Football is coming about four months ahead of schedule to Spring Lake Park High School this year.
The Midwest Nightmare, a semi-professional adult football team in the Midwest Premier Football League, opens its first season on its new home field turf against the Twin Cities Titans with a 7 p.m. kickoff May 4.
Gates open at 6 p.m. for the first of three home games during the eight-game regular season, which goes through June with playoffs starting after the July 4 holiday.
The Nightmare opens the season at home May 4 then returns home to end the regular season June 22 (against Minnesota Sting) and June 29 (against Carlton County Stampede). All kickoffs are set for 7 p.m.
The Sting, based out of East Ridge High School in Woodbury, are the reigning MPFL (Midwest Premier Football League) champions.
Tickets are $10 and children five and under are free. Military personnel also get in for free with identification. Co-owner and head coach Larry “Sonny” Stephens is a disabled Navy veteran who served on the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy during Desert Storm/Shield in the Persian Gulf.
Stephens and his wife, Tammy, took over ownership of the franchise in November 2012 after the-then Lakes Area Terror played at Chisago Lakes High School last summer. About one dozen Nightmare players remain from the Terror and several of them were willing to serve on a board to help the new ownership get off to a strong start.
Stephens, who also serves as head coach, hopes to run the team as close to a non-profit as possible with a board of directors made up of core players.
“Our expectations are to have a better team than last season,” he said. “I’m running it the way I want to run it this year and my wife and I aren’t doing this to make any money.”
One of those board members is quarterback Craig Moyer.
“We have an array of talent but everyone takes this team very seriously.”
The team practices every Saturday with the exception of two weeks ago when the Nightmare helped out at Feed My Starving Children’s New Hope location. The team made enough meals to feed 30 children for one year in a way to give back to the community.
Filling the seats in the bleachers is a big deal for the Stephens, but they expect to see friends and family. “If people see the lights on maybe that will help get the word out to check out what’s going on,” he said. “We hope they’ll come and check it out.”
Half the money raised will go to the Blaine-Spring Lake Park Athletic Association’s football program. The balance raised from tickets and concessions will help the team purchase equipment and the players to travel the Premier League All-Star games in Las Vegas, Nev., and Orlando, Fla.
The roster varies greatly in age and background. Players are from 18 to 43 years old. The Nightmare has a 43-year-old guard and a middle linebacker in his second year of competitive football who is studying to be a surgeon.
Moyer said the toughest part in fielding a team is finding competitive offensive linemen.
“It’s hard to get bona fide, big and strong offensive linemen because they give it up after school and don’t want to play anymore,” he said.
Overly aggressive play or fighting among players is one area the MPFL has tried to keep in check. “The league has really been putting its foot down to avoid the trash that’s happened on the field,” Moyer said. “We’ve seen the league weed out a lot of that bad stuff.”
Stephens said the motivation for owning and coaching a football team is a way for him to stay involved in the game. “It’s something I love and these guys play for the love of the game,” he said. “I can’t play anymore. The back says ‘no’ but the mind says ‘yes.’”
Stephens also coaches his seventh-grade son’s team in North Branch.
“I don’t have to do a lot of teaching with the [Nightmare],” he said. “It’s more review and repetition and it is definitely a lot easier than coaching the seventh-graders.”
The team is still looking for players interested in strapping on a helmet and pads, their own, of course.
A $365 fee to play includes a league charge to play for the field use, referees and more. The team uniform is $85, a refinished helmet is $65 and the unique team logo is $10.
The Nightmare is also looking for sponsors. Buffalo Wild Wings in Blaine is offering food prizes during half-time of the home games.
The Nightmare’s nickname and logo came from the board of directors, who took the idea to a tattoo artist in White Bear Lake and he created the unique helmet logo.
Midwest Nightmare 2013 schedule
Kickoff at 7 p.m. unless noted
Home games at Spring Lake Park H.S.
vs. Twin Cities Titans
at Minnesota Sting (East Ridge High School), 6 p.m.
at Carlton County Stampede (Carlton High School) 4 p.m.
at Twin City Rhinos (Burnsville High School)
at Brainerd Lumberjacks (Franklin Art Center, Brainerd) 4 p.m.
at Twin Cities Titans (Irondale High School)
vs. Minnesota Sting
vs. Carlton County Stampede
Military veterans free
Jason Olson is at firstname.lastname@example.org