Football

Minor-league football | Southwest Florida Gladiators have new owners, same goal

MANATEE -- The rumblings started the day of last year's Florida Football Alliance championship game.

The Bradenton Gladiators, the county's lone minor-league football franchise, were possibly going extinct because the owners were looking at focusing on their youth football team.

Starting center Jason Greenwood and other players didn't want that to happen.

So Greenwood's parents, Derek and Rose, stepped in to take over ownership.

"What my husband and I knew that we needed to keep was as much the same with this organization, while then correcting the things and problems and issues that they were having in the past," Rose Greenwood said.

Part of the issues, Greenwood said, is a league-wide problem of unsportsmanlike conduct or behavioral problems on the sidelines during games. But the FFA hopes to clamp down on that conduct this year.

The Greenwoods, who have owned a software company in Clearwater for 27 years. has experience in management. But owning a minor-league football team is a new challenge. A key to the new organization is the rebranding into the Southwest Florida Gladiators and striving for even more community involvement.

After the shift in ownership, something similar was happening in Sarasota, ex

cept there wasn't someone to step in and save Sarasota's organization.

So the Sarasota Millionaires ceased operations. The Greenwoods and the Gladiators welcomed those players searching for a place to play.

Now the old Millionaires and Gladiators are one team.

That keeps in line with the new vision for the franchise.

"The philosophy is to come together as a family," said head coach Anthony Hill, whose held coaching positions with the Gladiators for four years. "Understand what we are trying to accomplish and taking it one game at a time."

Another change to the franchise is where it will play home games. The Manatee Police Athletic League was the location for home games in the past, but Rose Greenwood said those fields weren't available this year. So they'll play their Saturday night home games at G.T. Bray park.

"We went around to several of the Manatee County parks," Greenwood said. "G.T. Bray just seemed to fit the bill so nicely in terms of fenced in, so we can contend with the crowd. And the (Manatee) Wildcats manager is very generous with his help with the leasing of the field. ... That's the Wildcats' home field at the Pee Wee level, so they have a really nice facility there."

The Southwest Florida Gladiators ended their preseason recently, polishing off two blowout victories to showcase the talent is still there to make a run at an Alliance Bowl appearance.

Under the previous management, the Gladiators never captured a league championship in the FFA.

But that goal is still something these new Gladiators are hungry to reach.

"The team looks great," Hill said. "We got what we needed and we got what we wanted. We had to change a few things ... we are right at point of where we need to be. Still a lot of work needs to be done."

The club features players like Greenwood, who played at Clearwater High before a college career at Jacksonville University, and past Manatee and Sarasota County prep stars like Edgard Theliar (Manatee High) and Darian Platt (Booker).

The Gladiators name was important to keep the continuity.

So is sticking with the same defensive scheme under Hill, who is in his first year as head coach.

Hill said the Gladiators plan to run a 4-2-5 defense with a zone-read look on offense.

He added that they're going to need a big season from their running backs, including former Manatee High tailback Craig Carnes and Glen Woods as well as a few others.

About 80 players are registered on the roster, but only 50 to 56 dress for games.

A new website, www.southwestfloridagladiators.org, was launched in conjunction with the new ownership.

"It's a lot more work than I actually anticipated," Rose Greenwood said. "We've been involved at the Pee Wee level, been involved in the board of directors there. At the high school level, I ran the booster club for years. So I was a little familiar with it and stuff, but it's definitely more than I expected. But we are really enjoying it. We're watching these guys because we got to sit on the sidelines at the games with the Bradenton Gladiators. We're able to observe the changes occurring and the overall general tone of the players, of what's happening out there, it's a delight."

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