Semipro football rebirth in Janesville
A.J. Albrecht of Janesville has retired from playing semipro football, but he has not given up on the game.
Albrecht launched the Rock County Rage from the defunct Rock County Gladiators.
“It’s hard (to succeed),” said Albrecht, who played for and was part owner of the Gladiators for six years. “It’s very hard.’’
Janesville Nighthawks General Manager Topher Diehl understands Albrecht’s words.
The Nighthawks were winless their first season in the Greater Midwest Football League. Diehl said adjustments have been made to improve the Nighthawks this season.
“I have to have the right coaches in place and get rid of any attitudes of the players whether on the field or on the bench,” Diehl said. “We have better coaches I can stand behind, and I can trust they stand behind me.’’
The Nighthawks won one of three preseason games, and Diehl said the team is anticipating a much better season.
“We have one win under our belt,” Diehl said. “The coaching staff has made a world of difference.’’
The Nighthawks play home games at Monterey Park. The Nighthawks rent the field for $600 for the season and the players pay a $170 team fee. The Nighthawks ask for donations at home games, but do not charge admission.
The Rage play the first of five home games Saturday, June 16, against the Illinois Gators at the Milton High School football field. The Rage’s season opener is in Iowa this Saturday against the Dubuque Bruisers.
Meanwhile, the Nighthawks’ season-opening opponent, the Platteville Miners, dropped out of the GMFL, but Diehl said Janesville should have a replacement named later this week. The Nighthawks host the Rage at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 9.
Albrecht is determined to see that his quest for a successful local football operation succeeds.
“At the end of last season, a bunch of us got together because we did not like the direction the (Gladiators) were going,” said Albrecht, a Walworth County corrections officer. “We named an 11-member board and started from scratch.’’
Albrecht got down to business with an 11-member board of directors to guide the Rage.
“We decided it needed to be done right,” he said. “We had to follow through because it’s not just football. It’s a business.’’
Rage players pay a $100 participation fee and a $100 uniform fee. Albrecht said the Rage operates on a budget of about $26,000.
Albrecht is CEO, and Ray VanCleve is team president. Kevin Manhart is treasurer/accountant. Derek Wickhem is player representative, and Tim Shaw is coach representative.
Thad Steinke, Mike Bernhardt, Pete Lopeno and Michael Vike are director/trustees. Steven Chesebro is legal counsel, and Dan Schultz is art director.
“We meet once a month,” Albrecht said. “We talk about things football and non-football related.’’
Albrecht is working for the backing of local businesses.
“We like how the Janesville Jets have marketed the team,” Albrecht said. “They have done a marvelous job.’’
The Rage welcomed 77 players at their tryout before 10 assistant coaches and head coach Ralph Uhe.
Albrecht said the quality of the 55 players, including 26 from Janesville, has improved with the numbers. The Rage picked up players from the Madison Mustangs, Beloit Titans, Burlington Blue Devils and Rockford Rams.
“We had 30-35 players last year,” Albrecht said. “We had to cut the roster to 55 this year. Plus, we have a practice squad.’’
The Nighthawks enter the season with a 44-man roster.
Off the field the Rage, who have won both preseason games, are holding their own so far.
“We hope to do a little better than break even,” Albrecht said. “We are on a pace to be debt free, and we hope to have a little in the bank.’’
Ken Veloskey is a sports writer for The Gazette.