When was the last time a two-time defending champion pro franchise was regarded as an expansion team by its league?
That’s the case this year with the Duke City Gladiators, who are making final preparations for their inaugural season in the Indoor Football League.
The Gladiators, who won the past two Champions Indoor Football titles before jumping to the IFL for the 2020 season, are one of four newcomers to the league, which has been in operation since 2008 and has ballooned to 13 teams. Also joining the IFL fray this season will be the Frisco Fighters in surburban Dallas, the Oakland Panthers and the Spokane Shock. Those three started from scratch this offseason.
“There is a big difference between the CIF and the IFL,” said Duke City chief operating officer Trey Medlock. “The CIF is right for the size of its markets (such as Amarillo and Salina, Kansas). In the IFL you have major markets.”
There’s also a big difference in travel. Thus, for the first time in the history of the 6-year-old team, Duke City will be flying to certain games.
“A bus ride that would be more than 11 hours for us determines whether we take a flight or not,” said second-year team owner Gina Prieskorn-Thomas at team headquarters last week.
It was estimated that the total expense of the flights would be a little less than $5,000 over what it would cost to ride a bus. The Gladiators will take to the air for journeys to Oakland; Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Davenport, Iowa (to face Quad Cities).
Duke City’s season opener is scheduled for March 12 in Frisco. The first home game is set for April 4 against the San Diego Strike Force. And, as has usually been the case, the home schedule at Tingley is back-loaded to avoid the many graduation ceremonies and related events held at the Coliseum in the spring. In fact, the Gladiators will play five straight Saturday nights at home beginning May 23. No other league team has more than three straight home games.
Medlock said he’s not a fan of so many consecutive games in such a tight window.
“It’s because it puts too much pressure on your fan base,” he said. “But we’re dealt this at the Coliseum so we go with it. There’s no reason to cry about it. We just hope the fans understand that and stick with it.”
New coach Cornelius “Pig” Brown, who came over from the IFL’s Nebraska Danger in the offseason to take over for longtime Gladiators coach Dominic Bramante, who was not retained, took notice of the schedule and originally was concerned.
“At first it looked pretty rough and that it didn’t work out in our favor,” he said, referring to two games against the Arizona Rattlers (14-0 last year) and two vs. defending IFL champ Sioux Falls (11-3) in the second half of the season.
“And I think with us being defending (CIF) champions we’ll have a bigger target on our backs. But maybe we’ll be able to fly under the radar.”
TICKETS: Seven-game season-ticket packages range from $80 for end zone seats, $110 for select, $130 for midfield, $150 for premium, $250 for VIP and $6,500 for a field suite. For more information, visit www.dukecitygladiators.com.
All games are scheduled for a 6:05 p.m. start.
LOCAL FLAVOR: Four players from New Mexico high schools are on the roster as of now: LB Jason Serda and DB Shamelle Dumas (Manzano), DB Maiga Ibriham (Socorro) and DB Jaime Ramirez (Valley).
UPCOMING EVENTS AT TINGLEY: The Gladiators will conduct a youth camp Feb. 22.
• Dance team tryouts are set for the 23rd.
• Player tryouts are scheduled for the 24th.
PRESEASON CAMP: It’s tentatively scheduled to commence Feb. 28 at a site to be determined. A total of 40 players will be welcomed to the team’s drills. The roster must be reduced to the maximum of 25 before the season begins.