Although the Super Bowl has come and gone, football still remains a topic of conversation in Santa Cruz as the Pacific Coast Football League (PCFL) gears up for its second season of minor-league football in the tri-county area.
“The PCFL started in 2009, and is a combination of owners and other leagues who wanted to create a hybrid league of better talent and better players,” said Richard Atkinson, general manager and head coach of the Tri-County Gladiators.
While UC Santa Cruz has never had a football team to rally behind, the city of Santa Cruz has been a part of minor league football since the 1950s. Minor league football provides an alternative for UCSC students who enjoy playing football and want to still be part of a team once they come to college.
“Santa Cruz has had semi-pro football since 1956, so there’s been a long history of football in this county,” Atkinson said. “The good thing about this particular league is it allows athletes who are currently in college to play up until the age of 21, following the NCAA guidelines and standards, because it’s nonprofit.”
Richard Torres was born and bred in Santa Cruz, and has played in the league for several years.
“I went to high school right here at Soquel High [and have] been playing in this league for the past seven or eight years. I don’t think I could make it pro,” Torres said with a laugh. “I’m just out here playing for fun. Me and this guy [Atkinson], we used to play a long time ago … and once we heard about this league coming into town, we both jumped on it.”
Atkinson has recently increased his efforts to recruit UCSC students, hoping to get more players on the team.
“I have been, for the last year, promoting football at UCSC, mainly because they do not have a football team,” Atkinson said. “They do have a lot of rugby players and athletes in general, some of whom may want an opportunity to play quality football.”
The team has also devised a financial aid plan, of sorts, to encourage participation.
“For students, anything that’s fee-related always becomes an issue,” Atkinson said. “This year, though, we have some local sponsors that are going to pay the player fees, so that’s encouraging and hopefully will allow more kids to come out and play.”
Derryll Williams, the team’s defensive back coach and one of its players, agrees with Atkinson’s recent push to promote the team to UCSC students.
“I’ve been in this league for a few years and that specific area has really been tapped into,” Williams said. “The campus has a lot of potential to bring some great athletes to our team, [and] it would be great to get some students involved with this.”
Raymond Kramer, a recent graduate of Santa Cruz High School, is excited to play for the Gladiators.
“I’m ready. I heard that last year was really good, and had a lot of good players,” Kramer said. “I’m definitely excited to see how it is this year, and see what I can bring to the team.”
Torres is as eager as Kramer to get onto the field.
“I’m just excited to play,” he said. “I took last year off so I’m just itching to play, itching to get out there and hit some people.”
The team currently holds tryouts and practices Saturdays and Sundays from 1-3 p.m. at Soquel High School.