Maryland's football Maniacs
New indoor football team opens season on Sunday evening
CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON/The star
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Messay Hailemariam has thrown his passion toward several aspects of football, from his playing days as a walk-on at the University of Maryland, to coaching at the high school level in Prince George's County, to training NFL prospects.
This year, Hailemariam, along with his wife Lana, has added team owner to his list of football job titles. Hailemariam's Maryland Maniacs will begin play in the Indoor Football League on Sunday with their season opener at Show Place Arena against the River City Rage.
The Maniacs will feature a variety of homegrown talent such as running back A.J. Jones, who graduated from Gwynn Park High School in 2001 and went on to play for the University of Maryland.
"It feels good to be back home," said Jones, who played indoor football in upstate New York and Baltimore the past couple years. "I enjoy playing with people I'm familiar with, guys I played with or against in high school and college."
The Maniacs held a meet-the-team event on Saturday at Gold's Gym in Greenbelt. Local resident Bob Page and his son Jamie, 17, had already bought tickets to the opener, but came out anyway to chat with the players. Normally fans of the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, the Pages were excited to learn about a different kind of football.
"My son is a football nut," said Bob Page. "It will be fun to start learning about all the different rules for indoor."
Previously, the IFL had been one of several indoor football leagues and NFL Europe that provided prospects a place to try and play their way into the NFL. This year, however, due to financial issues the Arena Football League and NFL Europe have suspended operations. The result has been a flood of talent to IFL teams. Hailemariam formed the Maniacs from the remnants of the Chesapeake Tide, who played the 2007 and 2008 seasons at Show Place Arena. But the Maniacs roster looks little like the 2008 Tide. Quarterback Michael Fitzgerald is one of the few holdovers.
"I like the changes, we have talent at just about every position" Fitzgerald said of the new franchise. "I think overall the league is going to be better and that can be attributed to the trickle down of players coming from [the Arena Football League]."
Hailemariam said he has been getting five to 10 phone calls a day from players who want to join the team, including many Arena League players. Even so, the Maniacs truly will have a hometown feel with many players coming from Maryland.