Defensive Gladiators: GJ minor-league football team relying on its defense so far
A strong defense goes a long way in football.
The Grand Junction Gladiators minor-league football team has rushed to a 2-0 start in the North American Football League by holding its first two opponents to 18 points.
“Defense will keep us in a lot of games,” team organizer and defensive tackle Ed Johnson said. “The strength of our team has been the defense. We fly around the ball and have been phenomenally quick on defense.”
The Gladiators have their first opportunity to show off their tough defensive approach at home Saturday at 6 p.m. at Stocker Stadium against the Rocky Mountain Renegades.
“We are excited,” Johnson said. “We traveled to Denver for two straight weeks with over 25 guys. Now that we are back home everyone has a fresh breath of air, and everyone is excited to play in front of friends and family.”
Johnson, 30, finished his playing career at Mesa State College in 2004 and spent the past six years playing in the Arena Football League.
Johnson had tired of the travel while playing with teams in Oklahoma City, and Kansas City and decided to return home.
Johnson put together the Gladiators in January, and since practice began in April, a talented group of players have joined him.
Those players include 2008 Palisade graduate Jesse Kirstatter. The linebacker started as a freshman at Western State College before deciding Gunnison wasn’t for him.
“The coach I went up there for was the linebacker coach and he got offered another job in Missouri,” Kirstatter said. “He was one of the big reasons I went up there so when that happened I decided to come back (home). Plus, it wasn’t fun losing.”
Kirstatter said he wants to pursue playing Arena Football and hopes playing with the Gladiators will help him make that jump.
“I was looking for an opportunity to try a new level of football,” Kirstatter said. “I’ve been in college, high school, and I figured this might be a good way to stay in shape for next season if I get an opportunity to play some Arena.”
Kirstatter plays running back and linebacker for the Gladiators. In the team’s first game, a 14-8 win over the Renegades, he said it took a few snaps to get back into the flow of the game.
“The first game was fast for me because I hadn’t played for a while,” Kirstatter said. “It had been over a year and I got outrun the first couple plays, not because they were faster, but because I was out of it.”
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Kirstatter shook off the rust and finished with two rushing touchdowns and 10 tackles.
In the second game, Kirstatter ran for 130 yards and finished again with 10 tackles.
Along with Kirstatter, the Gladiators’ defense has been led by defensive end Tala Brown, linebacker Jordan Corcovelos and defensive back Adam Jeter.
Saturday is the first of four home games for the Gladiators. Admission is $5, with children 12 and under are admitted free.
“I’ve gotten nothing but great reviews from other players and coaches,” Johnson said. “They say we are a classy team, we play classy ball, we are fast and we’re good.”