By: Don Doxsie firstname.lastname@example.org
When professional indoor football teams such as the Quad-City Steamwheelers hold open player tryouts, the hopes generally exceed the expectations.
Teams don’t expect to find star players at these things. They hope they can find a little speed, possibly some size, perhaps a serviceable receiver, maybe a decent lineman.
The Steamwheelers got a lot more than that Sunday.
The team, which opens play in Champions Indoor Football in March, held tryouts at the newly-renamed TaxSlayer Center in Moline that were attended by about 100 local players.
CIF teams only are allowed to pay living expenses for 18 players, which means they must find at least a half dozen local players to fill out the roster. That was the goal Sunday: Find six, maybe eight.
By the end of the day, head coach Cory Ross had signed 14 players he thinks can step right into the indoor game and he had a lengthy list of others who might have a chance to develop into players down the road.
“I saw some really great things,’’ Ross said following an event that lasted more than three hours. “I was impressed with what showed up today.’’
The new signees included a pair of former Davenport Central athletes who had good careers at the college level — Tyvis Smith and Keyvan Rudd.
Then there was the icing on his cake: Former Mercer County High School and Monmouth College quarterback Tanner Matlick.
“You don’t find quarterbacks at these events,’’ Ross said. “We usually bring them out of state. To have someone that’s here who will compete with whoever I bring in is going to push our quarterbacks to be great.’’
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Matlick talked to a few Canadian Football League teams after finishing his college career last year, but felt a little burned out and wanted to get on with his business career. He is working in inside sales with Hon Industries in Muscatine.
“But I kind of got the itch again watching football and heard about the Steamwheelers coming back and the tryout and everything, so I thought I’d give it a shot,’’ Matlick said.
Ross said he “fell in love’’ with Matlick even before he knew who he was.
“I’m a visual guy,’’ Ross said. “I walked in and saw a guy with a white hat on and I immediately said he’s going to make it. I didn’t know what position he played and when he said he was a quarterback, I said ‘Oh, this is even better.’
“He throws a beautiful deep ball. He listens very well. He leads those guys. When you put a quarterback in this situation, you like to see how they react to a whole bunch of people he doesn’t know. How is he going to command the huddle? … For me, I was very, very impressed. He must have been taught very well by his coaches in college.’’
Matlick, who attended many Steamwheelers games when he was a kid growing up in Aledo, admitted he has been preparing for about a month.
He knew Kurt Warner used indoor football as a launching pad to the NFL so he watched some old Warner videos to see what route concepts are used in the indoor game and what sort of throws he needs to make. He has been throwing for a few weeks although he thought he was still a bit rusty Sunday.
Players taking part in Sunday’s 11 a.m. tryout had to pay $50 apiece to do so and they went through their paces in an almost empty arena, with no more than about 100 fans and family members looking on.
They all were timed in the 40-yard dash, put through various agility drills and put through one-on-one workouts at their positions.
They weren’t all legitimate prospects. Mixed in were a few chubby 5-foot-6 quarterbacks who threw sidearm and some overweight linemen who were huffing and puffing after the first drill.
There also were plenty of guys like Alex Clark, who played a little football at Davenport North and has seen action with three different semipro teams in the area. He actually works at the TaxSlayer Center and spent Saturday setting up for a Matchbox 20 concert, then tearing it all down afterward.
“And here I am right back here this morning doing this,’’ he said.
Clark said he just loves football and couldn’t pass up a chance to keep playing.
“Me and a buddy of mine were saying we should go try out for a team and then the next day they announced this,’’ he said. “So, I just kind of had to do it.’’
“That’s the beauty of having the Quad-City Steamwheelers back,’’ Ross said. “Everybody wanted to come out and try it out. I think some of them knew they probably weren’t going to make it but we were going to give them every opportunity.’’
Others, like Smith and Rudd, had a pretty good idea they’d make it.
Smith hoped to land a free agent contract with an NFL team last spring after a solid career as a running back at Northern Iowa and is still in contact with several NFL teams, including the Minnesota Vikings. He’s working in commercial sales for Lowe’s but still is hoping for a career in football.
“I love the game of football,’’ he said. “If I get the chance to play it anywhere, I’m going to play it. This is another step that I’m going to take in my life just to pursue the career. I’m just grateful for the opportunity.’’
Rudd, a wide receiver, also had NFL hopes coming out of Minnesota State-Mankato three years ago. He doesn’t live in the Quad-Cities any more but flew in from Seattle for Sunday’s tryout and indicated he would relocate to the area just for the chance to be a Steamwheeler.
He said he served as a ballboy for the old Steamwheelers when he was a student at Davenport Central.
“Thinking back that was almost 10 years ago and now I have the opportunity to be one of those players,’’ he said. “It’s going to be awesome.’’