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Semi-pro football comes to RF, Hudson

Football fans usually have to wait until fall to see their local teams in action.

Not anymore.

Two teams in the Northern Elite Football League—considered one of the premier adult amateur semi-pro leagues in the nation—have set up shop in the area with the Northland Bulls calling UW-River Falls Ramer Field home and the Hudson Thunderhawks playing at E.P. Rock Elementary School's Newton Field.

The Bulls spent the previous four years as the North Bank Bulls in Cottage Grove, Minn., while the Thunderhawks played the last eight years in Menomonie.

Northland Bulls president and general manager Brock Schreiner said the team has had its sights set on moving across the river for some time.

"A lot of our original players are from the Hudson, River Falls, Somerset, New Richmond areas so we've been waiting for an opportunity to bring the team over here," he said. "We're all excited to be here; it's where we're all from."

Schreiner played football at Somerset High School and was a junior on the Spartans' 2002 state championship team before giving up the game when he enrolled in college at UW-Eau Claire.

"By the end of college I regretted not playing," he said. "But I was introduced to this level of football and it was a chance to get back into it and I've loved it ever since."

In addition to his president and general manager duties, Schreiner also plays linebacker for the Bulls. A product specialist/customer service professional at Uline in Hudson, he said the team is made up of a broad range of experience, from former college standouts to players who haven't played since high school.

"We try to target guys who are done playing college ball that want to keep playing, and also guys who played in high school and maybe didn't play or didn't go to college," he said. "We also have guys in their 30s. We're all working class folks."

Schreiner's older brother Brett, a tight end during his playing days at UW-Stout, plays quarterback for the Bulls while his younger brother Bryce plays wide receiver. He said games are truly a family affair for him.

"My family and friends all help out," he said. "My sister (Caryn Arend) coaches the Hudson dance team and they do concessions and ticket sales at games and make some money for themselves. My mom helps with the scoreboard. It's a pretty special thing for all of us."

The Bulls are coached by Eric Christianson, an all-state quarterback at Hudson in 2002. Other local connections include former Hudson and UW-Eau Claire wide receiver Tyler Smith, former Raider and UW-Stout lineman Matt Strachota, linemen Sam Cunningham and Travis Madigan of Hudson, wide receiver Aaron Moore of Somerset and lineman Jordan Kirchoff of River Falls.

Like every NEFL team, the Bulls and Thunderhawks are set up as nonprofit corporations and are funded mainly through player fees with players providing their own equipment, sans uniforms.

In addition to the Thunderhawks and Bulls, other NEFL teams include the seven-time Elite Bowl champion St. Paul Pioneers, Eau Claire Crush, Fox Valley Force (Kimberly), Chippewa Valley Predators (Eau Claire), River City Roughriders (La Crosse), Minneapolis Warriors, Fargo Invaders, Battle Creek Sting (Woodbury) and Minnesota Brawlers (Burnsville).

The Thunderhawks made their debut at Newton Field April 22, defeating the Battle Creek Sting 41-0 in a non-league game. They will open league play at home this Saturday, May 6, at 6 p.m. against the River City Roughriders.

The Bulls first league game is Saturday, May 13, at La Crosse before their home opener against the Thunderhawks Saturday, May 20, at 6 .m. at Ramer Field.

For more information about the NEFL and its teams, visit www.northernelitefootball.com.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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