For the next 10 weeks, men with full-time jobs will don a helmet and pads during the weekends, seeking to prolong their football careers in the Ironman Football League, a semi-pro football league that fields competition between eight teams.
League play kicked off this past weekend, and one of the teams in that league, the Fox Valley Eagles, opened their third season on June 14 against the two-time defending champions Rock County Rage. The Eagles lost, 42-6.
“They're the back-to-back champions, we've had our ups and down with them. But the game overall, we just didn't execute,” said defensive lineman Rupert Cintron, whose been with the team since the Eagles were known as the McHenry County Pirates and competed in the MidStates Football League. “It is what it is.”
Despite the loss, Cintron was quick to suggest that this year's team has improved since last season, when they went 5-5.
To field a team each season, the Eagles hold tryouts in April, where about 40 people showed up this year, a fairly typical number for each coming season. The number of players on the Eagles' roster can fluctuate from season to season, but rarely does the coaching staff cut a player from the team. Instead, the league acts as an avenue to continue one's playing career that ended after their high school or collegiate days ended.
“We just love it,” Cintron said. “One, it keeps everyone in good condition. Two, it shows the love of the game. And three, some of these guys want to go to that next level.”
The Eagles play strictly by NFL rules — some semi-pro leagues play 7-on-7 instead of 11-on-11. One thing that these rules require of the Eagles is that they cannot have more than 55 players on their active roster.
“We're always looking to expand and grow, however — team-wise — we can only carry 55 players,” team owner and president Patrick Sharpe said.
Sharpe, along with most players and coaches, must balance his time between working a full-time job during the day, practicing twice a week — on Tuesdays and Thursdays – and playing games on the weekends.
Cintron, who turns 39 this year, works for Greco and Sons, a food delivery company. He considers his work his gym, where he said he lifts up to 16,000 pounds per day. Even the Eagles' owner, Sharpe, works at a research and development company. He is the Vice President of their marketing department.
“I have to work a full-time job too,” Sharpe said, laughing. “This is what we do for fun.”