Fighting back tears, Michael Coleman gathered 35 players around him in the Wyoming Mustangs post-practice huddle.
“You are all loved,” Coleman told his new team. “We are brothers. We are brothers and we are in this together.”
Players hugged and teammates shook hands. The team dog, a gray pit bull named Reggie, circled the crowd in confusion.
“I love you all,” Coleman said. “You are all loved.”
Coleman wiped his eyes and cleared his throat.
“We’re in this together,” Coleman said. “All the way to the championship. We’re in this together.”
The huddle broke. One by one, Coleman was approached by players offering more hugs and handshakes.
The vibe at the Wyoming Mustangs preseason training camp was unrecognizable compared to last year. Just three days into the season, the players had already started coming together as one.
The catalyst: Coach Coleman.
“It’s not just about trust, it’s about love. That’s the most important piece,” Coleman said. “This is a team that love built. Love is undeniable. Love is something that is contagious and love is something that is contagious on this team.”
As the players began to change shoes and leave the Central Pavilion at Cam-plex, Coleman watched on, still wiping tears. There’s nothing wrong with crying, he said.
Coleman learned of a former player’s suicide during Wednesday’s preseason practice. The player had been dealing with constant bullying from a coach, Coleman said.
“At the end of the day, it’s a game,” Coleman said. “I want my players to know that I’m always there for them. I’m always there.”
Coleman watched his players pile out of the practice facility. He won’t be losing any players this season. Not on his watch.
New season, new era
The Wyoming Mustangs are going into the team’s second season playing in the Champions Indoor Football League. The team’s preseason camp started Monday at Cam-plex.
The Mustangs first season featured plenty of obstacles and player turnover, but Coleman’s focus in his first year in Gillette is to change the culture of Wyoming’s program.
A big part of that culture change will be trusting one another, both on and off the field.
With over 30 years of coaching experience, Coleman has attracted an array of talent to Gillette. His transparent and honest personality makes him easy to trust, Yaphay Harvey said.
Harvey, 27, is one of just a handful of returning players from last year’s team. The free safety feels the biggest difference this year is having a coach that trusts and believes in him.
“Coach Coleman asked me to come back,” Harvey said. “He said he was going to use my talent to put me into a position to show my talent to the next level. When coach Coleman says something, you believe him.”
The team’s 35-man roster must be trimmed down to 21 active players and four inactive players before the team’s first league game later this month. The Mustangs will play a preseason game against the Southwest Kansas Storm next weekend.
Two new quarterbacks
Two new players will play vital roles on this year’s team. Damion May, 25, and E’Mond Caldwell, 25, will both play quarterback for the Mustangs.
May graduated from Alabama A&M and played for the Green Bay Blizzard in the Indoor Football League last year.
“We’re getting it together and I really like what we’ve got going on here,” May said. “We have a lot of special people here honestly and we have a lot of talent on this team on both sides of the ball.”
May met his future teammates earlier this year through phone calls and text messages. One of his favorite parts of camp so far has been meeting the rest of the team in person this week.
“We’ve been having calls now for like three or four months so we kind of got to know each other a little bit that way,” May said. “It’s kind of like when you start dating a girl and you’re texting her for a bit. We’ve been gellin’ before we even got here. It just came down to putting names to faces and personalities with bodies and getting to know everybody even better.”
Even though the duo play the same position, Caldwell has grown close to May through the first week of practice. He believes the one-two punch at quarterback will keep opposing defense’s off balance in the fast-paced eight-on-eight football league.
“Both quarterbacks should be on the same schedule with the team,” Caldwell said. “If you’re on different schedules with different quarterbacks the team is going to start looking to one quarterback for one thing and to the other quarterback for another.
“We’re both on the same schedule so the team’s looking at both of us for the same thing.”
Caldwell is in his first year playing professional football after playing in college at Virginia Union University. He described himself as a bigger quarterback who likes to punish defenders when he tucks the ball and runs.
May is more of an elusive runner out of the pocket but both quarterbacks will look to keep defenders on the their toes by balancing a solid passing attack.
Pack the house
Lisa Rohrich feels like a kid counting down to Christmas. The general manager of the Mustangs has been dealing with plenty of moving parts to ensure this year’s season goes smoother than the last.
With just one week left before the team’s first preseason game, Rohrich has been working quickly to ensure the Mustangs lead the CIF in attendance for the second straight season.
“We had the variance last year because of COVID and I know now that everything is all opened up, we’re going to be sold out no problem,” Rohrich said. “We had a good team last year but this year is 10 times better. The championship is coming here to Gillette.”
The 35 athletes at the Mustangs preseason camp are all grateful for the opportunity to play for Coleman in Gillette. But most are like Harvey, hoping to use the experience to be scouted by other professional organizations.
Harvey is one example of a player Coleman wants to help make the leap to the National Football League or the Canadian Football League. Several players in camp have previous experience participating in NFL camps across the country, Coleman said.
Harvey expects a few phone calls from NFL teams to come Coleman’s way as the season goes along.
“We’re putting on a quality product with great talent,” Harvey said. “These guys come from all over but we all have one common goal and that is to win a championship. I don’t expect all of us to be here over the course of the entire season, but in a good way.”
The Mustangs home-opener will be against the Dallas Prime on March 26. Tickets can be bought at cam-plex.com.
“We’re a team of destiny because of the adversities that we have overcome,” Coleman said. “Our motto is ‘It’s our moment’. It’s the city’s moment, too. When we win the championship, it will be the first championship by a professional team in Gillette. We will make history.”