Causing a buzz: Minnesota Sting football team calling south Washington County home
By doing things the right way, the Minnesota Sting is hoping to create a buzz in south Washington County and across the metro area.
The Sting, a Minor League football team, is playing its home games at East Ridge High School for the first time this season. The Sting have been an organization for three years. A majority of the team's players are recent high school graduates and the roster is full of players hoping to advance into Arena League Football, the Canadian Football League or gain college scholarships. Some, however, are just trying to play football as much as they can for as long as they can.
"We want to give guys who want to play football that chance," said Brad Asplund, the Sting's Vice President of Operations. "Basically, we have three types of players - guys that played college football and are trying to get looks to get into a paid league, kids that didn't get offers out of high school, but that still want to play in college and third, guys that love football and just want to play."
The Minnesota Sting is currently in the Minnesota Premier Football League with other teams from across Minnesota - the Lakes Area Terror, the Brainerd Lumberjacks, the Twin Cities Titans, the Granite City Renegades and the Twin City Rhinos. Asplund and team President Aaron Anderson founded the Sting in 2009. The team played its first games in 2010, calling Roseville High School home. Asplund is a 2002 Stillwater High School graduate who currently coaches football at Forest Lake High School. He lives with his wife and three children in Forest Lake and works for the Washington County Sherriff's Office.
"I look at my life like family first, then church, then football, then work," he said. "I started out as a player," he said. "I was one of those players that just wanted to play because I love the sport. Over the last three years I've gained even more of an appreciation for the sport."
Asplund said hopes to provide a family-friendly, fun, community atmosphere at East Ridge.
"Having a local following is really important to us," he said. "We're a non-profit. Yeah, we charge money to come to games, but we keep it low. It's only $5 and kids under 12 get in free, because we want to provide affordable entertainment for the community. There's not many things a family - a mom and dad and three kids under 12 - can do together for $10."
The games include full play-by-play, performances by The Minnesota Sting Performance Team, custom-made keepsake tickets and special events like youth football day, last week's military and public safety appreciation day, where those in the military or in public safety were granted free admission. This week's game against the Granite City Renegades will be a breast cancer awareness game. In addition, the East Ridge and Woodbury athletic associations run the concessions at the games and Asplund also hopes the team will take part in community events like Woodbury Days and Cottage Grove's Strawberry Fest in the future.
"We really try to give back to the community here," Asplund said. "Most people say the quality of football is like Division III college football or higher and that the atmosphere is very family oriented. People that come to our games are going to find a very high level of football, because of the way we bring it. I think the little things we do help make it that much more of a fun atmosphere."
Among those on the Sting roster are locals like Park graduate Brandon Johnson, Tartan grads Bryan Henderson and Cameron Perket and South St. Paul graduate Todd Sherry. Minnesota Sting Offensive Coordinator Bryan Wrich is a 1995 graduate of Park and former Wolfpack and Minnesota State University-Mankato football player.
Wrich has coached seven years at the semi-pro level, but it's his first year with the Sting.
"Our ownership group has been incredible," he said. "They're really taking things to the next level. We're really hoping to build a local fan base from Woodbury and Cottage Grove area. We're trying to recruit from our local areas. This is an excellent opportunity for them."
Wrich said he hopes his time with the Sting will lead to further coaching opportunities.
"Ultimately I'd like to get into a high school program and coach, be in a collegiate program as a coach or be a head coach at this level," he said. "I really enjoy coaching the guys. As an offensive coordinator, I love to be able to put together a game plan and see it produce a win week after week."
With just three games remaining, the Sting is currently in first place in the MPFL with a 6-1 record. The team leads the MPFL in total offense, has scored roughly 40 points a game and has the No. 1-ranked defense. Columbia Heights 2006 graduate Tim Bona is the Sting's starting quarterback, Darren Edwards is the team's all-star running back, and linebackers Derrick Brooks and Ross Seiffert help anchor the defense from the linebacker position.
"The quality of play has really increased the past few years," Wrich said. "The games are really phenomenal. These guys are coming out and playing in the hardest time of year to play football and gutting it out. We are really trying to put the best possible product we can at all times."
Fielding an amateur league isn't without its difficulties. Players have to pay to play - $200 for first-year players and $150 for returning players - to help with operating costs, like jerseys, rental of practice and game fields and referees. Also, some "semi-pro" organizations have gotten bad reputation in the past - some have earned it. However, Asplund said he's hoping to change those opinions.
"The reason we started this thing because some of the teams we've been a part of didn't meet our expectations," Asplund said. "Although we're not a professional sport, we still want to treat it like a professional sport. Semi-pro football in Minnesota had a really good name for a long time. But, you had some owners that just didn't care enough. We're trying to bring that good name back to semi-pro football."