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Workingman’s Football


Jasson Andriese has been waiting 10 weeks for this moment: The Riddell equipment rep has just pulled up with a load of shoulder pads and helmets ordered by members of the Broomf ield Dawgs football team. The 27 year old is a burly guy with a headful of brushy red-blond hair. He has the kind of good looks and build that draw furtive attention from the few wives, girlfriends and female friends who came to watch the Dawgs practice on a breezy, warm April afternoon.

“They (screwed) me over,” Andriese says of Riddell.

He has reason to be cranky. He’s been commuting four hours each way from Aspen every weekend to make practice for two and a half months, but he still doesn’t have pads or a helmet. A former defensive back at Grand Valley State in Michigan, he’s itching to hit somebody again. He thinks the Dawgs, who will play their inaugural season in the minor league Colorado Football League this summer, will give him that chance.

But it hasn’t been easy so far.

“Commuting sucks,” Andriese says, sidling up to the pickup filled with the pads that offer so much promise. “But I have my whole life to build a career. How much longer do I have to play ball? Hey, if you know anybody who needs a property manager down here, let me know.”

But high hopes that the equipment snafu has been settled are blowing away like the burger wrappers that tumble across the tilted kids’ soccer fields behind the massive, still expanding Life Fellowship Family Bible Church, where the team holds practice.

The rep, a sour-faced, lanky guy who warns everyone to keep their distance—“I’ve got a bad virus,” he says—has only brought four helmets and two sets of pads. Not even close to the team’s order, according to the ever quotable defensive coordinator Rich “Redbeard” Leamon, 55.

Worse, Andriese’s helmet is too tight, and the rep hasn’t brought the $295 pads he ordered.

Redbeard kneels on the asphalt, looking only slightly less defeated than New York Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle in that legendary 1964 photo after a loss to the Steelers.

“This equipment thing is turning into a cluster….,” growls Redbeard after the Riddell rep insists the order is right. “Do you have the paperwork?”

No, says the rep. He’ll have to go home to look for it.


As Dawgs’ general manager Eric Chacon, 38, is fond of saying, welcome to workingman’s football.

Welcome to a game in which regular guys with tolerant wives and girlfriends cling to fading gridiron dreams, paying $190 each (“But you get to keep the home and away jerseys,” Chacon notes) for the privilege of participating in legalized battery.

By day, the men who make up the Dawgs serve as personal trainers, sporting good sales managers, car salesmen and landscapers. There’s even a ceramic glazer and a fifth-grade teacher. A few days a week, they get to transform from professionals to boys playing ball.

“I love the contact,” says Elliott Thompson, 27, who played at Denver’s Thomas Jefferson High School. He sat on the bench for four years at UCLA and played with the CFL Denver Pirates before joining the Dawgs. “I do it because where else but football can you? You can’t get angry and hit the boss. But”—he waves a hand vaguely toward the field—“I can hit him.”

Officially, the Dawgs are run by GM Chacon and his best friend of 15 years, head coach Adam Scully, 35. Chacon only played junior-high ball at Frederick Junior/Senior High School, but notes, “I’m a big fan.” Scully played in high school back east, and spent the 2000 season with the Mile High Eagles semi-pro club.

But if you’re measuring by charisma, volume and for lack of a better term, recruiting, the Dawgs are Redbeard’s outfit. Perpetually tilted forward as if his lower vertebrae are filled with broken glass, pot-bellied, weather-beaten, funny and un-P.C.—Howard Stern is a piker, in comparison—you hate to walk away from him, afraid that you’re going to miss the next pithy quote.

Redbeard played schoolboy football in Brooklyn, N.Y., and attracted enough attention to win a scholarship at Ivy League Penn.

“But I didn’t want to play with a bunch of (pansies),” he says, his true language unfit to print. He wanted to play for powerhouse Penn State.

