Matt Caward, the 39-year-old co-owner/general manager of Albuquerque’s new pro indoor football team – the Duke City Gladiators – said he can’t recall the exact day when the idea of starting his own franchise seriously entered his thoughts.
For sure it was sometime in the past four weeks, and judging by Tuesday’s news conference at Hotel Cascada to formally introduce the team, he works at warp speed.
Caward introduced his new head coach and staff, 11 of the 35 players who will be on the camp roster and announced that the team will play its games at Tingley Coliseum.
What’s still uncertain is a title sponsor and a league with which to be aligned. The candidates are Champions Indoor Football and the X-League. The CIF is the same league that the Rio Rancho-based New Mexico Stars were to play in this spring until the team’s owners said Saturday the club would sit out this year and reboot for 2016.
“We’re negotiating as we speak with a couple of different leagues,” Caward said. “I’m 100 percent positive we’re going to have a league and a season this year. Which (league) it’s going to be is still being worked out in negotiating. The offers have already been on the table. It’s up to us to choose.”
CIF commissioner Darlene Jones confirmed Tuesday night that the league and the Gladiators were in discussions to iron out the many last-minute details, among them acquiring certain playing dates at Tingley that are agreeable to the CIF and Gladiators.
Tingley’s GM, Dan Mourning, said he’d be “more than flexible to move things around” for the Gladiators.
X-League boss Mike Mink said in a phone call Tuesday night: “We’re talking right now and at a crossroads, but we’re still working together.”
Caward said he’d like to have this settled by Friday.
As for the Gladiators’ coach, it’s Dominic Bramante, who will receive a three-year guaranteed deal. Last year he led the Stars to the Lone Star Football League title game, but he resigned from the team nine days ago and returned to his home in Oklahoma.
Said Bramante: “When this whole thing started about the possibility of the Duke City Gladiators, me being the eternal optimist, when Mr. Caward said, ‘What about the possibilities of doing something like this?’ … I said, ‘You can’t do it. It can’t be done.’
“He proved me wrong. Look where we are today.”
Bramante, who said he was offered the position over the weekend, also said he was humbled so many ex-Stars players opted to follow him “wherever he wound up.”
One of the key members of the new team, Bramante said, will be QB Kasey Peters, who was co-offensive MVP for the Stars in 2013 before moving on to the West Texas Wildcatters of the Lone Star League last season. He had planned to play for the Stars this season until the franchise turmoil.
“Obviously, it’s been a hectic few days, but when coach Bramante and Matt told me about this opportunity – they’re two guys I really trust and believe in, and they have a vision I believe in,” Peters said. “Like I told (Coach), I didn’t come to play for the Stars, I came to play for him.”
Caward, a lieutenant in the Bernalillo Fire Department, will enlist wife Crystal to be the organization’s community liaison in charge of charitable and community outreach.
“We’ve got big plans to be ensconced – literally ensconced – in this community,” Matt said. “We want to be a part of this community to the extent we are selling 40 percent of the ownership of this team to the public of Albuquerque in the way of shareholders.”
Special benefits for shareholders, who currently would be asked to pay $1,000 apiece, include exclusive on-floor seating next to the team. There is a limit of 400 shareholders.
TICKETS: Caward said all seats in Tingley will be general admission and cost $10, except for on-field seats. For information, the team website is dukecitygladiators.com.