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Sports Check: A semi-pro football tryout

Regional News Sports Editor Mike Ramczyk participated in the Lake Geneva Generals semi-pro football tryout Sunday.
January 19, 2011 | 08:16 AM
Everything about Sunday morning was unorthodox.

It started with me, a 28-year-old, mostly out of shape, former quarterback, waking up at the crack of dawn and driving 30 minutes to Williams Bay from Burlington.

What I did at Williams Bay High School at 9 a.m. was for the love of journalism but could be construed by outsiders as straight-up crazy.

It was a groundbreaking event for the area. The Geneva Lake's first semi-pro football team, the Lake Geneva Generals, held their initial tryout. More than 40 players from as far as Chicago and Milwaukee showed up to give it their best shot in hopes of playing Saturday nights in the summer. There were several Williams Bay residents, including a couple current students and graduates.

With a background as a high school quarterback and some experience last fall playing flag football at Hemingway's, trying out for a semi-pro football team naturally piqued my interest. While I was hesitant at first, my co-workers jumped at the chance to talk me into possibly making a fool out of myself. They assured me it would be a "great story." Against my better judgment, I agreed, thinking, 'What's the worst that could happen?'"

While I still have my solid arm strength, I figured I wouldn't have the quickness and physical shape of some of the young bucks at the tryout. And at first glance, I was right. I entered the gymnasium around 9 a.m. after signing up and putting on my Generals T-shirt, and most of the other guys looked younger, faster, more in shape and frankly had more hair.

But that didn't stop me. With reporter Robert Ireland snapping photos from the sideline, we first did a team stretch to loosen up. Then, individual positions broke off, and I joined the offensive backs (quarterbacks and running backs) in the 40-yard dash in the hallway intersecting the weight room. Each runner started on a rug, then ran down the slippery hallway at full speed. Only one back broke five seconds, and I came in at a blistering 5.6 seconds on both of my two attempts. While that sounds very slow (and it kind of was), it was surprisingly comparable to the other players. One drill down, and I hadn't royally messed up.

Next, we continued through more hallways for a standing vertical jump and a shuttle run. The vertical jump was my biggest slip up. I rocked back and forth for optimal jumping distance and leapt far, but I couldn't keep my position when I landed and nearly fell on my face. Then, in the shuttle run, players had to touch the ground, run five yards to the left, touch the ground again, run back 10 yards to the right, tap the ground once more and finally run 10 yards back to the left. While other smaller, younger backs effortlessly finished the drill, I took my time on my one attempt and didn't fall flat on my face. It was quite uneventful, and once again, I was proud I did it.

After a good 20-minute delay, we headed over to the weight room for the bench press. When I work out normally, I bench three sets of eight or 10 at 135 pounds. I hardly, if ever, max out with a huge amount of weight. Let's put it this way — I probably haven't tried to bench more than 200 pounds in a good seven years. So, of course, the set weight for the bench press was 225 pounds.

Most of the backs could put up the weight only once or twice, while a couple exceptions pounded out more than 10 reps. In hopes of not killing myself and abruptly ending my tryout, I decided I would try to put up the 225 once then stop and live to fight another day. As I slowly lifted the bar down toward my chest, I struggled to lift the bar back up, but with a spotter behind and on each side of me, I calmly breathed and pushed the bar back up to its resting spot. I did it! I really couldn't believe it.

Finally, we headed into the gym, where we got down to some good old fashioned football with a wide receiver gauntlet drill. Each receiver sprinted down the middle of the basketball court and had to catch passes that were seemingly shot out of a cannon from eight different quarterbacks. Four passers were on each side, and the receivers had to run about five yards and catch a pass from their left then another five and catch a pass from their right. This continued for roughly 40 yards. My main goal was to throw a catchable ball to each receiver, and I accomplished that goal for the most part. It was amazing to see receivers make each catch then have to turn their heads and make another grab in a matter of seconds.

The Generals saved the best drill for last. Each quarterback picked a route for a receiver to run, and a defensive back played man-to-man coverage. We ran slants, hitches, outs, comebacks and the occasional deep pattern. My first couple throws shook off my rusty arms, as the balls pretty much short-hopped my receivers. But then I got into the groove, completing some throws on a comeback, hitch and hitch-and-go, where the defensive back was so badly burned I just had to lob the ball to my receiver for a big gainer. I was pleased with my performance, and luckily, nobody laughed out loud at my movement in the pocket, which included three-step drops, play-action passes and bootlegs.

We took snaps both under center and from the shotgun, and the players showed off their physicality. Although we were without pads and indoors, receivers and corners got in each other's grills, playing plenty of bump-and-run coverage. Players competed with tenacious intensity, and even though not a lot of people knew each other, there was plenty of communication and teamwork. It was nice to see a pool of talent working hard for one common cause.

Williams Bay senior Karl Rivers, who tried out for linebacker, had an excellent time at the tryout.

"It was a great atmosphere," the former Bulldog lineman said. "Everything was really calm and we worked out in a fun, joking manner."

Fellow Williams Bay senior Brock Baumbach said he enjoyed the communication among players.

"Everyone acted like a team," Baumbach, a former Bulldog lineman, said.

The team's owner, Derek Diehl, was impressed with turnout.

"I was satisfied with the guys," he said. "The people that were here found reasons to be here, and the people that weren't found reasons not to be. I was happy. My favorite part was the competitiveness from the players. I get a thrill from that."

Diehl added he is pleased with the community sponsorship interest and the local interest from players thus far.

The Generals staff will evaluate tape this week then inform players if they made the team or not. Another indoor tryouts will be held starting Feb. 13.

I'm proud to say no matter the outcome, I finished the tryout and didn't pass out halfway through. As you may have expected, though, the day after the tryout I could barely move (and I'm talking pain when putting on my pants). Sometimes, it's just the price you pay for a good story.

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