Semi-pro but totally serious about football

By BEN MCCARTY

News staff writer

January 20, 2007

From a distance nothing sets them apart. Just a half-dozen guys getting together for a Saturday morning football game.

On closer examination, however, it becomes clear that these six guys are not at the Hood River Middle School field just for a pickup game. Especially on a day were the temperature is hovering slightly north of 20 degrees, and the field is frozen over. They continue running the same two plays over and over: option run and option pass. “Option left on two on two!”

The quarterback’s cadence echoes across the glassy snow. An offensive lineman jumps early, and the play stops as Paul Brown steps in to find out went wrong. The six players are at the field to practice and run a tryout for the Columbia River Coyotes, a semi-pro football team in the Oregon Football League.

The team did not get quite the turnout it had hoped for: only one new player, and he was not even from Hood River, but looking around at the frozen field and a postcard-esque Mount Hood in the distance, Director Mike Knopf and several of the players figured that the temperature, and the prospect of hitting the slopes on a clear day was a bit more appealing than running option drills for even the hardiest jock.

There are no sob stories here. No tales of “football has given me a second chance at life.” Just guys who want to be a part of a team and play the game they love.

“This gives a chance for guys to play football,” Michael Walker said. “Some guys just want to put on pads and hit somebody again.”

The Coyotes were founded five years ago, with Knopf as the coach/director and “team steward,” this year he has given up the coaching reigns to Brown, an assistant coach at The Dalles-Wahtonka, who recently retired from the semi-pro game after a seven-year career.

The team plays its home games at The Dalles-Wahtonka High School field, and with a roster typically around 35 players, has faced teams with more than twice the manpower.

The desire to see the team grow, and hopefully contend for a league title, have led Knopf to reach out to the surrounding Gorge area, in the hope of finding more players and building a wider base of support for the team, which costs around $15,000 to field annually.

“My goal is to take in the whole Gorge area, not just The Dalles,” Brown said.

For veteran players like Antwoine Montoya, it gives him a chance to get in on the action, instead of just watching it on television or from the stands.

“I’m living a dream,” Montoya said. “What else are you going to do on a Saturday morning?”

Most of the players have no higher ambitions in football beyond getting to put on the Coyotes gear every Saturday, although Brown said that Arena Football League teams do occasionally scout out top semi-pro players, and several players did not even play football in high school.

They range from 18-year-olds taking a year off before heading to college to grown men in their late 30s. The team’s quarterback, a scrambling lefty named Everett Deuan, even brought his young daughter along with him to practice so he could keep an eye on her while he runs through plays under center.

Knopf made it clear that there is no semi-commitment in semi-pro football. During the season the players will travel to Brookings, Klamath Falls, Salem, Oakland, Coos Bay and Bend, becoming weekend warriors who get Sunday to heal their bruises before heading back to their day jobs.

During the off-season many do volunteer work in the community by serving as youth mentors and volunteer football coaches, working with senior homes and chopping fire wood.

As its base of support expands, Knopf would like to move some of the team’s 5-6 home games out of The Dalles and into surrounding communities.

“Its not set in stone that The Dalles has to be the home field,” he said. “I’m trying to get everyone in the Gorge area involved.”

The Coyotes’ season begins mid-March, and Knopf is still looking for more players to fill out his rosters. He doesn’t ask recruits to bring much experience to the table, just the desire to play hard.

“They don’t have to have a lot of experience,” he said. “They just need to be willing to learn.

As the team packs it in on the practice field, a few players hustle off to their cars to warm up, a few linger to toss the football around a few more times, and a few make it clear that it doesn’t matter whether it is raining, snowing, in a heat wave or driving winds, they can’t think of anything they would rather be doing than playing football.

“We were out here before 9 when it was even colder,” Brandon Knopf said. “We just love football.”

The Coyotes practice every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and Sunday from 2-4 p.m. at The Dalles Fitness Club. Anyone interested in signing up can either show up or call Director Mike Knopf at (541) 296-4226 for more information.

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