By Gary R. Rasberry
ST. MARYS -- It's just a bit of a jump going from the aggressive play of flag football to the crunching play of full contact semipro football.
But for a group of St. Marys and Celina guys, they're willing to suit up.
The West Ohio Wranglers will move up from indoor flag football to the Interstate Football League beginning Saturday as the team plays its first game in the league at LaGrange County.
The team, made up of players who played for other semipro teams in the region, was looking to find a spot in the IFL last year when it was invited to a flag football tournament.
"We were starting up when the Lima Thunder asked us to play in a flag football tournament," said running back Brandon Meyer, who handles much of the off-field business as president and treasurer of the team. "We took first place. "We've been looking to get in the IFL because the close teams were Darke County and Mercer County. We were trying to get in to make it easier travel-wise."
When it came time to recruit players, there was plenty of reaction from some of the guys that were just leaving college and even high school to keep the pads on.
"We put some things in the paper, hung up some flyers," said Meyer. "We're still a little low (numbers-wise) with about 25 guys, but we've added eight in the last two weeks. They're starting to come around. ... A couple of these guys are fresh out of college and a couple are fresh out of high school. I played four years for the Lima Warriors before I moved over here, so I'm used to the hitting and stuff. There's about five guys out of Kentucky that are coming up here and play for us. They haven't hit for awhile, so they were a little beat up."
The Wranglers got their preparation for the season in the early part of 2005, working out in February.
"We started a whole month-and-a-half before everyone else," said Meyer. "We had a good jump on everyone, but we're behind because we're a new team because the other teams didn't need that extra practice because they know what they're going to do."
While the IFL season has not started, the team has gotten some work in with other semipro teams in the area. Both the Warriors, one of the best teams in the Midwest, and the Thunder have squared off against the Wranglers.
"The Warriors was like a practice," said Meyer. "We scrimmaged the Thunder. We ended up losing that game at the very end, which was a little disapointing."
The Wranglers are coached by Lincoln Fox, with Travis Leppla serving as defensive coordinator.
The team will be in the North Division of the IFL, setting up an automatic rivalry with the Mercer County Cougars. Given West Ohio is made up of mainly former Western Buckeye League players and the Cougars is Midwest Athletic Conference-oriented, the rivalry should heat up in the first two meetings, the first coming August 6 in St. Marys.
The goals for the team, is to be competitive and get ready for the all-inclusive league playoffs starting in October.
"In the regular season, we want to go .500," said Meyer. "We want to win at least one round in the playoffs. If we can do that, it's a successful year. For a first-year team to do that, it doesn't usually happen. in semipro football. We'll build on that next year."
Home game will be played at West Elementary School in St. Marys. The home opener is set for July 30 as the Kosciusko County Mustangs come in for a 4 p.m. game