Liberty’s Heron O’Neal Selected for IFL Hall of Fame

Four new members have been elected to the Indoor Football League Hall of Fame as the Class of 2021, IFL Commissioner Todd Tryon announced Thursday.

The four-man class includes running back Fred Jackson, championship coaches Kurtiss Riggs and Heron O’Neal, and front office executive John Pettit.

“We are excited to welcome such a strong group into the IFL Hall of Fame,” Tryon said. “Any time you talk about the Hall of Fame, you focus on those who have made lasting impacts on the game. The members of the Class of 2021 have all taken different paths and made different impacts, but each has helped shape the IFL into what it is today.”

Jackson, a once-in-a-generation player, played in the UIF/IFL for the Sioux City Bandits in 2005 before going on to having an outstanding NFL career. During his 2005 campaign, Jackson was named the 2005 league MVP while helping get the Bandits to the first ever United Bowl. During that 18-game season, he rushed for 1,770 yards while scoring 53 touchdowns, records that both still stand today.

Jackson would go on to join the NFL’s Buffalo Bills where he led the Bills in yards rushing during four of his eight seasons in Buffalo. He still ranks third on the team list with 5,646 yards rushing and 15 100-yard games, and fourth with 30 touchdowns rushing.

“My journey to the NFL was truly a unique one,” Jackson said. “Some of my fondest memories of playing football were in the IFL. I was able to learn a lot about the speed of the game. It is an absolute honor to be inducted into the IFL Hall of Fame.”

Riggs, the Sioux Falls Storm herd coach since 2001, is one of the IFL’s most successful head coaches ever. Under his leadership, the Storm have won 11 league championships, including consecutive titles from 2005-2008, and, most recently, from 2011 through the 2016 seasons. With Riggs at the helm, the Storm achieved the longest winning streak of any professional sports team with 40 consecutive wins and compiled a career record of 240- 44.

During his tenure with Sioux Falls, Riggs has been named Coach of the Year four times – in 2004 with the National Indoor Football League (NIFL), in 2006 and 2007 with the United Indoor Football (UIF), and in 2015 with the IFL. In addition, Riggs led the Storm to four undefeated seasons in 2006, 2007, 2012, and 2015.

“This is an accomplishment I never envisioned,” Riggs said, “but is an award that really makes me think back to all the great players and coaches that I have had the opportunity to work with and coach. I am very thankful for the tremendous owners that have been willing to take on the indoor game and own a team in the IFL and Sioux Falls. Thank you to my family for their support and being a part of things year in and year out. Thank you to the fan, players, coaches, sponsors, staff, and families that have contributed to the Storm tradition of success.”

O’Neal won the first inaugural IFL United Bowl in 2009. He followed that up with another in 2010. During his time in the IFL, he won two United Bowls and one Coach of the Year award with the Colorado Ice in 2014. He boasts a career record of 128-58.

O’Neal also won a championship in 2006 with Billings while part of the NIFL. He is currently coaching for the Salina Liberty in the CIF where he won the 2019 coach of the year.

“I firmly believe that during any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear is that moment when he has worked his heart out for a good cause and stands exhausted on the field of battle,” O’Neal said. “In the years of coaching in the IFL, I battled against some great coaches and coached some great men and without them I wouldn’t be who I am today and I wouldn’t be here accepting this nomination. I thank them and all who believed in me.”

Pettit’s accomplishments, successes, and accolades are quite extensive. Pettit was a key figure in helping Barnstormers’ owner Jeff Lamberti bring the Arena Football League team back to Des Moines in 2008, and then later into the IFL. Pettit worked within many leagues as an executive and was named the IFL’s Executive of the Year in 2018. Prior to that he was named the Arena Football League’s Executive of the Year in 2012 with the Barnstormers.

Pettit had more than 30 years of executive level management experience in pro sports, having previously worked for championship teams in both the NHL and AHL, including the Detroit Red Wings and Hartford Wolfpack. Along the way he also played key roles with other former AFL franchises, the Detroit Drive and the Connecticut SeaWolves.

Pettit passed away in December 2020.

“John was everything to the Iowa Barnstormers, from our rebirth in 2008 to the present,” said Jeff Lamberti, owner of the Barnstormers. “John forgot more about indoor football than most of us will ever know.  As important as John was to the Barnstormers and indoor football, his presence as a friend and mentor will be missed even more. John was one of the true ‘good guys’ of the sports world. He was always willing to share his knowledge with owners, staff, players and coaches. We miss John greatly and he can never be replaced.  We are just thankful he was a part of our lives.”

The Class of 2021 will be inducted at halftime of the IFL’s Hall of Fame Game between the Iowa Barnstormers and the Sioux Falls Storm. The nationally-televised contest will air live at 7:00 pm CT from Sioux Falls on Saturday, May 15.

On Friday night the Class of 2021 will get together for the first time at Great Shots in Sioux Falls.