By Martin Renzhofer
When Dave Salvi steps onto the artificial turf that is Sabourin Field on Saturday, Aug. 3, it will mark a football journey that has come full circle.
“It’s really exciting,” Salvi, a 2002 Bedford High graduate, said. “My last football game for Bedford was Thanksgiving, and that was at Concord. My last two [high school] football games, really, were away games.”
Also, “it was a grass field when I played.”
On Saturday at 7 p.m., Salvi and his Mass Warriors teammates will host the Southern Vermont Storm as part of the New England Football League schedule. Admission is $10, though there is no charge for children under 10, Veterans, and First Responders. According to the Recreation Department, Bedford residents are welcome to walk the track without charge.
The NEFL is a semi-pro league – with the emphasis on semi because players rarely get paid. The league began as the North Atlantic Football Federation with four teams in 1994. They practiced on the same field.
Since then, the league has expanded to 29 teams in three conferences, starting with the toughest, the Colonial (AAA), North Atlantic (AA), and Maritime (A). The teams are separated by experience and quality of their rosters.
Teams practice once a week, Thursdays, and play Saturdays. So, self-motivation to stay in shape must be high.
The Warriors, at 1-1 after two road games, will call Bedford home this season. They are part of the Southern Division in the North Atlantic Conference, while the Storm, 2-0, are in the Northern Division.
“I’m looking for a tough game,” Stephen Maycock, head coach and owner, said. “They’re country strong, but they’re not as fast as we are.”
For Salvi and Maycock, the league represents a chance to indulge their competitive nature with a love of football. The Warriors quarterback is 45-year-old Frank Desiderio, a former quarterback at Syracuse University, who was back-up to NFL star Donovan McNabb.
In a sense, these athletes are part of an adult Pop Warner competition, where they pay to play. And they play at their own risk, though teams are required to have EMTs on hand at every game. Maycock, for example, suffered two knee injuries before calling it a career.
“It is a decision you make,” Maycock said of the threat of injury. “You play because you love the game. We call it semi-pro, but essentially, we’re amateurs who play for fun. The players pay to cover the cost of the field.”
The league provides the officials, which, with few exceptions, referee by NCAA rules. Unlike college, if a ball carrier goes to the turf, he can get up and continue, like the NFL. There are quarters, a two-minute warning, and, if needed, a 15-minute overtime.
“It’s not college level, but it is really close,” Salvi said. “There are guys who could have played [college football] and guys who were really good in high school. Our quarterback brings up our level.”
Salvi, who played four years at Worcester State, was a typical Bedford football player. He saw action at many positions. He is a receiver for the Mass Warriors, who lost their opener in a heartbreaker, 28-21, but came back to win last week at Mystic River, 30-6.
Salvi, who runs iFlyRestoration, a mobile cell phone repair service, as well as tablets, laptops, and printers, in Bedford, believes the town will embrace Saturday night football.
Maycock negotiated the five-game field rental through the Bedford Recreation Department.
“The town shuts down early, and I know Bedford would love to have something going on Saturday night to fill a void,” Salvi said. “We went to the Recreation Department, and they were all about it. We still don’t have use of the scoreboard or the announcer’s booth, but we’re taking baby steps.
“My goal would be to have [Bedford High football public address announcer] Mike Rosenberg to call the games and have the scoreboard lit up. We have a fast-paced, no-huddle offense and I think people would like it.”
That Bedford is hosting five home football games during the late summer was something unexpected. The team’s home field had been in Wayland, but that turf field is closed for construction. Maycock, who graduated from Waltham in 2003 and played baseball and basketball at Mass Bay Community College, has played in the league since 2007, also had to locate a practice field.
“This has definitely been the most stressful season ever,” he said. “But we’re excited to be part of the Bedford community.”