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Defending champs open season tonight

The Duke City Gladiators, kingpins of Champions Indoor Football in 2018, will open defense of their crown tonight when they play host to the Wichita Force in the league season opener for both teams at Tingley Coliseum.

It’s the first of three straight Duke City home games to open the 12-game season, wrapped around a bye, before the team embarks on a four-game stretch of games in Texas and Kansas.

But fifth-year coach Dominic Bramante said he hasn’t look anywhere near that far ahead.

“The only thing I have on my mind is Wichita,” he said. “I have no idea what the rest of the schedule is. I couldn’t care less who we’re playing next.”

As is customary in the CIF and other indoor leagues, roster turnover is often significant in the offseason. And in the case of Duke City, it applies to the front office, too, where Gina Prieskorn-Thomas has taken over as owner after having a partial stake in the franchise last season.

On the field, familiar stars returning include linebacker Jayson Serda, a Manzano and Eastern New Mexico alum, who was league co-defensive player of the year last season.

Also back on that side are linemen Brett Bowers and Fatu Ulale, a pair of UNM alumni. The speedy Bowers led the league in sacks last year with 14. Defensive back Dontrell Johnson will help anchor the secondary.

Back on offense are standout center Sherman Carter and 5-foot-7, 160-pound receiver Dello Davis, who led the league with 22 touchdown catches last season.

“Honestly, I have no goal for this season,” said Davis, a father of two from St. Louis. “I’m just going to do what I need to do to try to get an opportunity (to move up to a higher-echelon league). But it’s hard because I don’t know exactly what that is.”

Probably the most notable addition to the 2019 roster is quarterback Donovan Porterie, a former Lobo (2006-09) who led the Gladiators to the playoffs in 2017 before incurring a thumb injury in the first round. He played last season for the CIF’s Kansas City Phantoms.

“He’s improved from when he was here in 2017,” Bramante said, which is a mouthful considering Porterie was league MVP that year.

“He’s been everything and more – just a leader,” Bramante said of his QB’s presence during preseason drills. “You can see he has a passion now, not to say he didn’t in ’17, but he’s really leading this football team. It was tough on him watching us win a championship last year.”

Newcomers Bramante lauded are WR Dee Washington, who played with Porterie in Kansas City, defensive lineman Anthony Jackson and running back Romello Brown, a 5-foot-11, 245-pounder from Wayne State in Detroit.

“He’s like a Brahma bull out there who runs with power and speed,” Bramante said. Brown will be attempting to fill the void left by RB Jestin Kelly, who had 18 rushing TDs last season.

Tonight’s game will be a rematch of last year’s first-round playoff game at Tingley, when the top-seeded Gladiators won 50-39 by scoring twice in the final 2:30.

“That was a close game we won when we recovered an onside kick with 30 seconds left,” Bramante said.

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