In some ways, you could call these guys the new-look Duke City Gladiators.
With star quarterback Nate Davis out for the season with a torn ACL, in steps Ramone Atkins, fresh off the New Mexico Highlands campus.
And former record-setting La Cueva running back Ronnie Daniels looks to make a bigger impact beyond the nine rushing yards and several special teams tackles he made in a 50-28 Indoor Football League victory over the Bay Area Panthers on Saturday night at the Rio Rancho Events Center. It was Duke City’s first win in four tries this season.
Heck, even the turf the team plays on is new as the state and a coalition of the cities of Rio Rancho and Albuquerque ponied up the cash to help bring the team’s field up to league standards.
This Saturday night, Duke City looks to beat the visiting Tucson Sugar Skulls to gain a bit of extra momentum before heading out on a four-game road trip covering the next five weeks.
“We want to make it all the way,” coach Sherman Carter said. “Our steps are win one, move on to the next one. Win that one. But it was nice to get that first win.”
Atkins played a big role, throwing for five touchdowns. Moving forward, however, look for the Gladiators’ offense to open up a bit more, Carter said.
“He’s a different kind of animal,” the coach said of Atkins. “He will run the ball. Nate was more of a pocket passer but Ramone Atkins is more of a dual threat, so we’re going to utilize his abilities. He’s fresh out of college, so learning the game was a little tough for him at the start. But after the first game, he’s got it down.”
Also getting it down, Daniels will have a much larger role in the offense, as well, after having had just one week of pratice prior to last Saturday, Carter said.
“We put a rush on getting him back on the field just because we know what he can do,” Carter said. “Once you have a talent like that, it’s hard to lose it. He showed that he still has it. This week, Ronnie Daniels is going to play running back, receiver, whatever he needs to do. Ronnie Daniels is going to step up and get it done.”
For his part, Daniels said it just felt good being back in uniform again.
“It was good, getting the game speed and getting my feet wet,” he said. “I got a couple of carries and I got a couple of tackles so it was good to contribute to the team however I could.”
Gladiators owner Gina Prieskorn-Thomas said it is refreshing to have the cities of Rio Rancho and Albuquerque work together for the greater good of both communities.
“Our biggest challenge is joining two cities together while we wait for some upgrades to be done at Tingley (Coliseum),” she said. “Now we’ve got a new field that we can use back at Tingley when we get back there. But we can also use it at the Rio Rancho Event Center to host different organizations that deal with youth sports.”