. He knows the game and all the offensive and defensive structures, and that makes him hard to defend.”

Indeed, Hippeard’s career numbers are staggering, including passing for 15,517 yards with 329 touchdowns against only 49 interceptions before joining the Kats. His “career” year was 2017 with the Tampa Bay Storm when he was named AFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year after leading the league with 3,506 passing yards and 80 TDs. 

After a stellar collegiate career at Virginia-Wise, where he set 24 single-season records and was fourth in NAIA history in passing yards, Hippeard had professional stops at Winterthur Warriors (2009-10), Columbus Lions (2012), Knoxville NightHawks (2013), Tampa Bay Storm (2013-14, ’17), Orlando Predators (2015-16), Baltimore Brigade (2018) and Atlantic City Blackjacks (2019).

“It didn’t surprise me,” Cokinos said of how crisp Hippeard looked in his return at Billings that included leading a game-winning drive in the final 22 seconds and connecting with Irvin on a game-winning throw with one second remaining. “We all got on the same page right away,” Cokinos added. “We all played to his abilities. He makes us whole. We have a really good football team, we know that.

“But with Randy, it gives our receivers and our offensive line and everybody confidence, including our defense who know that if we have two to three stops a game, the offense will take advantage.” 

What’s up these days?

Hippeard, newlywed Nicole and stepson Ronin live in Phoenix, where he has become immersed in coaching and training high school quarterbacks and offensive players.

He is currently associate head coach and offensive coordinator at San Tan Charter High School in Gilbert, Ariz. The head coach there is Shane Cartwright, who was a teammate of Hippeard in Orlando in 2016. They run extensive youth programs and instruct individual prospects as well.

“One of the main reasons I came back was to get my name out there in the coaching ranks,” Hippeard said. “Coaching indoor professional football is something that might interest me.”

For Cokinos, getting Hippeard the player right now is just what the doctor ordered for a team that was short on quarterbacks. Also signed recently is former Ensworth Academy and Rhodes College standout PJ Settles.

“We knew that Randy had remained active with his throwing through his high school coaching, camps and individual work,” Cokinos said. “And he has always been in the back of my mind since I had so much trouble coaching against him.”

The game in Billings was wife Nicole’s first viewing indoor football and, certainly, watching her new husband of just four months play football. Sure, she had heard the stories and seen the hardware, but watching him play was a different deal all together.”

“Nicole and Ronin really enjoyed the experience,” Hippeard said of his family that will be in attendance at Saturday’s game. “And she was super excited to see how much fun Ronin had. I’m just glad they didn’t see me stink it up and say I played like an old fart.”

Hippeard hasn’t had much time to immerse himself into Nashville just yet, but plans to do some exploring this week with his family after the mid-morning team practices. “The people here have been great,” Hippeard said. “I’m really looking forward to playing my first home game in Nashville.”

Photography Credit: Jason Johansen / Arena Insider