The New Mexico Stars, who have added a new head coach, a new front office and a fresh batch of players since last season concluded, will kick off their third indoor pro football campaign tonight at Rio Rancho’s Santa Ana Star Center with a Lone Star Football League game against the Amarillo Venom.
Coach Dominic Bramante, the first Native American to be a field boss in an arena league, will be guiding the Stars against the best team the LSFL has to offer. But it’s not like the two-time defending champs also haven’t had significant turnover, just that it’s occurred only on the field.
The Stars commenced preparing for this game March 1 when training camp opened in Glorieta. Included was a 50-20 exhibition victory Sunday at the Star Center against a squad of metro area firefighters and police officers.
Bramante, though, wishes he had more time to tinker.
“We still need a lot of work,” he said Wednesday. “Obviously, it’s going to be a huge challenge for us, especially with a rookie quarterback going in. There’s a big difference between playing the outdoor game and indoors.”
He’s referring to ex-Prairie View A&M quarterback Andrew McGlory, who has never played in an indoor league on a field that’s roughly half the size of a regulation layout. In fact, his only experience of any sort indoors came during Sunday’s exhibition.
McGlory didn’t sound fazed about that situation at training camp, though.
“Instead of going through a series of progressions, it’s just going to mean I’ll make one read and then react,” he said matter-of-factly.
Ex-Lobo Donovan Porterie, who played at UNM from 2006-09, originally was to be the Stars’ starter, and still might be, but he has been waffling about playing for the team after being cut by the Pittsburgh Power of the more-established Arena League.
“It’s a day-to-day thing with him,” said Bramante, who said Porterie has hopes of landing instead with a Canadian Football League franchise. “He was at practice the other day; he was at the game Sunday. We’ll see.
“But regardless, this game isn’t going to make or break our season, whether we win by 50 or lose by 50.”
The Venom, meanwhile, has been a force the past two years under the steady ownership of Stephanie Tucker and head coach Julian Reese, although they won’t be towing that same championship roster into town. One key component who is gone from the 2012-13 teams is QB Nate Davis. He had 44 TD throws last year (four INTs), including 19 in three games against New Mexico. He’s now with rival Rio Grande Valley.
“Our team has looked real good in practice, and I’m excited about them,” Reese said Wednesday of his revamped roster. “We’ve been practicing indoors the whole way and think we have two young quarterbacks who are a lot more mobile (than Davis). We haven’t decided which one will start, but they’ve got big shoes to fill.”
One of the two QB candidates is Brendan Crawford, who played two games for New Mexico early last season before he was replaced by Kasey Peters, who went on to throw a league-high 49 TD passes against three INTs in 2013 and earn the LSFL’s Co-Offensive MVP honors. He’s now with the rival West Texas Wildcatters.
This will be the first of 12 regular-season games this season for New Mexico, which is the only non-Texas squad in the five-team league. Last year the Stars went 6-6 and were ousted in the first round of the postseason.
OWNERSHIP SITUATION: In addition to the aforementioned offseason upheaval with the Stars is the fact ownership has changed hands twice since summer. It was only last week, in fact, that majority owners Samuel Rodriguez and Paul Parsons, who took over the team in August, handed the team back to the league.
LSFL Commissioner Darlene Jones is heading the search party for a new owner and will be in attendance at tonight’s game. She said Thursday that there have been no new developments on the ownership front.
WACKY SERIES: If last year’s three meetings between the teams can be used as a barometer, there should be plenty of scoring tonight.
Amarillo swept the season series 62-34, 57-54 and 88-72. And for sure Reese hasn’t forgotten that close-call, three-point victory, which came in the Star Center when his squad nearly blew a 17-point lead in the final 6 minutes.
In a somewhat surreal scene after that game, his voice echoed through the bowels of the arena for about 10 minutes while he berated his winning team’s performance.
“We weren’t mentally in the game and weren’t playing our style of football,” Reese said. “I expected more out of them and myself.”
NEW FAMILIAR FACES: Among new additions to the Stars this season are two players with Albuquerque ties – kicker Greg Rivara and defensive back Jason Serda. Rivara, a St. Pius alum, played at New Mexico Highlands and at UNM. Serda, from Manzano, is an Eastern New Mexico alum.
HOW THEY’RE PAID: Each team in the league has a $3,100 per-game salary cap for the 18-player active roster. There’s a maximum player payout of $450 and a minimum of $100, in addition to lodging and meals.