Fri, Jul 30 2010 12:42 AM Posted By: Phillip Brents
San Diego Stallions co-owner Raphael Stewart does not like the word “semi-pro” when describing the level of football under the National Football League. He prefers a more apt description: minor league football.
“We offer an avenue for guys to keep playing,” said Stewart, who owns the local entity with Mary Blas, both Paradise Hills/Spring Valley residents. “Minor league football is starting to build. We play in the largest league on the West Coast.”
Now entering their fourth season, the Stallions are likely the South Bay’s best-kept football secret. The team played its first two seasons at Montgomery High School and is set to kick off its second season at Southwest High School with a July 31 preseason game against the visiting Orange County Ravens (6 p.m. start).
The Stallions’ regular season schedule features 10 games. The area squad kicks off regular season play Aug. 14 against the Long Beach Lions.
Practices are held at Hilltop High School.
The Stallions play in one of minor league football’s newest competition circuits — the LaBelle Community Football League. Yes, the league bears entertainer Patti LaBelle’s name.
LaBelle is among a number of entertainment and sports icons who have lent their support to the budding enterprise. The North County (Oceanside) Cobras won last year’s national championship game — LaBelle Bowl V.
The Stallions play in the same division as the reigning LCFL champions.
Winston Martin serves as the Stallions head coach. He is joined on the coaching staff by defensive coordinator Charles Bussey, offensive coordinator Mark Ring, special teams coach Ira Morris, defensive line coach David Green and assistant defensive coach Juan Lafuente.
Ring is entering his 19th year as an offensive line coach, serving previous stints with the San Diego Patriots and SoCal Scorpions (winning a WPFL national championship in 2007).
Given their South County playing and practice sites, the Stallions roster is understandably loaded with former South Bay playing talent, foremost among them David McClurg (Castle Park/Chula Vista), Tim Parker (Eastlake), Romero Crawford (Chula Vista) and Chase McGuire (Castle Park).
Parker, a baseball and football standout at EHS, went on to play at Arizona State, making a Holiday Bowl appearance with the Wildcats in 2002.
Another baseball-football standout, McGuire played collegiate baseball at Sonoma State and CSU Northridge.
Crawford attended the University of La Verne.
The love of the game has brought these former Metro Conference pigskin standouts back to the gridiron. Some had not picked up a football in as long as six years.
“Watching games on TV at home just wasn’t cutting it for me,” Crawford said.
McClurg said he missed the hard-hitting aspect of the game while Parker missed the challenge of competition.
McGuire said he was “dragged” into the venture by a couple of friends, pointing to McClurg and Parker with a smile.
“I still love playing this game, so here I am,” McGuire said succinctly.
Based on their performance at a recent practice session, it doesn’t look like time has taken much off their respective game abilities.
Crawford led the Stallions with 530 rushing yards last season, scoring four touchdowns. He also caught six passes for 23 yards.
McClurg led the Stallions on the defensive chart with 65 tackles, including 14 for losses.
Parker averaged 44 yards on punts, with a longest effort of 70 yards, converted 22 of 23 PAT attempts and booted 14 field goals (longest 42 yards). He will join McGuire as one of three signal-callers on the team this season.
The Stallions roster features 59 players ages 18 and older. Besides local residents, the team has attracted interest from about a dozen military personnel.
The California Bears (San Diego), Desert Valley Knights (Palm Springs) and Valley Predators (Murrieta) join the Stallions and Cobras in the LCFL’s Western Conference South Division. The Stallions also have non-league games scheduled against the SoCal Steelers (Corona), SoCal Eagles (Chino), SoCal Gladiators (Orange County), Tri-County Titans (Fullerton) and Las Vegas Kings.
The Stallions finished second in the division standings last season with a 6-4 record, defeating the Orange County Ravens, 29-0, in a playoff game before ending their season with a 52-13 playoff loss to the Cobras.
With a minor league mind-set, Stewart said playing for the Stallions offers a chance for some players to receive notice from professional leagues. The recently deceased Arena Football League and arenafootball2 are set to reincarnate next season in a revived AFL venture.
Then there is an even bigger prize. Marques Slocum, formerly of the LCFL’s Philadelphia Panthers, has signed a 2010 contract with the NFL Washington Redskins.
“Minor league football is pretty competitive —you can come out here for 10 bucks and see some hard-hitting football,” said Stewart, a former player for the Southeast Raiders and San Diego Thunder semi-pro teams. “It’s exciting to be involved in this as an owner. This is my extended family.”
For more information, visit the Stallions’ Web site at www.sd-stallions.com.
© 2009 The Star-News