By Dave Wagner
CLOVIS — Anybody needing a summer football fix can get it tonight at Leon Williams Stadium.
Clovis High is hosting an exhibition semipro game between the Rio Rancho-based New Mexico Crush and the Lubbock-based West Texas Outlaws, scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. start.
Admission is free to elementary school children, senior citizens and military personnel (with ID), CHS athletic director Brian Stacy said. All other spectators will be charged $1, plus one canned food item.
Rules are similar to college games, except that ballcarriers must be put down by contact or they can get up and run.
Former Clovis High standout Mike Thomas is a member of the Crush, which began play in 2006 and has posted a 7-1 record so far this year while competing in the Far West Football Alliance.
Thomas, 34, who played at CHS from 1992-94, said the level of play is relatively high. Players range in age from late teens to early 40s.
“What we’re trying to do is bring the game to southern New Mexico,” said Thomas, who plays primarily defensive tackle but may also line up in the offensive line or at fullback. “That’s where most of the talent is in the state right now.”
Stacy said he was approached about the possibility of playing here a couple of weeks ago in Albuquerque by Crush general manager Larry Casias.
“They were looking for a possible neutral site to play a game,” Stacy said. “They had heard how good a stadium we have, and wanted to do something that would be good for Clovis.”
Thomas, who played college football at the University of Utah and has played mainly arena football since then until this year, said many of the players are looking to move up a level to the United States League, which has teams in places like Las Vegas, Nev., and Omaha, Neb.
“It’s a long shot for sure,” he said, “but (the players) love the game and they’re still pretty good at it.”
Outlaws co-owner Sammy Canales started as the team’s coach during its inaugural season in 2003, but took over operations in mid-season with Art Tarango.
He said his goal is to give players who didn’t have a chance to play in college a constructive outlet and the possibility of continuing to play the game.
“One goal of a semipro team is to get players to the next level,” he said. “A lot of our young players are fresh out of high school. Our oldest player is 41 years old.”
The Outlaws compete in the Minor Professional Football League, which has 18 teams and four divisions primarily in west Texas. They were second in their division with a 7-3 record, and eliminated in the first round of the league playoffs.
“A lot of teams like to play preseason scrimmages or postseason games,” Canales said. “This game was actually set up back in October, but we just decided to wait until the end of the season.”
Thomas said he doesn’t know much about tonight’s opponent.
“They’re probably one of the best teams in (Texas) right now,” he said.
He added that he’s confident the fans will be entertained.
“I’m looking for a great show,” he said. “Hopefully, we can come back and play (in Clovis) again some time, or even have a rival team down there.”