Musick: All in for semipro football

Marengo grads embrace chance to play for Fox Valley Eagles

ELGIN – Charles Ranzino never will play in the NFL.

Kyle Easterline never will take part in a “Lambeau Leap.”

Ben Boyd never will be the No. 1 pick in a fantasy football league.

Yet the Marengo graduates will push their minds and bodies to the limits this spring and summer because they love football. They will travel hundreds of miles and absorb hundreds of hits for the Fox Valley Eagles, a semipro football team that will play its home games at Huntley High School as part of the Ironman Football League.

So what if the Bears don’t scout their contests?

“That’s not why I’m there, and I would definitely say for all of the guys, that’s not why they’re there,” said Ranzino, a 2008 Marengo graduate who plays offensive line for the Eagles. “It really comes down to having a passion and love for the game.”

That passion for football was evident during the Eagles’ recent tryouts at Intra Soccer Fieldhouse in Elgin, where a few dozen semipro veterans and newcomers participated in NFL-style drills led by coach Eliseo “Sal” Saldivar and his assistants. Players wore white T-shirts with the Eagles logo on the front as they lined up for the 40-yard dash, three-cone drill, standing long jump and other fitness tests.

The Eagles’ season opener is June 14 against the Rock County Rage in Milton, Wis. Their home opener is two weeks later, June 28, against the Rock River Raptors.

“Eagles on me, Eagles on three!” a team captain barked from the center of a huddle during a pre-practice pep talk. “One-two-three…”

“EAGLES!”

Before long, beads of sweat dripped from players’ foreheads as they sprinted across the indoor turf in their shorts, T-shirts and soft cleats. Linemen cheered on skill position players and vice versa as Saldivar recorded each drill with his stopwatch.

Ranzino crouched and waited to burst forward for his standing long jump.

“Let’s go, Chuck!”

“Let’s go, Chuckie!”

“Let’s go, Chuckster!”

He landed at 6 feet on the nose. The measurement was important, but not as much as the camaraderie that drew Ranzino back to football after five years away.

“At the time [my high school career ended], I was like, ‘OK, I can step back and have a break from it,’ ” said Ranzino, who works at Marengo High School as a one-on-one aide in the special education program. “And that turned into a lot of years of a break. Finally, one day, I just realized I really wanted to be out there. I missed that vibe and that family feeling, that team feeling.”

A buddy told Ranzino about a local semipro team called the Eagles, and he tried out last year. He made the team, and while it offered no money to its players, it did offer Ranzino a much-needed dose of competition and camaraderie.

“I’ve always made tremendous amounts of friends in this sport,” Ranzino said. “The people I played all through high school with, to this day, we still act like a family, we act like a team. We can always call on each other when we need anything.

“And with the guys that I’ve started to become close with on the Eagles, I’ve found that it’s very much the same. If I need anything, they’re there.”

Ranzino quickly transformed from a rookie to a recruiter. He brought several friends from Marengo to this year’s tryouts, and all expect to make the team.

Easterline was grateful for the invite. At 5-foot-4 and 150 pounds, the shifty running back was told by college coaches that he was too small to play at the next level. Instead, he is attending McHenry County College to become a personal trainer.

In the meantime, the 2013 Marengo graduate is thrilled to play football again.

“When I graduated, I had played football for 10 years with those guys,” Easterline said. “When you up and lose that, it’s just like it’s part of your family that’s missing.

“Plus, when you go to football, there’s no stress. When you’re there, that’s your world. It’s like a getaway, basically.”

Boyd agreed. On Monday, the 2007 Marengo graduate planned to head to the gym for another workout after his work shift ended in Geneva.

Two months remained until the season opener. Hopefully, the time would go fast.

“I’m loving it,” Boyd said. “I’m trying to see if more guys want to join in.”

• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at tmusick@shawmedia.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.