By Gary R. Rasberry
The song “The Cheap Seats” by Alabama has a line “It’s minor league, but at least it’s Triple-A.”
That’s where Mike Wessel is heading.
The Celina native who made an impact in the National Indoor Football League last year will move up to the feeder system of the rapidly-popular Arena Football League by playing with the San Diego Riptide of Arena Football 2 (AF2) beginning in April. The Riptide opens the season on the road at the Arkan-sas Twisters on April 3.
Wessel received his contract last week and officially signed it early this week.
“My roommate works at Gold’s Gym out here and he ran into their strength and conditioning coach,” said Wessel, who moved to California some time ago. “The coach called me and asked if I wanted to try out and I said sure. Now I’m out here practicing at 5:30 a.m. every morning.”
Coaching the Riptide, who went 6-10 last season in AF2, is Mouse Davis, who coached notable quarterbacks like Neil Lomax at Portland State in the 1970s and Jim Kelly for the Houston Gamblers of the USFL.
“He’s a great coach,” said Wessel. “He’s out there every Saturday for our full practices.”
Wessel will once again play defensive tackle, a spot he excelled at while with the Bismarck Roughriders on the National Indoor Football League last season. But in AF2, most players play on both sides of the ball.
To compensate, Wessel will also play center, a spot he has never played before.
“I’m practicing with my coach to be a better center,” said Wessel. “The coach actually signed a contract with the CFL (Canadian Football League), so he helps me at center and I work with him on his moves. I’m doing all right and should start.”
Wessel came to San Diego after the Roughriders ceased to exist after last season. A couple of former teammates joined Wessel in making the trip to the west coast. Several offers came from other teams in the NIFL, but Wessel was in no mood to move back east.
“It’s 70 degrees right now,” said Wessel with a laugh. “I live two blocks from the beach. I do my training out here in the event I got another chance to play.”
One thing Wessel noticed is different from the NIFL to AF2 is how much more serious AF2 players take it, considering that the next level is the AFL.
“It’s a good feeling,” Wessel said. “They expect more up here. There’s better competition. I’m learning a lot more. It’s great to be at the higher level. You can see the differences. You can see how serious these guys are. Every day, we’re practicing from 5:30 to 8:30 a.m. then we lift at 7 p.m. If you miss a practice or lifting, it goes against you. I’m happy just to be considered.”
The Riptide will play its divisional teams four times during the season, which means Wessel will get the chance to play the Hawaiian Islanders on the road twice.
“That’s a nice trip for a game,” said Wessel with a laugh.