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North Bay Rattlers football team doing it their way


The dog days of summer are here and while NFL, high school and college football players are partaking in wind-sprints, tackling drills and two-a-day practices, the North Bay Rattlers semi-pro football team is preparing for a championship game on Saturday.

The No. 7-ranked Rattlers (11-1) will travel to the Denver metro area to play the No. 2-ranked Grand Junction (CO) Gladiators (12-0) at Shea Stadium in Littleton, Colo., at 6 p.m. Pacific Time in the Far West Football Association’s (FWFA) first year of sanctioning the AAA Spring title game, capping a season of football that began in February.

The Rattlers, who practice at Elsie Allen High School and play their games at Santa Rosa High, are a team made up of guys who love to play football and are mostly homegrown players.

Approximately 80 percent of the Rattlers played high school football in the Redwood Empire according to Rattlers offensive line coach Mike Ervin, who also estimates that at least 50 percent of the Rattlers played at Santa Rosa Junior College.

“We have players from all over the North Bay — Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa, Solano and Lake Counties,” Ervin said. “Our guys just enjoy the game of football. They really enjoy each other.”

A few of the Rattlers played for major Division I football programs, including Kansas State, Texas Christian and Wyoming.

It’s been a great year for the Rattlers, who have dominated their initial year in the 13-team minor league AAA Pacific Coast Football League (PCFL). The Rattlers won the league with a perfect 10-0 record. Despite a 26-21 loss on June 14 in the PCFL playoffs to the Capital City Fury the Rattlers are going to the title game by virtue of their league record. The Rattlers defeated the Fury 31-0 in the regular season.

“We had an off day in the rematch,” third-year Rattlers head coach Jim Curoso said of the loss to the Fury.

There is no doubt that the Rattler players are dedicated to the team as evidenced by their willingness to get to the game.

Caruso said half the team is taking the bus to cut down on costs, and the other half is flying to Colorado for Saturday’s game.

“It comes down to who wants to do the traveling, who is willing to take care of business,” Ervin said.

The Rattlers squad is made up of 55 players, mostly blue collar in nature and profession, and ranging in ages from 18 to 49.

“We have a dedicated team, which is why we are successful. We have a lot of veterans and older guys,” Curoso said. “Guys that are done playing with other teams come play for us. We are like the Raiders, we get a couple of more years out of you.”

The team owner/sponsor for the past three years has been Thomas Carrell, who helps pay for some of the team’s expenses such as uniforms. The Rattlers, who have played for over 15 years, have won the Spring AAA national title seven times. This will be their third title game in the past five years — winning in 2009 and 2011.

In the past three years, the Rattlers have a record of 32-2 and for the 2014 season have scored 39 points per game average while surrendering only 8 points.

“Our defense separates our team,” Curoso said. “The heart of our team is defense.”

Leading the defense is a trio of linebackers – Mike Connor, Clint Merz and Tino Retamoza. Connor leads the PCFL in tackles with 98 and Retamoza was third in the league with 95. Merz leads the league in tackles for loss with 38, followed by Connor with 35.5. and Retamoza with 34 to give the Rattlers the top three tacklers for losses in the PCFL.

Offensively the Rattlers have the league’s top quarterback (105.7 rating) in Mike Nichols, who has thrown for 893 yards and 16 touchdowns while only being intercepted once. Karl Mikolon leads the ground attack with 10 touchdowns and 548 yards rushing on 91 carries .

A few issues that may be a factor in Saturday’s game included whether the Rattlers are rusty since they haven’t played in six weeks, and if the extensive travel and high altitude of the Rocky Mountains will put them at a disadvantage.

“This is the Rattlers, we don’t get rusty,” Ervin said. “I think the excitement and adrenaline flow for us will factor into the game.”

Curoso, who reviewed film of the undefeated Gladiators, said the teams mirror each other in many ways.

“They (Grand Junction) are well coached, they don’t make a lot of mistakes and they know the fundamentals,” Curoso said. “They have a lot of big offensive lineman, but we should match-up fine in the skill positions. It should be a good game and, hopefully, we will come home with the title.”