They whet their appetites in pee wee leagues, spend four years playing high school football, and often head to college.
But what happens to die-hard players who don’t make the National Football League and can’t give up their love of the game?
Sometimes, they become Nightmares.
The Lorain County team, part of the Premier Amateur Football League, has signed a deal to play its 2017 home games at Oberlin College’s Austin E. Knowlton Athletics Complex. The Nightmares played the previous four years at Midview High School.
The season runs on Saturday nights from May to August, but strong safety Jamie Adams and left guard Vaughn Sprinkle — who happen to be manager and owner of the team — have already started making the rounds, introducing themselves at Oberlin shops and offices.
“When we come play we’ll have families coming in. They’re not from Oberlin, won’t know the businesses around here,” Sprinkle said. “We want to bring people here, show them what the city has to offer — so it’s not like we’re just using the facility and bouncing out. We want to leave a positive mark on the community.”
About three-quarters of the players (the Nightmares roster boasts 75) are from Lorain County, many rising up through the ranks of the Oberlin Phoenix, Amherst Comets, and Wellington Dukes.
Some played under the Friday night lights — such as the Dukes’ Zach Shearer, the Comets’ Adam Herbert, and the Phoenix’s Aaron James — others are hoping still to someday make the NFL, Arena Football League, Indoor Football League, or play in Canada or Europe. Some have been there already and returned; the average player age is 25 and the oldest is 34.
Many players have come to the Nightmares via Heidelberg University, where Sprinkle attended (you might recognize the family name — his brother, Tracy Sprinkle, plays defensive tackle for Ohio State University but sat out most of the year with an injury).
But the PAFL is no place for R&R. “This league is tough,” said Sprinkle. “It’s a really intense league.”
The Nightmares have had their tough times, going 2-6 in 2015 and bouncing back to 9-4 this past season. The turnaround came with a stable quarterback after wrestling with the same four-in-four-years turnover that’s plagued the Cleveland Browns.
The league has grown considerably in the past four years, Adams said: “The semi-pro thing has taken a real turn in recent days from guys who just wanted to crack their heads and run some plays to people who want to train and really develop their skills,” he said.
“The players aren’t getting paid a million dollars,” Spinkle added. “They want to be out there. They’re there for the love of the game, so there’s that passion there.”
Off the field, they make a point of community service. Players have volunteered everywhere from the Friendship Animal Protective League to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
“You’re not going to see the Browns doing things in your neighborhoods with the people of your neighborhoods,” Sprinkle said.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Jason Hawk | Oberlin News-Tribune Jamie Adams and Vaughn Sprinkle introduce themselves at downtown shops and offices after inking a deal to play the 2017 season at Oberlin College.