'What it was' was football
November 9, 2009
- Semi-pro football team offers range of people a second, third, fourth chance to put on their cleats and pads and play football again.
- Team took Central Football League's South Division crown last year with 5-3 record.
Talk about professional and college football dominates the airwaves of sports talk radio this time of the year. Football is king of the sports world for most fans in this area.
Despite the football buzz, people might not know there's another level of football being played by nearly 400 teams nationwide.
Saturday as mild temperatures ushered in Indian Summer, 15 hopeful players donned cleated shoes, T-shirts and shorts and ran through a three-hour tryout to become members of the 40-man Lawton Rebels, a semi-professional football team.
Coaches hope to fill their roster in November and practice before their season begins in April. A full roster lets the team to put players on offense, defense or special teams and limit two-way players to a select few.
"We take care of our players realizing many are a little bit older, have jobs or go to school and have families to take care of," said Tony Anders, Rebels head coach.
Anders said the team likes to run the spread offense featuring one running back, four or five wide receivers and a lot of motion and play action.
"People who come to a Lawton Rebels football game will see a real good game as we definitely like to entertain," he said. "We like to put some numbers up on the scoreboard but try to be careful with that as we might later face the same team in the playoffs."
To contain opponents, Anders' defense features a 4- 2-5 arrangement of down linemen, linebackers and secondary personnel. From this, he likes to blitz and employ a cover-three or man-to-man coverage on pass plays.
The Rebels play in the eight-team Central Football League in April through June.
Last year the Rebels had a 5-3 regular season record and took the South Division crown in the CFL before bowing out during the playoffs. The team captured back-to-back CFL championships in 2005 and 2006, so they're looking to return to their glory days.
For Josh Jackson, an active-duty Soldier who works patient administration at MEDDAC, his love for football isn't found in how many points the team scores but in his opportunity to hit people. He's entering his second season with the Rebels at outside linebacker or strong safety. He said the Rebels have always been a hard working team, and they are hungry to win a championship.
Jackson, a homegrown Oklahoma product, hails from Hobart, a small town northwest of Lawton about 70 miles. Though he enlisted in the Army and enjoyed his assignment to Germany with its culture and history, his world-traveling desires are satisfied for the moment.
"I'd rather stay here and play football," he said.
During tryouts Jackson didn't play much football aside from tossing the ball around a bit with other players before the session began. Instead the men went through a series of drills to assess team speed and agility.
Eddie Shaw showed quickness in both forms running a 4.5-second 40-yard dash on the practice field turf. Shaw, a Fort Sill civilian worker, brought a veteran presence to the Rebels with his five years of experience at quarterback and corner back. He's got his sights on starting at quarterback and said he brings a run option to the spread offense to add a dimension of uncertainty to opposing teams.
Unlike other minor leagues, like baseball, these players and coaches aren't paid. The love of the game factors into why they play.
As players gathered for drills, Coach James Hanna reminded them to think of each other more as teammates and less as competitors. He told them to encourage each other through the drills and to build the Rebel family concept now so they would be "tight" next spring.
Anders said some players do attract attention from professional teams. He said one Rebels player did make the Miami Dolphins practice squad after a tryout, and a couple other players tried out for the Dallas Cowboys. Although they didn't make the team, Anders said leagues like the CFL can open doors for these players.
Whether or not this team gels into a championship contender or a current player draws national attention will wait until the final gun sounds in June 2010.