Football is a sport that gets into your blood. For many who play football, they wanted to keep playing, whether their careers ended in high school or college.
Some have found the chance to continue pursuing their love for football. The Northern Elite Football League gives 10 teams from around the Midwest the chance to continue chasing their football dreams. One of those teams is the Northland Bulls, whose home base is in River Falls. The Bulls play their home games at Ramer Field on the University of Wisconsin-River Falls campus. Also playing in the NEFL is the Hudson Thunderhawks.
The Northland Bulls have built strong ties to the western Wisconsin area since the team was formed in 2012. Team owner Brock Schreiner, a Somerset native, began playing for the Eau Claire team in the NEFL. In 2012, he got the idea to start his own team. He met with a couple friends and they developed a business plan. The team was quickly formed.
This isn’t the big money world of the NFL. This is club-level football, where players pay a fee at the start of the season to be part of the team and the players provide their own gear. Schreiner said the Bulls look for certain characteristics in recruiting players.
“It’s important to look for guys who play team-first football. We’re really proud, we’ve come a long way in that regard,” Schreiner said.
Schreiner said he learned the team-first approach under Somerset High School coach Bruce Larson and wants his team to be known for that quality.
“It’s very similar to what he does in Somerset. Bruce was pretty impactful in my formative years. We’ve got a ton of character and heart and it’s taken us a long way,” Schreiner said.
The team is able to recruit players in a wide geographical range, anywhere from Duluth to Winona, Minn., north to south, and from Eau Claire to the west metro, east to west. The Bulls have done their best to recruit from their backyard, pulling in a number of players from western Wisconsin and from the eastern edge of the Twin Cities area. That includes Schreiner and his brother, Brett, from Somerset. A third brother, Bryce Arend, hails from Hudson. So do Tyler Smith, Travis Madigan, Matt Strachota, Sam Cunningham and head coach Eric Christianson. Jordan Kirchoff and Oscar White are River Falls residents. Aaron Moore is another player from Somerset.
“And there are just as many from the east metro,” Schreiner said.
Brock Schreiner talked about the team being a family affair, off the field as much as it is on the field.
“My wife (Laura) helps me run the team in almost every facet. My sister coaches dance at Hudson. They help with concessions as a fundraiser. It’s been something great for our family,” he said.
The age range of players goes from kids just out of high school to around 35, Schreiner said. He said it is an opportunity to find out how skilled players would become as adults, with many of them thinking their careers were done after high school.
“We’ve seen it over and over again. It’s unfortunate kids only have the four years of high school (to play football). This is a great option,” he said.
Schreiner, a 2004 Somerset graduate, uses his youngest brother as an example. Bryce, a 2014 Hudson graduate, has grown considerably since high school and is now one of the team’s top receivers. He catches passes from Brett, the team’s quarterback, who is a 2006 Somerset graduate.
The NEFL allows a maximum of 53 players on a roster. Brock said the Bulls normally start a season with 45 players and the number is usually around 35 by the end of the season. He said they prefer to run a leaner roster, making sure that playing time is available for everyone.
“It keeps the team unity. It’s all hands on deck and everyone is playing,” Schreiner said.
Recruiting is done by contacting seniors at area college teams, letting them know there are more opportunities to play. He said word of mouth, from players to family members and friends, remains the best recruiting tool for the team.
“So many people aren’t aware (the NEFL) exists and at a pretty high level,” Schreiner said.
When the Bulls were formed, they played their games at Park High School in Cottage Grove. When the renovations were completed at Ramer Field last year, the decision was made to move the team to River Falls.
While Schreiner is the team owner, it is not his full-time job. He works at Uline in Hudson. He said his co-workers and family make it possible for him to carry on both roles.
“I’ve got a lot of people around me who understand that passion. I give my wife so much credit. She’s very supportive,” he said.
Headed to playoffs
The Bulls won the NEFL Eastern Division with a 7-1 record. The Bulls have been playing exceptional ball in recent games. On July 15, they rolled up a 41-0 lead by halftime in defeating the Fox Valley Force, 54-7. The Bulls locked up the division title July 22 with a 35-7 win over the Chippewa Falls Predators.
The NEFL enters the playoffs this week. The Bulls finished with the best record in the league, clinching the home field for each level of the playoffs. The Bulls received a bye in the opening round of the playoffs, which will be held this weekend. They will host the NEFL division championship game at 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, at Ramer Field in River Falls. The opponent will be the winner between the Saturday, July 29, clash between the Chippewa Valley Predators (Eau Claire) and the River City Rough Riders (La Crosse).
The Bulls are looking to reach the NEFL championship game for the first time in team history. If the Bulls reach the title game, it will be played Saturday, Aug. 12, at Ramer Field, likely with a 7 p.m. start time.
For more information on the team, check the team website at www.northlandbulls.com.