BOONE — Launching the first season has been a step-by-step process for the High Country Grizzlies.
After two league changes, the expansion indoor football team knows it will play in the National Arena League. They know they’ll play in the Holmes Center, that their training camp begins Feb. 28 and their first game is at the Georgia Firebirds, who play in Albany, Ga., on March 18.
The Grizzlies got their first look at the field they will play their first home game, a March 25 showdown with Lehigh Valley, when the franchise held an open house at the Holmes Center.
Not everything was set up. The traditional indoor league goal posts were not installed. But the field, which had sponsor logos being painted on it during the open house, and the Grizzlies’ logo being painted on a black background in the end zones, was on display.
The Grizzlies’ players in attendance helped piece the field, which is in five-yard strips from sideline-to-sideline, together overnight.
“Like anything in life, you need milestones to give you the perspective of progress as you’re marching forward,” Grizzlies owner Donald Thompson said. “Seeing the field, seeing it rolled out, seeing the sponsors, seeing the players interact with the fans is pretty exciting. It also signifies that we are just a couple of weeks away from training camp.”
Grizzlies’ general manager William Thompson, who has been running the day-to-day operation of the franchise in Boone, also felt that unveiling the field is an indication that the season is just around the corner. He said the team has 35 players on the roster, but is always looking to upgrade when possible.
The team can bring 40 players to training camp, but must trim that roster down to 21 when they begin the season.
“I think reality has set in,” William Thompson said. “I think the community has finally bought in. This is the buy-in factor. There has been that area of suspense, people thinking whether or not it was really going to come to fruition. Could we sustain the momentum? Could we get to the point where we’re ready to play without any hiccups? I think that’s here now.”
The players report to Boone Feb. 26, take their physicals the next day and then take the practice field on Feb. 28. They’ll have a two-week training camp before starting the season at Georgia.
“People can actually see the field down and actually see everything,” Grizzlies head coach Josh Resignalo said. “It kind of makes it real and that everything is getting started and we’re here, so it’s time to get things rolling. We can actually step on the field and see everything — that’s huge to be able to get that feeling and it’s time to get rolling.”
The field is the regulation 50 yards long. Players scoring touchdowns will have a slight surprise once they get to the end zones, which are just five yards deep. By comparison, NFL college and American high school end zones are 10-yards deep.
All of the temporary seats that consist of the bowl of the arena floor were pushed back under the permanent seats, leaving just five yards for the end zones. It’s not the first time Grizzlies quarterback Stephen Panasuk or Resignalo have seen small end zones.
Both said they played or coached in arenas where the end zones were just three yards long.
“We played at the Stabler Arena at Lehigh University and their end zones were three yards on one side and maybe a little more on the other side,” Panasuk said. “It was wild. I’ve been other places where the end zones were small, too. It will work against us, so we’ll have to plan our attack so we’re not starting inside the 5-yard line.”
The other quirk of the field at the Holmes Center is that the temporary bleachers are not pulled up to the sideboards as they are in most indoor football arenas. Resignalo is still hopeful that if that problem can’t be remedied, that the fans still get excited about the game itself and generate a lot of noise for the Grizzlies to feed off of.
“I’m excited because of the atmosphere that is going to be here,” Resignalo said. “The acoustic level is going to be a loud place if you can get enough fans in here, I think it can be very intimidating for an opponent to come in here and that’s what I’m looking for.”