EATON TWP. — It’s tough when a football player ends his high school or college career and has to face life without the sport he loves.
A handful of local athletes decided to say no to that proposition and founded the Lorain County Nightmares semi-pro team, and now many former Lorain County high school stars are playing some of the best football of their lives.
“We have athletes all over the field,” said starting quarterback Cody Schuster, who played for Elyria Catholic, Otterbein and Notre Dame College. “You can see Lorain County’s coming together. We always knew we had a lot of talent, but now we’re finally clicking.”
The Nightmares were thrown into the fire with a pair of warmup games against the Columbus Fire — last year’s national semi-pro runner-up — and the Ohio Legends, ranked No. 8 in the nation.
The Nightmares lost the non-league games against the juggernauts, then began their Ohio Football League schedule and haven’t lost yet — including a 69-6 thrashing of the Mahoning Valley Tigers on Saturday night at Midview High to improve to 6-0.
“We started off pretty slow offensively, but once we got on a big field — a full-sized field — we were really able to open things up,” said Schuster, who ran for a touchdown on the opening drive, then threw for two more in the first half.
The OFL still has some work to do when it comes to earning respectability — the Tigers wore 11 different helmets onto the field Saturday night and the Nightmares coaches had to ask three fans to come out of the stands to hold the chains and down marker.
But the Nightmares are doing their best to put the emphasis on the pro, not the semi.
The Lorain County players look sharp in new black-and-green jerseys, helmets and pants, and no OFL team can boast a better playing surface than the FieldTurf at Adelsberg Stadium.
The team threw promotional towels with the Nightmares logo into the stands, a reasonably priced concession stand was placed near the front gate and a dance team wearing matching uniforms in the team colors cheered on the players.
“This is probably the nicest field we play on,” Schuster said. “The fans have been consistent with showing up and supporting us. They got loud on that goal-line stand (in the third quarter). They were chanting, ‘Defense,’ and that’s huge for us.
“We’re enjoying it, and hopefully they’re enjoying it, too.”
Enjoyment seems to be the goal, as Sonny Hazelwood, Mario Walton, Vaughn Sprinkle and Mitch Tulk — all Elyria High grads — helped create the Nightmares, hoping to give Lorain County players an extension of their football careers.
Hazelwood and Tulk are on the roster, while Sprinkle is on the coaching staff.
“I played with Vaughn, Sonny and Mario at Heidelberg,” said former Admiral King star Tim Taylor, who ran for a pair of touchdowns against the Tigers. “As soon as they created the team, Vaughn called me and let me know what was going on … and I was there.”
Taylor is one of several former college players — ranging from Division II’s Ashland and Slippery Rock to Division III’s Baldwin Wallace and Bluffton — that make up the Nightmares roster. He’s happy with his role.
“You probably got to see an Admiral King game back in ’07 or ’08 when we ran that wing-T … I hated it,” Taylor said. “We got yards, but this here is what I’ve been waiting for. I get to get in the backfield and be able to do what I want.”
Not that everyone on the roster is all about extending their football careers. For Lorain’s Juan Cotto, who was home-schooled, the Nightmares provided the chance to begin one.
“I’ve always wanted to play football, but I never had the opportunity,” Cotto said. “I played backyard football with the Southview team, basically. Then one weekend my friend said to come out and try out for this team.”
Cotto was one of the defensive stars against the Tigers, hauling in an interception at the Mahoning Valley 10-yard line and returning it for a touchdown, and recovering a fumble and returning it to the Tigers 2.
“(The touchdown) was pretty exciting,” he said. “It happened so fast, but as soon as I got in that end zone … man, it was pretty incredible.
“Then on that fumble I’m thinking, ‘This is No. 2.’ I saw that end zone and I couldn’t believe it. At the last minute (the defender) pushed me out (of bounds), but it was definitely a good feeling.”
There were plenty of good feelings to go around as the Nightmares put up 43 first-half points and kept the fans — many sporting Nightmares jerseys and T-shirts — on their feet.
The Nightmares have one more home game — they announced the cancellation of next Saturday’s game against the North Coast Vikings — on July 13 against the Akron Rage, whom they routed on the road a week ago.
The win against the Tigers also clinched a postseason berth. Now the Nightmares will try to finish strong and provide their fans with a home playoff game in August.
“I’m having more fun than I’ve had in a long time,” Schuster said. “This is something we’re all doing on the side because we enjoy it. We’re just trying to bring some excitement to Lorain County with football throughout the summer.”
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him @ShaunBennettct on Twitter.