Semi-Pro Football: they've still got what it takes

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Intermission was almost over Saturday afternoon at Morenci’s Henry Geisler Field. Two quarters of football were finished and the second half was about to begin.

A few fans stood along the fence watching the visitors from Battle Creek loosen up for more combat. The Rattlers had formed a calisthenics circle and jumping jacks were underway.

“Look at #55,” someone said. “He’s only moving one leg. It looks like he’s dancing.”

The rotund lineman had taken the jump out of jumping jacks.semi-pro

“How about #77? He’s not moving anything.”

This guy, perhaps a little more rotund, stood completely still, just moving his arms up and down. He had a smile on his face. He knew he was dogging it, but what did it matter? It’s not like they would cut his pay.

This was the day semi-professional football came to Morenci. It came here because of the persuasion of Jonnie Tompkins, running back for the Motor City Cougars. Tompkins is always driving to Detroit for practice and for games. This time the team came to him.

They didn’t come only for Tompkins. There’s also wide receiver Ryan Speiser and lineman Bart Thompson. All three former Morenci High School players are out to show that they’ve still got what it takes to play football.

The second half is ready to begin and the Cougars’ kickoff team is one player short.

“Thompson!” someone yells, and Bart, one of the team’s youngest at 19, buckles his helmet as he heads onto the field. The Rattlers’ receiving man takes the kick and breaks through a pair of tackles. It’s Thompson (Class of 2001) who finally makes the stop near midfield. Bart’s still got what it takes.

The Cougars look like a Morenci team with only 19 players showing up. The coaching staff on the sidelines consists of only one man. Jonnie Tompkins’ daughter and a friend are filling water bottles and his wife, Anne, is helping out.

 Several players are going both ways without a break. That, combined with the heat, is making it tough on these “older” fellows.  Back in the first half, the Cougars completed a long drive for a touchdown, then lined up for the kickoff.

“We need two!” someone cried from the field.

Some of these guys needed a break. They weren’t all that anxious to get back in by 7:09 in the second quarter.

For a fan accustomed to high school ball, the sideline chatter might come as a surprise.

“Man, I was *&%$#@ there!” complained a Rattler after he missed an interception.

“You finally made a tackle, 99, you *@$#&±.”

That was a Rattler on the sidelines giving a Cougar lineman a hard time.

“Come in for me, DiPalma,” says a Rattler defender as he walks off the field. “One play, two plays.”

A sideline tackle nearly runs over a Rattler sitting along the edge of the field. He says he’d have to come up with a good explanation for cleat marks across the face.

“My mom doesn’t even know I’m playing football.”

As the clock winds down toward the end of the game, the taunting grows.

“You $%^&(* guys are nothin!”

“Push him !@$#%&Ø back! He can’t block.”

But #99 did get his block and Jonnie Tompkins picked up a first down. Two plays later he threaded his way through another one.

“If he didn’t have to go both ways, he’d be a beast,” says an impressed Rattler from the sidelines. Tompkins (1989) still has what it takes.

The Cougars’ starting quarterback is at home healing from an injury, but former wide receiver “Magic” •• is doing an admirable job. He had attempted a few passes throughout the game, but nothing the Morenci fans were interested in seeing.

Then it came, with just 1:33 left to play. Ryan Speiser runs deep to the left corner almost to the end zone. The pass is a little overthrown, but the former Morenci standout leaps high to haul it in for a touchdown. Speiser still has what it takes, too, just like Morenci fans saw in 1996

The Rattlers win the contest 21-13 and the players head to the center for the traditional lineup of handshakes.

It’s nothing like high school football, not with the size of the players, the ages of the players, the mouths of the players.

For most fans, it was a rare treat, something they don’t get the chance to see in Morenci. There was joking about the calisthenics and the language, the big bellies and the fatigue. But there was also an appreciation for the skills and the effort, and for simply having the guts to do it.

“You’ve gotta really love football to do this,” one guy said.

That’s precisely why these overgrown boys are still putting on the pads. They really love football.

    - Sept. 26, 2001 

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