His words are salty, but he can’t seem to help himself. And you believe him when he says he holds no prejudices. He just means that if the Quakers of Penn lined up against the powerhouse Nittany Lions, the U.N. might have to declare genocide.

But before JoePa (Penn State’s legendary coach) could come calling, Redbeard was drafted and sent to Vietnam. After returning home, he eventually suited up for the Red Raiders of Texas Tech, but by his own admission was a benchwarmer.

He went into coaching, at Adams City and Skyview (Thornton) high schools, then was head coach for the defunct CFL Red Raiders.

And now the Dawgs are Redbeard’s boys. The team is built mostly with alumni from Skyview High and the Red Raiders, with a smattering of players from other local minor league teams, a few newbies and guys who’ve played indoor ball. We’re not talking about that Arena Football League, the one with owners like John Elway and Jon Bon Jovi; to the Dawgs that off-off-Broadway league looms as awesomely as NFL does for high-school kids.

Still, Redbeard loves them all.

When a player finishes a play with a shoulder injury, he hollers for his second-string quarterback, Ely Aungst, 22. He is a short, polite, blue-eyed kid who played for Redbeard at Skyview before doing a recent hitch as a Navy field medic in Iraq.

“I’m not good with shoulders,” Redbeard says, and for now, Aungst is the closest thing the Dawgs have to a trainer. “If somebody shot you, he could take care of that.”
Aungst takes a look, but can’t offer much help. He downplays his service to the nation in Iraq, seeming grateful to have been stationed at a naval base there, where playing pickup football was the only violent action he saw.

John Byrd, 38, is one of the few Dawgs who can claim to have made a living playing football, in the National Indoor Football League and United Indoor Football League, whose teams play for small crowds across the Midwest. He reels off the names of teams that even the most die-hard football fans probably never heard of like he’s ticking off a list of morning chores: the Fargo Freeze, Madison Mad Dogs, Sioux City Bandits, Tri-City (Nebraska) Diesel….


“Don’t touch the quarterback at all! We ain’t got a (whole) bunch of ’em this year,” Byrd shouts, watching a scrimmage on field. He turns his gentle, icy blue eyes back to the conversation. “Listen, I did it all backwards.”

He played one year in high school at Cheyenne East, then went to the University of Wyoming. He isn’t specific, but hints that he was too immature to succeed in an environment where there was “a code of conduct, and you actually have to do what people say. You don’t question. I wasn’t mentally prepared to play football.”

He left UW and wound up playing for the Cowboys’ archrival, the Colorado State Rams, in Fort Collins, where he had more success.

From there, he just wanted to keep playing, and make a living at it. He earned a modest living playing indoor ball, bouncing around from one little-known squad to another. He received $200 per game, a motel room and a few meals. He was even able to afford a “fully furnished, two-bedroom” house for himself and his family.

He wasn’t being watched by millions, maybe, but he was doing what he loved best.

It wasn’t until the birth of his oldest son, now 8, that Byrd says he really got it: Football might be fun, but it’s also work.

“Once Javian was born, it became a job. My wife and I worked hard at me being a paid, professional football player,” Byrd says in a velvety voice you’d never expect from a defensive back who hits hard enough for the victim’s mother to feel the pain.

But he retired from play-for-pay in 2007 to become a recording studio engineer, and now, “I’m out here at age 38 because this is fun, period,” he says, nodding. Not too much pressure; no more packing up the wife and kids to relocate to another drab, cold, backward burg. “I was late today, and didn’t nobody says (crap)! They were all just, ‘Hey, how you doin’?’”

His wife makes a good living, Byrd says, and now he just wants to help his three kids “get to college and get a degree.”


When the weather is decent, a few supportive wives and girlfriends will swing by practice and toss a blanket on the brown-green spring grass. Moms keep one eye on the Dawgs at work and play, the other on squealing kids, while girlfriends push up their already short shorts to take full advantage of the Colorado spring sun.

