Del Shelstad went to all seven home games during the Wyoming Mustangs’ first season in Gillette.
Shelstad, 56, was fascinated by the new professional indoor football team. The Mustangs led the Champions Indoor Football League in attendance during its first year and Shelstad recognized immediately that he wanted to be a part of it.
The Mustangs announced Shelstad as part-owner and CEO in December. Shelstad joined Keith Russ and Tel Koan of Pick 6 Entertainment, a group that also owns the Billings Outlaws and Rapid City Marshals in the same league.
Wyoming had a disappointing showing on the field and finished 2-7 in the eight-team league to miss the playoffs last season. The CIF is going into its eighth season and has three new teams this year, including Billings, Rapid City and the Topeka Tropics.
The top 6 teams will clinch a playoff spot with the top 2 teams receiving a bye, according to the league’s website.
New coach brings confidence
Michael Coleman was announced as the new head coach for the Mustangs in September and brings with him more than three decades of coaching experience. He was drawn to the job after a visit to Gillette last year.
“I felt at home there,” Coleman said. “Gillette is a city with their heart on their sleeve and you just can’t beat that.”
The Mustangs earned a postseason award last year for having the best fan base in the CIF, according to the league’s website. The team sold more than 14,000 tickets in its first four home games playing in the Wyoming Center at Cam-plex.
Coleman’s goal in his first year with the Mustangs isn’t just to break the team’s attendance mark from last year. Coleman wants to shatter it.
“My personal goal is for us to manifest on the field as a team while simultaneously manifesting with the community,” Coleman said. “We want to be Gillette’s team. We want to continue to mold and build our roots here. We are a team of destiny and we are going to continue to be Gillette’s team.”
The Mustangs were a fan-favorite attraction through the first four weeks of the season but attendance dwindled off near the end of the season as the team’s playoff chances diminished. A big part of the Mustangs’ struggles was the lack of consistency offensively and a high turnover rate on the roster.
Russ was the head coach of the Mustangs last year along with his role as owner and managing partner. Coleman also holds the title of the director of football operations and player personnel and has put together a preseason roster he feels comfortable with going into his first year.
The Mustangs will start their preseason training camp March 5. The team will invite 35 players to Gillette for training camp before trimming its roster down to 21 active players and four inactive players before its first game March 19.
Wyoming fans will see plenty of new faces on this year’s team. Only four or five players will return from last year’s roster, Coleman said.
One of the returners will be linebacker Zach Taylor. Taylor graduated from Campbell County High School in 2016 and won the Milward Simpson Award, which honors the most outstanding male and female high school senior athletes in the state. Taylor was the first Gillette athlete to win the award since Emily Moore in 2009, and no local athlete has won it since Taylor did.
Taylor also was the first Gillette boy to win the award since 2002 when Clint Oldenburg won it before going on to be drafted in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
With practically a brand new roster going into the Mustangs’ second season, Coleman said football fans should be excited for a competitive team trying to bring a CIF title back to Gillette for the first time.
“We want the whole city to shut down on game nights,” Coleman said. “The expectations are high and we want to show the whole indoor football world that we have the heart and the pulse of the city we play in. We want to absorb the personality of this city because Gillette is all about resiliency and hard work, and it’s a city that sticks together and takes care of its own.”
Much like last year, the team also will focus on giving back to the community as much as it can during its four months in Gillette. While winning on the field is important, it doesn’t matter unless there are fans in the stands to celebrate the wins with the team, Coleman said.
“We can’t be a team that forgets about its community,” Coleman said. “The perfect way to grow is to grow together. Prosperity is not prosperity if it is not shared and it is our duty to give back to the city of Gillette.”
As far as team goals in the standings, playing in the team’s first home playoff game is one of the most important steps Coleman wants to take this season.
“We’re going to be in that postseason conversation at the end of the year,” Coleman said. “Whenever you dream, you always have to make yourself the winner. You always make yourself the star. You never let anyone else in your dream swoop in and steal the girl. It’s your dream.”
Coleman and the Mustangs will play in 10 regular season league games before trying to swoop in and steal the CIF championship trophy from the defending champions — the Omaha Beef — in June.
The business side
Shelstad plans on being a hands-on member of his newest business pursuit. Shelstad also owns The Range 307, an indoor shooting complex and gun store, and is the chairman of the Campbell County Commission.
Shelstad has complete faith in Coleman leading the team going into its second season. He got the impression that Coleman was a winner after his first time meeting him in December.
“We had a conversation when I first met him and I really bought into what he had to sell,” Shelstad said. “There’s two things to make and break you as a coach in this town. No. 1 is winning football games and No. 2 is you have to be well represented in the community. That means the players, coaches and the entire staff. It’s paramount to treat the community like you care about them.”
Last year’s disappointing finish in the CIF standings was a sign of growing pains of a new organization, Shelstad said. The team’s second season will be focused on finding more success on the field in front of the home fans.
“The playoffs are what will define our success,” Shelstad said. “Your measuring stick is getting to the playoffs and eventually getting to that championship game.”
Shelstad has no financial involvement with the teams in Rapid City and Billings. As the CEO of the Mustangs, his focus now is to grow on the team’s success last year at the box office.
The Mustangs will stay at the Ramada Plaza & Conference Center by Wyndham Gillette. Last year’s players stayed in the dorms of Inspiration Hall at Gillette College.
Working together with general manager Lisa Rohrich, Shelstad and Coleman want to use the team’s second season in Gillette to establish itself as a staple in the community for years to come.
“The Mustangs are a community team and will continue to be a community team,” Coleman said. “We’re a team of destiny because of that and we want to continue building this and make it a model for the entire indoor football community.”
The Mustangs also will be playing with upgraded walls in the Wyoming Center. The team bought hard molded plastic arena walls with connector poles to replace last year’s wooden frame constructions wall that were easily broken during games.
The team is entering its first season of a three-year contract extension with Cam-plex. The deal was signed last May.
“We’re just looking forward to continuing to work in the community,” Russ said after the contract extension. “We’re looking forward to continuing to work with our partners and the local businesses that we’ve become friends with. We’re just trying to keep it here in the community.”
The Mustangs will open the regular season with a road game against the Southwest Kansas Storm on March 19. The team will have its home-opener versus the Dallas Prime on March 26.