MILLEN — Four years ago, a group of former high school and college players kept their football careers going by forming the East Georgia Rebels, a minor league squad.
As a semi-pro squad, the recreation departments and schoolyard fields used for games are the norm, with very few perks other than continuing to play a game that they all love.
That will all change Sunday afternoon as the Rebels travel to AT&T Stadium in Dallas – home of the NFL’s Cowboys – to participate in the championship game in their first season as a member of World Minor League Football.
“Our first three seasons, we started 0-2,” team owner and head coach Bobby Dammarell said. “When we won our first two this season, we figured that we could be pretty good.”
Pretty good seems like a rather large understatement as the Rebels — who are an impressive 9-1 on the season — are now just one win away from the WMLF championship.
The Rebels have won in dominant fashion. East Georgia has recorded five of its wins via shutout and has allowed just 24 points all season.
“We struggled a little in the preseason, but then things just started falling into place,” defensive coordinator Cory Williams said. “Our offense controls the ball and we know they’ll score some points. That lets our defense play with a lot of confidence. I think that we can hold our own against anyone we play.”
With a conference title under its belt, East Georgia now finds itself on a stage that most football players will only dream about.
Four days after the World Bowl, the Dallas Cowboys will cram 90,000 fans into its stadium for their annual Thanksgiving Day game.
But come Sunday afternoon, AT&T Stadium will belong to the Rebels and the Dallas-Fort Worth Eagles.
“It’s hard to even put it into words,” Dammarell said. “To be able to play in an NFL stadium is incredible. It took a while for the fact to set in after we won our last game.”
The Rebels’ success shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. After all, the league might be semi-pro, but the players are far from just weekend warriors. They’re also no strangers to winning as players like Statesboro’s John Knox add a championship pedigree to the roster.
Many of the Rebels made names for themselves at the high school or collegiate level, but weren’t able to find a professional league. If Dammarell has his way, that won’t be the case for long. In fact, two of this year’s Rebels — lineman Damon Salter and athlete Shawn Martinez — recently tried out for the arena league.
“We want to compete and win, but I also want to be able to send these guys up to pro leagues,” Dammarell said. “These guys love to play. They all have jobs to go to everyday and no one is getting paid to play. Everyone is still here because they love the game and want to keep playing as long as they can.”
At least one player from the Rebels has moved on to a professional squad in each of the first three seasons, but the team’s immediate business is this week’s game. If East Georgia wants to claim the World Bowl championship, it will have to go through the 10-0 Eagles.
“Getting to play for the championship in Dallas is an honor, and we’re definitely going to do our best to win it,” Dammarell said. “(Dallas-Fort Worth) has a good team, but so do we. I don’t know if they’ve been up a team quite like ours.”
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.