While some diehard fans are content with living out their football fantasies from the comfort of their couches, others take a more intimate approach – they sign up to play.
The Glacier Knights are a semi-professional football team based out of Columbia Falls with a diverse cross-section of players, from recent high school and college standouts, to 40-year-old men who haven’t played in 20 years, to guys who have never played before.
“There’s a lot of blue collar guys,” said Dan Holguin, a wide receiver who played in high school and college. “They work their jobs during the week and then come play on the weekends.”
The Knights held tryouts on Oct. 13 and 14 at Kalispell’s Lawrence Park. Coach Will Wheat was pleased with the turnout, saying 32 players showed up, not counting a dozen or so existing team members who didn’t come. He expects a roster of around 40 players after he makes cuts, which far exceeds the Knights’ average of less than 30, he said.
Rajiem Seabrook, a dreadlocked offensive lineman originally from New York City, ended his college career in 1995 but has since tried to keep playing. He, like a lot of other guys, has spent much of his post-college career on flag football teams. But minor league football teams like the Knights, Seabrook and Holguin said, give former players the chance to throw on the pads and play real football again.
“Eighty percent of the guys have played some form of football before,” Holguin said. “But some guys just want to stay active and have fun. They love the sport.”
The Knights are in a building phase. The team has only won one game in its previous four years of existence, including losses like a 91-3 trouncing by the Bitterroot Blaze last year. Wheat and Seabrook – who is also the team’s defensive line coach – are confident about this fifth year, though, with the high turnout for tryouts and also the arrival of some former Missoula Raptors players. The Raptors, a semi-pro team similar to the Knights, disbanded in recent years and many players chose to play elsewhere instead of joining the new Missoula Phoenix squad.
“I’m trying to build this thing new,” Wheat said.
Seabrook founded the Raptors and said he and the other former Raptors playing for Glacier had differences in opinion regarding the new Phoenix organization. So they decided that they would make the drive from Missoula to Columbia Falls for every practice.
“I wish the community here was a little more responsive,” Seabrook said. “The way minor league football is growing in Montana now, it would behoove the community to get involved.”
Semi-professional football is in fact growing in Montana and other less-populated states that don’t have many – or any – professional teams to offer sports fans. The Rocky Mountain Football League began in 1997 in Pocatello, Idaho, with four teams. Today there are 22 teams, including five in Montana. The players don’t get paid. On the contrary, they have to pay to play. They have to pay for equipment, travel and the use of their home field – Columbia Falls High School’s football field.
“These guys play for the love of the game,” Seabrook said. “Truly.”
The league is a golden opportunity for the players, Seabrook said, not only because it provides a chance to play football but also because it is an apt meeting ground for men of similar interests.
“It brings guys together in every walk of life,” Seabrook said. “In these days, you can’t always get that.”
The Knights won’t begin official, fully-padded practice until the snow melts in spring, but until then Wheat will hold weekly conditioning and lifting sessions, except for the opening weekend of rifle hunting season. They are dedicated to football, but they are also blue-collar Montana guys. Wheat respects that.
“I don’t want a team mutiny,” he said.
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