Newly formed semi-pro football team hopes new approach leads to longevity

By Tom Mix, INFORUM , 04/26/14, 9:00PM CDTShare 



The Fargo-Moorhead area is no stranger to semi-pro football. In the last five years, two semi-pro clubs – the F-M Liberty and the F-M Lumberjacks – experienced one-and-done seasons, going defunct for reasons ranging from money issues, lack of interest and poor organization.

This spring, a group backing the newly created Fargo Invaders semi-pro franchise hopes a fresh start and several lessons from past failures lead to a team that catches on with football fans in the Red River Valley.

The Invaders are a member of the Midwest Premier Football League and are scheduled to play an eight-game regular-season schedule beginning with a road game against the Great Lakes Wolfpack on May 10 in Duluth, Minn. The team’s first home game kicks off at 4 p.m. May 31 against the Midwest Nightmare at Sid Cichy Stadium. All Invaders home games will be played at Sid Cichy Stadium.

“I know we are going to be fun to watch,” said Invaders offensive lineman Shane Stephenson, who also serves as the team’s president. “We want to be professional and be a class act. We are trying to build something here.”

The Invaders, who held a team scrimmage and media day at Bennett Elementary on Saturday, are structured differently than the teams that came before them.

The Invaders will operate as a non-profit organization and will try to hold things together with a board of directors that includes coaches and players. The team’s head coach will be Humberto Rodriguez, a former defensive coordinator at Mayville State and the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, N.D.

“I think the main difference is, with the other teams one guy had all the money, wanted to start a team and didn’t really care about being a part of the community,” Stephenson said. “We want to be a team like the Fargo Force or the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. We want to be around for a long time and be a source of entertainment in the spring.”

Stephenson played on the Lumberjacks and recalled a game last fall where 14 players showed up to a road game in Minot, N.D. The captains of the Lumberjacks essentially became the leaders of the Invaders after Lumberjacks owner James Kern declined to finance a spring football club.

Thus far, the blank slate appears to have re-invigorated a roster that Stephenson said sits at 57 players.

“I feel much better about this team,” said 22-year-old running back Brandon Jones, who played on the Lumberjacks. “This team is much more organized. Last year, we were rolling with whatever came at us and were not really prepared. This year, we got everything planned way down the road.”

Former NDSU standout and F-M Liberty quarterback Tony Stauss is also back for what might be a final tour in the semi-pro ranks.

Stauss said former Liberty teammate Rochenel JeanBaptiste persuaded him to join the Invaders.

“The goal is to be around for longer than a year,” Stauss said. “The minute they said that, I felt like that was something I could buy into. … It feels like it is more organized and there is not going to be one guy owning the team with all the money who can bolt out of town. We are all in this together. We are all out there selling raffle tickets trying to raise our own money.”

As a non-profit, Stephenson said the goal of the club will be to donate as much money to local charities after team expenses are taken care of.

In the meantime, the team offers former collegiate players like

22-year-old Kevin Irby, who played at Mayville State, an opportunity to extend their careers.

“It’s another way to get looked at,” Irby said. “It is a way to keep that football dream alive and play the game I love.”