“It’s still exciting for me,” says Lori Garcia, 32, who is here to watch her boyfriend, defensive captain and long-time CFL veteran Michael Bracken. “For a lot of guys, this is their last hurrah.”

Garcia and Ava Martin, 39, who’s here to watch her friend Ronald Cothran, look at each other and crack up, as if they know something that the hopped-up, sweating Dawgs don’t.

“Mike is limited now,” Garcia says, sounding as certain as a coach at a post-game press conference. “I’ve put him on the two-year plan, and then that’s it.”

At the other end of the spectrum from experienced players like Byrd and Bracken is Mike Vigil. The 24-year-old Thornton High grad played peewee junior high football, but developed Osgood-Schlatter, an overuse disease that causes near-crippling pain in the knee joints of kids.

“I love football, but I’ve been nine years out,” says Vigil, now a ceramic glazer, sounding grim. “I want to play halfback, but I’ve never carried the ball before. But I’m out here going for anything. I just want to play again.”

At 5’8″ and 220 pounds (“They’re all the same size I am,” he declares defiantly. “If you’ve got pads on, you don’t get hurt.”), it’s all but inevitable that when he sees some action, the coaches plunk him and his low center of gravity on the offensive line. Playing right guard, he spends a few plays looking around for somebody to hit, then heads back to the sideline.

While many of the more experienced players shout out testosterone-fueled jokes, liberally drop F-bombs and horse around like high schoolers who still think life is about getting laid and playing ball, Vigil stands apart, stoic as a Marine, blond hair pressed to his skull with sweat, casting a steely, unfocused gaze across the field. Somewhere out there is a dream.

“If I can get myself in shape,” he murmurs, “I want to try out for the Colorado Crush (the Denver-based Arena Football League owned by former Bronco hero John Elway).”


Then there’s Thung “Tom” Khamsitthisack, who discovered the Dawgs after soccer practice one day. The 38-year-old father works as a supervisor for a medical supply company. He’s slight, almost elfin, 5’5″ in a pinch. Always smiling. He never played a down of football before handing over $190 for the privilege of playing for the Dawgs, but he betrays no doubts that he can achieve that uber-American male dream of becoming a football hero.

“I saw them in practice and asked to try out,” he says. “My speed is good: 4.3 or 4.4 (seconds, in the 40-yard dash). I’ve got good hands. I burned (Coach Scully’s) best cornerback.”

When Khamsitthisack lines up (padless; he left his gear in Coach Scully’s truck, and so far this practice, the coach is AWOL) with the other, bigger receivers to take passes from quarterback Jason Burch, he looks like what he is: a city-league soccer player and Tae Kwon Do expert.

But sure enough, when he takes off, he blazes his pattern. It’s catching that’s giving him trouble. After he drops his second ball, Burch gives him a shout of encouragement.

“Hey, Tom, maybe you should slow down so you don’t make everyone else look like crap!”
Other players murmur that this strike of Laotian lightning better slow down if he doesn’t want to blow his hammy for good. He pulled it a couple weeks ago, and violet-yellow bruises still streak his leg from knee to buttock.

“It’s OK. I’m about 65 percent,” Khamsitthisack says. “They wanted me to look at kicking, but I don’t want to kick no more. I just want to play football.”


About halfway through practice on this given Sunday, GM Chacon hustles across the field to spread some kick-ass news: “We just signed a guy who was just released from the (NFL’s Seattle) Seahawks.”

That guy is Kevin Prosser, 29, a Gateway High School grad who played running back at Northern Colorado. He doesn’t have pads yet, but Chacon is trying to scrape together enough gear to let him suit up. The excited GM wants to see what the pro can do.

“This is just so I can keep myself together. You’ve got to keep yourself up,” Prosser says, waiting for a helmet and shoulder pads. “But I just love the game. As long as these are guys who are committed, who love the game, I’ll play with any of them.”

