The Arizona Rattlers’ loss could end up becoming the Tucson Sugar Skulls’ gain.
When the Rattlers and the Sugar Skulls held a joint Indoor Football League practice recently, Rattlers players wore either white (offense) or copper (defense) helmets.
Now, three of those then-Rattlers players — quarterback Matt Behrendt, defensive lineman Michael Kluge and offensive tackle Ryan Schmidt — are wearing the yellow helmets of the Sugar Skulls.
Those three players were cut by the Rattlers on Saturday and were picked up by Tucson, which will play the first game in franchise history Sunday night when it visits San Diego.
“We saw them in the scrimmage and we were looking to fill in a couple of spots and they fit in with what we do defensively and offensively,” Sugar Skulls coach Marcus Coleman said. “They were looking for a home, they were right up the street and so we reached out to them after they were released.”
The addition of Kluge, Behrendt and Schmidt happened after the Sugar Skulls released quarterback Domonique Harris and wide receiver Bryan Miller, both first-year players from Benedict College.
Behrendt, a city slicker from Chicago, is not having a difficult time adjusting.
“You take this one road with nothing around it and then all of a sudden you get to this big city surrounded by beautiful mountains. I’m used to skyscrapers in Chicago so the change of scenery here is amazing,” Behrendt.
Behrendt adds experience to the quarterback group. Sugar Skulls quarterback Tasleem Wilson took first-team reps in the scrimmage, but is a first-year quarterback in the IFL. Harris is a 6-foot-5-inch, 240-pound physical specimen, but his resume stops after college. Before, Bryan Hicks was the only other Sugar Skulls quarterback to have IFL experience after playing for the Green Bay Blizzard last season.
Behrendt also brings a championship pedigree. He won three national championships at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, a Division III powerhouse, and now enters his third season in the IFL. He ranked first in the IFL in touchdown passes with 63 during his last season in Green Bay.
Kluge is a 5-10, 275-pound bulldog from Western Oregon. Born and raised in Oregon, Kluge didn’t have the ideal childhood, but had a family and a support system that always stood by his side.
“I came from poverty. We didn’t really have the materialistic things, but I was loved. I had two great parents that helped support me and I had a great support system from friends and coaches who knew my circumstances.”
Football was Kluge’s ticket to support his family and his motivation to become a professional football player was enhanced after his father died from cancer. Supporting mama bear is a top priority for Kluge.
“I get all my motivation from my dad. He was a blue-collar guy who always worked hard. He’s not around anymore, but he lives through me. My drive is my mom and I gotta support her. She’s the reason I’m still playing football,” he said.
For Schmidt, 6-6, 315-pounder from Buffalo, New York, this gig in Tucson is a way for him to achieve his dreams of playing in the NFL. Last season, Schmidt played for the Ottawa Redblacks in the Canadian Football League. In the IFL, there are only three offensive and defensive linemen. Zone blocking and double teaming players is nonexistent, and with the field only being 50 yards, running the ball is important.
“It’s like fighting in a phone booth. The guys are head up on you and you don’t have much time to think and react,” Schmidt said. “You got some guys that are ready to knock your head in every chance they get.
“The IFL is unique because teams run the football a lot more, which is tough to find for offensive linemen. It’s good for guys like me to put something up on film and hopefully get to the NFL.”
Schmidt is now the Sugar Skulls’ biggest lineman with Tucson High product Antonio Rosales right behind at 6-4, 305 pounds. Between his size, Behrendt’s wisdom and Kluge’s underdog hunger, the new Sugar Skulls players could be one of the team’s best additions with the season opener looming.
Three different positions, three different backgrounds and three different sizes. For Coleman, the trio blends right in with the current group.
“They stick right in,” Coleman said. “The thing about football players is that ball is ball. We’re kind of all the same, which is weird. From my playing days, from one side of the country to the other all defensive backs are the same. We’re all weird and act differently than everybody else. It’s the weirdest thing, but we’re all alike in some way.”