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Indoor football: Duke City Gladiators are aching to play this season

Duke City Gladiators star defender Jayson Serda, a Manzano alumnus shown in 2017, is known as a workout warrior, and he has concentrated on staying in shape while Indoor Football League play has been suspended. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The Duke City Gladiators were only four hours from kickoff in their Indoor Football League season opener when word was passed down that their game that night in Frisco, Texas, against the Fighters was called off because of the coronavirus outbreak.

That was eight days ago. By this time there already were ominous clouds over the national sports scene.

Cornelius “Pig” Brown, shown here as head coach of the IFL’s Nebraska Danger in 2019, was hours away from making his debut as coach of the Duke City Gladiators when the game was called off and their season suspended. (Courtesy of the Duke City Gladiators)

A day earlier the NBA opted to suspend its season indefinitely. Within the next 24 hours March Madness was canceled and the NHL called a halt to its season.

Thus, for the Gladiators it was a long bus ride home to Albuquerque.

Said coach Cornelius “Pig” Brown: “We thought we were going to get to play in front of no fans, so it was kind of depressing. … At the end of the day we were all a little upset, but safety is most important.”

Probably no team member felt the anguish more than veteran receiver Dello Davis.

“It took me by storm,” he said by phone this week. “I was just totally locked in for the game. It really took a toll on me.

“I slept the whole bus ride home, about 10 hours. My body was totally exhausted. That’s how much it weighed on me. Everybody was super sad.”

As with all sports in the United States, no one knows when competition will resume.

“The league is literally on hold until we see how long this lasts,” Duke City chief operating officer Trey Medlock wrote in an email. “The goal for all teams is to play this season. In the meantime most of the teams have had some players go home and some players are staying in the teams’ markets.

“There is no official practice allowed but guys can get together and lift, run or throw without coaches.”

Gladiators team owner Gina Prieskorn-Thomas said seven of the 25 players on the roster opted to leave town. The others either have a residence in Albuquerque or are being put up at the team hotel. She said team sponsors are providing players food at a discount. Also players can earn income working for the team’s marketing department.

One of the players who opted to leave town was Ray Jones Jr., a former University of Delaware outside linebacker/strong safety who went undrafted in 2019 after completing his college eligibility. He was one of the surprises of camp by earning a roster spot as a defensive back.

“In the next 24 to 48 hours after the game was postponed, flights were (priced) low, so I figured why not book one because I’d rather be home during this time anyway,” Jones said.

He had been particularly eager to open his pro career after sitting out 2019 and working as a high school counselor. In the lead-up to the opener, he said he had been busy keeping friends and family updated on his budding career and informing them how to follow the action with a link to watch the game.

“We were so excited for the chance to hit somebody else for a change, too,” Jones said, “but when we were told the game was off, we said, ‘No way!'”

Another Duke City veteran, Manzano alum Jayson Serda, also took the postponement hard.

“We were all ready to go to the pregame meal and were in game-mode – and then we got the news,” he said “It just sucks that we put in all that work (in training camp) and didn’t get to play.”

Serda said he’ll keep busy working out with weights in his garage and running in the foothills.

Quarterback Nate Davis, the Champions Indoor Football MVP last year who was acquired from the Amarillo Venom in the offseason, said he doesn’t have access to weights and doesn’t need a gym, which are closed now anyway.

“Everyone knows how to stay in shape,” he said. ” All I have to do is take off running. Breathing the air (at mile high altitude) is something different.”

Dello Davis, who’s sharing a house with Nate Davis and defensive lineman Anthony Jackson, is doing more than just running.

“We have (resistance) bands set up and we do push-ups, but we’re not Serda-fied,” he joked in reference to the muscular Serda.

In addition, during the virus outbreak team members are to take turns participating in live online 20-minute workout sessions designed for youth, called “Recess With the Gladiators.” The sessions are to be aired on the team’s social media outlets – Facebook, YouTube and Instagram – at 1 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

“These workouts are part of our effort to help youth maintain strong body, mind and spirit in all circumstances,” Prieskorn-Thomas said.

In the meantime, league commissioner Todd Tryon said Thursday he’s busier now than had the season been in full swing: “I’ve been at my kitchen table trying to reconstruct a new schedule without knowing the starting date.”

Tryon said the season can extend as far as Aug. 15. If it went deeper into August he said a big problem would be that the league game officials, who also work college football games, then would be unavailable.

“Our goal is still to play 14 games,” he said, “and if we start up again by April 24, we can make it. If we don’t start until May 1, maybe we’ll have just four playoff teams instead of eight. After that we’ll have to cut into the number of games.

“Our stance has always been to do what’s right, and when the environment says we can return, we can be up and running in 10 days.”

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