By Dana Becker
Ray Cheetany was there at the beginning of what would become a memorable run for Iowa Central football.
Cheetany, a standout at Linn-Mar before joining the Tritons, would eventually find his way to the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) before signing a contract with the Tennessee Titans in the NFL.
But for Cheetany, it all started at Iowa Central.
"Creating life-long friendships with teammates that were from all different backgrounds and from different parts of the United States," Cheetany said of what are his fondest memories of his time with the Tritons. "The great thing about football is that it brings everyone together. We bonded together as a team. That is why we were so successful.
"We were loaded with talented players that helped us win the Pepsi Bowl. A good number of my teammates went on to play at the next level. We helped start a great tradition of Triton football teams.
"Iowa Central had a lot of great teachers that were very helpful and took the extra time to help me with excelling in the classroom."
Cheetany was inducted into the Iowa Central Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011. He averaged over 40 yards per punt for the Tritons, who won three games in overtime with field goals.
He earned first team NJCAA All-America honors and was named a team captain as a sophomore before accepting a scholarship to play for the Rebels, where he earned special team player of the year in both 1999 and 2000.
"Iowa Central had a great reputation and it was a way for me to improve my academics and skills on the football field," he said. "Coach Kevin Twait came to recruit me at my high school Linn-Mar in Marion, Iowa. He told me that he just signed an all-state running back by the name of Drew McFedries - a former UFC fighter - from Davenport, which was just down the road. I heard how good Drew was and that if Drew is going to Iowa Central, I better go take a visit.
"Coach Twait was the one who gave me the opportunity at Iowa Central. I am very thankful that he recruited me. Coach Jeremy Conley, coach Jon Pilcher, coach Mike Jepson and coach Todd Constable were always there for me during my days at Iowa Central. I try and keep in touch with as many coaches and former Tritons as I can."
Success continued for Cheetany with UNLV, as he was named one of the Top-10 special teams players in the nation as a junior. A year later, several first team All-America honors came his way after helping the Rebels win the Las Vegas Bowl over Arkansas.
National Football Scouting Inc. tabbed Cheetany the highest-graded player at his position and he signed a free agent deal with the Titans.
"It was a great experience playing for UNLV," he said. "I got a chance to play for NFL and college hall of fame coach John Robinson. Coach Robinson was the head coach for the Los Angeles Rams and USC before UNLV. Currently he is the senior consultant to Ed Orgeron at LSU, the defending national champions.
"The highlight was my senior year was when we beat the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Las Vegas Bowl 31-14. It was a rush playing at different stadiums and in front of all those fans. Once in awhile I look back and still can't believe I live in Las Vegas.
"Iowa Central was a big part of helping me make it out to the west coast. Most importantly, Iowa Central gave me the chance to get my academics where they needed to be to move on to a D1 school. The coaching and competition was top notch. There were several players that we played against that made it into the NFL.
"I am very grateful that I got signed with the Tennessee Titans after UNLV. I wish it lasted longer, but it was a great honor to be on the same field with Steve McNair, Eddie George and Jevon Kearse."
Currently, Cheetany makes his home in Las Vegas where he is in the beverage distribution business and real estate. He is also on the UNLV Football Foundation Board, but always finds time to check in on his old school back home.
"I follow Triton athletics daily," he said. "Iowa Central President Dan Kinney and athletic director Kevin Twait have been doing an amazing job! It's hard to believe the amount of world-class athletes that come out of Iowa Central.
"I think we have won 42 national championships since 2006 in all sports and have won top athletic junior college in the country 11 out of 12 years.
"I am very proud to say that I went to Iowa Central! Go Tritons!"