Semi-pro football team will play home games in Burnsville, Lakeville

Minnesota Brawlers are part of Northern Elite league

A semi-pro football team’s search for a permanent home has brought it to Dakota County, where it hopes to stay for a while.s-minn-brawlers-logo-4-28

The Minnesota Brawlers, one of 10 teams in the Northern Elite Football League, start their 2017 season Saturday, May 6, against the Fargo Invaders at Burnsville High School’s Bob Pates Stadium. Kickoff is 3:30 p.m.

The Brawlers will play three home games at BHS (May 6, May 13 and July 8), as well as one home game at Lakeville South High School (June 3) and one home game at Robbinsdale Cooper High School (July 22). They play nine games in a regular season that runs until late July.

Last season the Brawlers played at several sites in and around Mankato before team president Trever Coxworth decided the metro area was the place his team needed to be.

“We have a core group of guys who played at Minnesota State Mankato, but we had a hard time finding fields to play on down there,” Coxworth said. “And it seemed like whenever we came to the cities to play a game, we had bigger crowds than we had for our home games.”

Games in Burnsville are a convenient trip even for players and fans who live outside the metro area, said Coxworth, who added that Bob Pates Stadium also was an attraction.

“With the Jumbotron they have there and the upgrades they’ve made, it will be one of the best facilities in our league,” he said.

Coxworth, a native of Winnebago, Minnesota, said at first he resisted the idea of relocating the team to the metro area, fearing it would be lost among the region’s numerous sports offerings. But the move has created an uptick in participation. When located outstate, the Brawlers sometimes played games with about two dozen players in uniform. They expect to have about 40 this season, having found a market for adults who aren’t done yet with football.

Most of the players on the Brawlers’ roster – and in the league – have at least some college football experience. Their top player might be Herschel Prater, a 6-foot-6, 335-pound offensive lineman who started four seasons at Minnesota State Mankato and went to a Minnesota Vikings minicamp.

Quarterback RayJon Bibbens and tight end/linebacker Ryan Saumur also followed the team to the metro area for the 2017 season. The Brawlers’ roster also includes wide receiver Josh Zitzmann, a Farmington native who played at Rochester Community and Technical College.

Coxworth said the line should be big enough to enable the Brawlers to have a strong running game. Prater isn’t even the team’s biggest lineman; that’s Martell Lightfoot, who’s listed at 6-9, 415.

“RayJon is a very good runner and passer, and we have a lot of depth at receiver,” Coxworth said. “We’re a little thin at running back, but the ones we have are very good.”

The Northern Elite league is one of 25 to 30 regional semi-pro adult football leagues in the country. “Semi-pro” is a bit of a misnomer because the players aren’t paid. For the players, it’s not a full-time job, but it’s not beer-league softball, either. If there’s an equivalent to semi-pro football in another sport, it might be town team baseball, where many of the players have college experience and can get through a season with limited practice time. Coxworth said the Brawlers rented time in a dome about once a month during the winter. Since April 1, they have been practicing on weekends. When the regular season starts they will try to get together once a week for practice, but Coxworth said the players’ personal schedules make it difficult to have full attendance for a practice.

Coxworth said he wants the team to have a presence in the community. The players already have done some work with Feed My Starving Children, and Coxworth said he also hopes to use the team to bring an anti-bullying message to local schools.

Adult tickets for the May 6 home game are $10 each, with students admitted free. There also will be free admission for military veterans at the May 13 home game against the St. Paul Pioneers, who have won the Northern Elite league championship the last six years.

More information about the Brawlers and the league is available at www.northernelitefootball.com.

“It’s taken us a few years to build this up,” Coxworth said of the Brawlers, who were founded in 2013, “and now we think we’ve found a home.”