St. George — Many of the Dixie Rebels players may well spend this weekend watching golf, hanging out by the pool or on a boat at a local reservoir. But they all would rather be doing something else.
This is championship weekend in the Rocky Mountain Football League and for the past couple of years, Dixie was too busy winning a title to be lounging in a deck chair.
Unfortunately, the Rebels lost last weekend to the Wasatch REVolution and started their off-season a week early. Wasatch plays the Utah Stealth Saturday night at Granger High for the RMFL title.
This was a significant disappointment to the Dixie players who, according to Rebels tight end and co-owner Andy Stokes, all “feel a little personal responsibility,” for falling short when they thought they could win their third championship in a row.
Offensive lineman Sam Stevens agreed.
“It sucks that it ended early like it did,” he said. “That last game could have gone either way. We ended up just two yards short. But considering the adversity we faced this year, I thought we had a great season.”
Dixie did end up 7-2 on the year, an excellent record, but a far cry from last year’s undefeated season.
It was a difficult, injury plagued year for the Rebels. There’s no doubt that the team wanted to win another championship. This was shown toward the end of the season as many Rebels players were playing through significant injuries.
The two most pronounced examples of this are Stokes and quarterback Diarra Fields. Stokes suffered a hyper-extended knee in the second game of the season against the Logan Stampede, but continued to play through it.
Consequentially, he was able to help the Rebels win on a weekly basis, but his knee was never allowed to heal and even in their last game, he wasn’t able to play up to the elite level that fans were accustomed to seeing from him.
Fields suffered a minor injury early in the season during practice. He played through the injury in Dixie’s next game in Idaho against the Treasure Valley Spartans. But the scrambling QB was clearly not himself. Consequentially, the team suffered its only defeat of the regular season.
Fields traveled, but did not start, the next game as the Rebels tried to rest their star quarterback and let him heal properly. It was a road trip to Salt Lake City to face the Wasatch REVolution. Backup quarterback A.J. Martinez got the start, but the Rebels fell in a 10-0 hole in the first half.
Fields played in the second half and led the team to a 28-24 comeback victory.
Fields continued to play through his injury, but two weeks later Fields suffered a more severe injury when the Rebels hosted the Rocky Mountain Mudd Ducks. He broke his ankle shortly before halftime of the 47-14 Dixie win.
Fields would miss the next three games, but was able to play in Dixie’s playoff loss to the REVolution. It was clear he was very limited in his mobility in that 16-10 season-ending loss.
According to Stokes, the Rebels players feel they could have had a championship and want to make things right.
“I asked all the guys if they were planning on being back next year, expecting several to tell me that they weren’t, but so far it looks like almost the entire team will be back,” he said.
Of note, Dallas Irvin might be playing in the Canadian Football League so he might be unavailable next season. Brennan Adams is working on playing college football and Misi Tupe might not be back either. But other than that, Stokes said the team’s core players plan to return for a chance to redeem themselves.
A little in-town recruiting may be the boost the Rebels need to regain their championship form.
“We haven’t done much in terms of recruiting new players to join the team,” he said. “We plan on doing more this off-season to bring in new guys to make the team better.”
Stokes explained that it can be difficult to integrate new players into their system as the semipro league is a step up in talent from the college ranks and they only have one practice a week to tie everything together.
But this last season the Rebels had a positive experience with new wide receiver Adams.
“He just showed up to practice and we could see that he has a lot of talent so we played him that week,” Stokes said. “He did very well at filling in for the lack of receiver we felt with the loss of Skyler Ence. We also had Mike Johnson step in at nose tackle and we were much better with him playing.”
After winning back-to-back championships in 2010 and 2011, the Rebels may have gotten a little complacent in some of their games this season. Certainly the injuries were a key factor in some of their games.
But with a strong group back and perhaps a key new contributor or two, next season St. George just may have the chance to see them bring home another championship trophy.
Note: Andy Griffin contributed to this story.
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Copyright 2012 St. George News.