MANKATO — There are 21 teams registered with the United National Football League this summer, and the Mankato Brawlers are ranked 20th.
Considering it is the inaugural season for the franchise, which has yet to play a game, head coach Trever Coxworth says the low ranking is to be expected. A few weeks into the season, however, he expects the Brawlers to be moving up the ladder.
"I know we're going to have a good team because I've been at this for more than 20 years, and I know the difference between good teams and bad teams," he said. "We expect to win a lot of games this first season."
The UNFL is a semi-pro, 11-man tackle football league that includes teams from throughout the Midwest, including Chicago, Lincoln, Neb., and Kansas City, Mo. The league was founded by Jordan Taylor of the Nebraska Lawdawgs and Jimmy Ross of the Kansas City Panthers.
Games are played modified NFL rules, and the regular season usually goes until the last week of September. The playoffs begin in October and culminate with a national playoff game on Nov. 9.
"It's a good league," Coxworth said. "The guys running it know what they're doing. They've been in the trenches so they know what works and what doesn't."
The fledgling Mankato Brawlers squad includes a trio of area players whose names are familiar to local fans. The triumvirate includes former Mankato East standout Jesse Graves, former West quarterback Ray Teachout and former Waseca defender Levi Fossen.
All three played at Minnesota State, although Teachout was only there for his redshirt season. Coxworth said getting players fresh out of college are precisely the type of athletes he wants on the Brawlers' roster.
"Those guys are usually still in shape, and they still have the itch to play," he said. "It's tough to just walk away from football when your college career is over. This league provides an opportunity for those guys to keep playing."
Some of the other former college players on this year's roster are University of South Dakota running back Chris Reid, Concordia defensive back/linebacker Tino Madison and wide receiver/defensive back Spencer Bowen from Iowa. Other MSU players are Earl Brooks (WR, RB, DB) and Tory Garrett (DB, WR).
The Brawlers' roster also includes three New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva graduates in Jake Reyant (WR, DB), Erick Olson (OL/DL) and Chris Edmound (LB, TE).
Dan Kelly (LB) and Nate Salic (DL/OL) from Mankato East are also on board.
Joining the UNFL was not the original plan for the Brawlers, but Coxworth said it worked out better for the Mankato franchise because it runs through the summer and into the fall.
"The other league we were looking at started in the spring, and that just didn't work for a lot of our players," he said. "This works out a lot better. Our goal is to get more games in Mankato in future seasons."
Coxworth realizes a lot of people are skeptical about a tackle football league making a go of it in Vikings country but says the best argument he can make for the Brawlers is to have people come out and watch a game.
"This is a very good brand of football," he said. "I think people will be surprised at the level of play they see on the field."