Prosser rather modestly suggests that his time with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Tennessee Titans, the Seahawks and the Barcelona Dragons (of the NFL’s defunct European league) “paid the bills.” A deep trawl through Google—admittedly not the final word, despite its reputation—nets his name on stats for the Eastside Hawks of the semi-pro North American Football League in 2004 but not in association with any of the NFL squads he says he played for. Other Dawgs are casting sidelong glances at the pro, with equal parts skepticism, hope and pugnaciousness. They’re not gonna be intimidated by any NFL dude, and of course, if he’s good….

Eventually, Prosser pulls on pads, helmet and a Nebraska Cornhuskers jersey. His attire fits since everyone is sporting a hodgepodge of gear. Some are clad in bare pads, others sport high-school colors to and some wear semi-pro team shirts—red, black, blue, white, you name it.

After a few ho-hum plays, Prosser reels off a 25-yarder, but the truth is, James and bowling-ball back Jay Wright, 29, do just as much or more damage out of the backfield during this scrimmage.


Wright’s teeth are covered in gold, and he’s in there giving high-fives and chattering even when other players are getting reps. Like everyone on the field, he just loves the game.

“Yes, coach?” says the former Manual High star, when I approach him for questions—it appears names and faces are still a blur, 10 weeks in. “Yeah, this offense is kind of built for me. People don’t usually like to go with a smaller back.”

By now, it’s 4:01. Practice started late, so these dreaming Dawgs will keep playing until 4:30 or so. Andriese, the Aspen commuter, has settled for some pads he didn’t want, and donning his too-tight helmet, he’s switching out at safety with defensive captain Bracken, 38, who plays with fierce intensity and rallies the troops even from the sideline, cursing his D when they let a big play get away from them.

About that cursing. That’s just the Dawgs’ bark. Redbeard is always quick with a crude joke or bit of tangy wisdom—“You guys know what red wings are?” the coach asks, eliciting laughter and groans when he provides the answer. It’s all locker-room, all the time with this team, and that’s obviously part of the appeal.

A week earlier, Coach Scully reminded the team that kids and families were present, meaning they needed to behave. That didn’t stop team members from making jokes about “grabbing the coach’s balls” after Scully said he was missing a few footballs from an earlier practice. Moments later, after someone mentioned the Colorado Havoc, a team of Canon City prison guards (a la “The Longest Yard”) from Florence, someone dropped an F-bomb in relation to the police.

It was C.C. Losli, 37, a big-bellied, bald, very aggressive 14-year CFL O-lineman who works as a cop in Georgetown. His son Tyler, 14, serves as a kind of assistant to Redbeard, setting up cones so the beefy offensive-line crew can work on blocking patterns. To Tyler, who’ll start playing at Standley Lake High this year, the Dawgs are big time. To his dad, they’re a way to blow off steam.

“I just love the game,” Losli says. “Out here, I’m allowed to hit people.”

Normally on Sundays, the team heads up to the Fox & Hound for a little food—it’s no NFL-style banquet, but hey, it’s free—courtesy of one of Scully’s pals. But Scully still hasn’t shown up today, so the pub is off.

“Has anybody heard from him?” Redbeard bellows about halfway through the scrimmage.
But nobody’s seen the coach all day. Several players are missing, too.

“We need to start taking attendance,” Redbeard says grumpily. “What happened? Are these guys sick? Did Osama get them? Did they get picked up by the New York Giants? What the…”

With the equipment screw-up, players hanging around without pads, guys who haven’t seen any football action since junior high (or ever), you might think the Dawgs would be down.

Not a chance. They’re warriors out here, never mind that they’re going back to the grind tomorrow morning. They’re grown men, reliving boyhood dreams with every snap. Few may come to watch them play, but they’re watching each other, and that is honor and glory enough.

No coach? No problem. GM Chacon raises his hands, palms-up, and smiles.

“Adam’s gone, so Redbeard took over. You do what you have to do,” He shrugs. “That’s just what happens when it’s workingman’s football.”

The Broomfield Dawgs open the season June 7 at Mountain Range High School.

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