For those who have been around St. Paul Pioneers football, Saturday’s tryout at Conway Recreation Center had to quicken their pulse.
Another season of excellent football, another chance to reload, another opportunity to add the word “champions” to their name is just around the corner.
For Head Coach Damien Rochon-Washington, a Pioneers Hall-of-Fame receiver starting his second season leading the squad as coach, the team’s second tryout was another invaluable opportunity to see “what I have under the hood.”
The challenge for the Pioneers, who won NEFL titles each of their first seven years in the league, is to return to the championship podium. They haven’t won the league title since 2016, although they played in the championship game last year. While hope spring eternal for every team in preseason, title expectations are the norm for the team from St. Paul. It won’t be easy. While the defending league champion Minneapolis Warriors left the Northern Elite Football League for another, the NEFL has added national power Kansas City Bulldogs to the league lineup.
Another thing that’s the norm? Pioneers veterans helping the newcomers hone their techniques and knowledge.
Rochon-Washington said he appreciates veterans like Jacob Husnik, Jeff McGaster and Dennis Gudim repeatedly stepping into roles as mentors — unasked.
It’s that kind of leadership that makes the Pioneers one of the best teams in the country, he said.
“It’s one of the things that separates us from other teams,” the coach said as he watched 35 players go through drills Saturday morning.
Looking for a team with legitimate league and national title aspirations? There will be another tryout in early March and a team minicamp later that month as the Pioneers once again begin their quest for a championship.