Daniels, 28, to try football comeback with Gladiators

Ronnie Daniels, one of the greatest prep RBs in state history, will be making his football return with the Duke City Gladiators. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Thanks in part to a Texas Tech sticker on the back window of Duke City Gladiators owner Gina Prieskorn-Thomas’ Lexus, her Indoor Football League team now boasts having one of the greatest running backs in New Mexico prep history.

Two weeks ago former La Cueva star Ronnie Daniels, who played briefly at Tech after a record-setting career (2007-10) with the Bears, had a chance meeting with Prieskorn-Thomas at a Northeast Heights gas station. He was there for ice cream and munchies; Prieskorn-Thomas for gas. Upon seeing the sticker, Daniels got her attention and hollered, “Guns Up!” – the traditional Tech greeting.

Prieskorn-Thomas, whose daughter Tina attends medical school there, and Daniels then engaged in a conversation that led him to mention how he had played for Tech – briefly – 10 years ago.

Prieskorn-Thomas said she wasn’t entirely familiar with Daniels at first, “I recognized him kinda, sorta,” but invited him to stop by the Gladiators’ nearby office to sit down and also meet the coaches.

Long story way, way shorter, Daniels arrived at team headquarters later that day, met with coach Robert Kent Jr., did a test sprint in the parking lot and was asked to join the team. This week he passed his physical and signed on.”

Ronnie Daniels (22), right, is shown in action for La Cueva in a high school football game at Wilson Stadium Nov. 19, 2010. (Pat Vasquez-Cunningham/Journal)

It’s a long overdue welcome back to the gridiron for a high-profile player, now 28, who hasn’t played in a game in almost 10 years but still is at his playing weight of 6-foot-2, 205 pounds. He still holds the state record for rushing yards in a season (3,024) and career rushing touchdowns (96), according to the New Mexico Activities Association website.

After playing one game at Tech his freshman year of 2011 – and scoring a TD in a 59-13 victory over the Lobos at University Stadium – he disappeared from the football map because of well-documented drug issues, and that led to failed tests and trouble with the law.

In the years afterward, he became a personal athletic trainer and was a cultivation tech for various cannabis operations as he searched for a career.

Now he has rededicated himself to football in an effort to attract the attention of teams in the Canadian Football League and NFL.

And that’s not all that’s keeping him busy. This year he’s also been heavily involved with mixed martial arts and working out with the top mentors at Jackson-Wink. He’s had one fight on his amateur ledger and won.

Gladiators owner Gina Prieskorn-Thomas, left, and five players, from left, Nate Davis, Dello Davis, Jared Elmore, Xavier Amey and Antwan Smith look on at Thursday’s news conference. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

SATURDAY’S GAME: Daniels won’t be active for the Gladiators (4-5) in Saturday’s nationally televised game against the Spokane Shock (6-2) at the Rio Rancho Events Center as he acclimates to the indoor game.

The game will be aired on the Stadium Network.

Said Daniels: “One of the things Coach Kent talked to me about was wanting me to get comfortable hitting the boards, running into the boards.

“You ever ice skated? I don’t know how to stop. The only way to stop is to hit the wall. That is my experience hitting the wall.”

Said Kent: “We’re going to give him the opportunity to get his legs back underneath him, get him acclimated to taking hits, wearing a helmet, wearing pads again. We’re going to take baby steps. He’s a phenomenal runner from what we’ve seen on film and we’re going to see if we an get some of that out of him.”

UNM CONNECTIONS: Two ex-Lobos will be playing along the line for the Gladiators, Brett Bowers and Fatu Ulale, while ex-UNM quarterback Lamar Jordan is with Spokane. He was signed at midseason and has been primarily a kick returner. In his first game, he scored on a 50-yard return in a victory over Sioux Falls.

LEAGUE HONOR: Newly acquired Antwan Smith was named IFL Defensive Player of the Week for his performance last week in Duke City’s 71-54 road win vs. Northern Arizona. He finished with three total tackles, all solo, and had two interceptions in the fourth quarter.

PLAYOFF SITUATION: Despite having a losing record, the 4-5 Gladiators are in the thick of IFL playoff contention. Duke City is tied with the Green Bay Blizzard for the eighth and last spot in the IFL playoffs with five weeks left in the season, but the Blizzard holds the tiebreaker edge based on strength of schedule, according to league czar Todd Tryon.

In the league, the postseason format will have the No. 1 seed playing host to No. 8 in the first round, No. 2 at home vs. No. 7 and so on. The seeding will be based on winning percentage since some teams will be playing as many as 16 games and others less.

When Duke City won Champions Indoor titles in 2018 and 2019 they were at home in all rounds.

Dello Davis, who leads the league with 19 TD receptions, was a key member of the Gladiators’ title teams. That team was a top seed both times.

“Now we’re just trying to make the playoffs, and it’s a much better feeling because you can see what the guys are about,” he said. “There’s accountability at this time of season.”

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