HELENA — A new team is trying to find a home on the gridiron in Helena.
“The love, the passion, the camaraderie,” Joey Klein said of the reasons he enjoys playing football.
However, unless someone’s playing at an elite level like the NFL or the newly created Alliance of American Football (AAF), the game of football stops for most after high school, sometimes college. The Helena Guardians give those in the Helena area an opportunity to play long after that time has come and gone, though.
On Jan. 13, the Helena Guardians held an NFL-style combine where Guardians coaches were able to test the mettle of potential players before they even set foot on the gridiron. The Guardians’ head coach and president, Kendall Stewart, said he chose to do a combine that mirrors the NFL’s as an attempt to simulate an NFL experience.
“Down to our jerseys, every aspect of what we’re doing, we’re going to make it as professional as possible,” said Stewart. “The goal is, if we have a semi-pro combine, the same as the NFL combine, we’re kind of preparing our players for the next level, if they’re willing or wanting to go there.”
For a player like Klein, who took 10 years away from the game of football between 2006 and 2016, the Guardians give him an opportunity to compete and become a better version of himself.
“As a 32-year-old, you think, ‘If I still got it, why not? Give it a shot. Compete,'” said Klein. “It’s an introspective dilemma sometimes. I want to kick yesterday’s butt, but in order for me to do that, I got to compete against somebody or myself.”
The Guardians have an uphill battle before their first game in April. With teams coming and going from the area in rapid succession, the Guardians are having a bit of trouble getting sponsorships from local businesses to mitigate costs away from players.
“There have been so many teams that have come through here that a lot of sponsors are kind of like, ‘I would like to help you, but …’ And, you know, that’s the thing: We’re just trying to push through and make a successful team,” said Guardians general manager Shane Stephenson.
Per Stewart, the Guardians already have a roster of 37 people and started practices earlier this month to get prepared for their inaugural kickoff in April.