Semipro football returns to Sheboygan

COACH TJ SCHOUTEN (middle) talks to players at practice. – Submitted photos

Introducing the Sheboygan County Sabercats, members of the Midwest United Football League.

The who? The what?

It’s a brand new team in a recently-created league that features three other semipro squads. The Sabercats’ first game is May 15, their home debut is June 5 and the league championship is in August.

“I’m excited on where we’re going,” coach and general manager TJ Schouten said. “Every week, we’re picking up a few more players. We’re getting more and more local guys every week, which is great. Right now, we’re looking very promising. We’ve got a lot of talent spread out throughout the whole field. I definitely have high expectations for the year.”

Schouten, who played at Lakeland and lives in Appleton, has been involved with semipro football the previous 13 years. Last season was his fourth and final as coach of the Manitowoc County Mariners.

He then turned his attention to possibly starting a new team and looked at areas that don’t have semipro football but thrived there before.

Schouten remembered playing in Sheboygan against the Rebels – they disbanded in 2017 – and knew there was a great fan base and good turnout of players.

“The more I looked (at Sheboygan), the more interest I saw,” he said.

Up next was to find a place to play, and the Sabercats settled on Lakeland – depending on when its pandemic restrictions decrease – and Kiel.

Schouten then had to see how many players were interested as well as find sponsorship.

Liking what he discovered, he divulged ahead and his team became official in November.

“I was playing around with different names and I just kind of liked the ring the Sabercats had,” Schouten said. “I bounced it off a couple of guys I was talking to about the idea and everybody really loved the name.”

Schouten also wanted to create a new league to fix what semipro football has been about the past five or six years.

“It’s become a lot of teams not willing to work together to make sure they all succeed,” he said. “There’s a lot of player stealing, a lot of just guys not getting along with each other. And we wanted to go back to a throwback version of semipro football where the owners try to help each other out to make sure they all succeeded. The players afterward can go have a beer together, the owners all get along and are working together. And the end goal is to always win a championship, but at the end of the day we did not want to ruin another team and see them fail.”

Three other teams are in the league (Milwaukee County Chargers, Chicago Falcons and Chicago Chaos).

In December, Sheboygan held its initial practice – indoors in Green Bay – to see how serious players were (they do not get paid) and roughly 35-40 of them showed up.

“That was when we really knew, okay, we’re definitely on the right path here,” Schouten said.

The roster even grew to a count of 46 as of last week and features nine Sheboygan natives, including a 48-year-old.

“He just loves the game and wants to be out there playing with us,” Schouten said.

The Sabercats have been practicing once a week in preparation for an eight-game regular-season schedule.

Games are on Saturdays and open to the public (unless Lakeland still has restrictions). The cost is $5, but it is free for veterans and those under 12.

Categories: Sports

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