After the semipro South Ogden Rhino-Raiders lost an exhibition football game to Dixie State College at Hansen Stadium in St. George on Sept. 4, Rebel quarterback Danny Southwick approached his Rhino-Raider counterpart on the field, former Weber State quarterback Dave Stireman.
"He said, 'You totally outplayed me. How old are you?' " Stireman recalled.
"Old enough to be your father," was the reply from Stireman, 40, who played his college ball under coach Mike Price in the mid-1980s and went on to play professionally in Canada and Europe. He retired after an injury in the early '90s and was lured into semipro ball in 1998 by friends whose Raider team needed a quarterback.
He's now owner, coach and quarterback of the Rhino-Raiders, probably the most successful and aggressive team in Utah's growing semipro football scene.
Compliments like the one he got from Southwick are one reason Stireman continues to play, even though he'd be happy to turn quarterbacking duties over to a younger man if he could find a reliable replacement who would fit in.
"Our team is made up of a bunch of friendships," Stireman says. "Friendships are the No. 1 reason I keep this team going."
The Rhino-Raiders are made up differently than most of Utah's semipro teams who play in two outdoor leagues. The 16-team, three-state Rocky Mountain Football League and new-for-2004, four-team Intermountain Semi-pro Football League that plays all games at Hillcrest Junior High and two indoor leagues, the 14-teams-and-expanding, 6-year-old, two-state Utah Indoor Football League, which plays at the Kearns Olympic Oval, and the Las Vegas-based United States Indoor Football League that has two Utah teams and four from Nevada.
The South Ogden club that is 14-0 in 2004 (the Dixie game didn't count for either team) and has won five straight league titles has a core of older players like former Weber State running back Fine Unga and former Utah State players Walter, Vaea and David Fiefia, who've been playing together for years and tend to attract guys who want to play alongside them.
"Every team in the RMFL is younger than us," says Stireman, putting the Rhino-Raiders' average age at 30-31.
That's why Stireman counts friendships as a top reason for continuing with the Rhino-Raiders, who carry a 60-man roster. "There is very little turnover," he said, and many of the players live near Ogden so it's easy for them to get to team functions. The team does its own fund-raising events and has ushered for concerts to build revenue and image.
Many players in the four local semipro leagues pay their team fees that range from around $85-$100 or more each, buy their personal equipment and use their personal insurance simply because they want to continue playing the game they're best at, just like folks who play recreational basketball, soccer or softball in city leagues.
RMFL commissioner Jared Neumeier of Idaho Falls, Idaho, says about "95 percent just want to have fun. Most just play for the love of the game."
The other 5 percent, he says, are athletes who consider themselves on the way up in football and are looking to build game films that they can supply to colleges or agents or pro teams in hopes of getting scholarships or paying jobs in football, be they with the NFL, CFL, Arena leagues or National Indoor Football League teams like the Utah Warriors.
The Utah semipro leagues conform to NCAA protocol no one gets paid to play so college scholarships, mainly to junior colleges or smaller schools, do happen with some regularity.
"A lot of scholarships come out of our league," said Neumeier.
"It's a goal of some of the players to get film," agreed UIFL president Michael Curran, who says for a few, the league provides "a field of dreams of playing again or to get film to get back into school or to the pros."
Curran said his league sends about six players a season on to the Warriors and mentions a former player who got a full scholarship to Snow College. "They really do play high-quality ball."
Running back Misi Tupe (Bonneville High), who once played for the Rhino-Raiders, got a scholarship to Dixie State and played against the Raiders on Sept. 4, Stireman said.
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