Bears roar from hibernation

Amateur football squad gives stars from the region a chance to shine again
By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
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When Josh Bradley’s ex-girlfriend got pregnant in 2001, the Roseville High grad had to sacrifice playing football at Sierra College to enter the tile business fulltime.
Unwilling to give up the game he loves, Bradley joined the Northern Valley Lions of the Northern California Football League later that year. When ownership left to launch a new team in Sacramento in 2008, Bradley and general manager Clint Beezley started the Placer County Bears.
The amateur team finished its inaugural season 9-3, losing last year’s Pacific Coast Football League championship by one point. They won the league title last weekend, beating the Solano Chiefs in Sacramento to improve to 10-1.
The Bears, who have allowed less than a touchdown per game, earned a berth in Minor League Football’s national championship against Fresno’s Central Cal Crusaders in Las Vegas on Aug. 7.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Bradley, who couldn’t have dreamt of a better start for his franchise.
Fielding a competitive team in talent-rich towns like Loomis, Lincoln and Roseville was an easy task.
“The majority of people don’t know about Minor League Football but a lot of people do,” Bradley said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in the football community since 2001. We just did a lot of recruiting at high school and college games and went to gyms. We’re just always out there recruiting,”
Bradley also relied on word of mouth. Penryn’s Ryan Camp, a second-year safety with the Bears and 2001 Del Oro graduate, heard about the team from a former Golden Eagles teammate.
“I was playing 7-on-7 flag leagues in Roseville,” said Camp, who played a year each at College of the Redwoods and Monterey Peninsula College. “Those were fun, but it wasn’t really that competitive. This is pretty intense. It’s nice there’s only one practice a week and a Saturday. It doesn’t take up too much time and it’s still fun.”
Andy Roberts, a 2002 Placer grad, played for the North Valley Lions before hooking up with the Bears. He’s now a captain on defense at middle linebacker.
“It’s fun, there’s a lot of camaraderie and it’s a good team,” said Roberts, who works for Schwartz Construction in Auburn. “It’s a physical and mental thing and I’m only going to be able to do it for so long. I don’t have too many years left. If you played football, you understand.”
After the successful 2009 campaign, 120 tried out for the Bears this year. Only half made the cut.
“Getting players has been no problem for us,” Bradley said. “We’re the only team out of Placer County. There’s a lot of talent in Placer County.”
Of the 11 defensive starters, Roberts is the only one that didn’t play college ball.
“I went to Sierra College, but I didn’t play football. I wanted a break,” Roberts said. “But I wanted to play again, so I’m glad I found an outlet for that.”
None of the players receive compensation, though some have earned money in professional football in the past.
“Others came out of high school and started working but really loved football,” Bradley said. “Others are JC and four-year college players. It’s people who just really love the sport.”
Some have used the Bears as a springboard to the pro game. Five players on this year’s roster tried out for the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League, the team that signed former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper earlier this month.
“There are definitely younger guys who do try to get to the next level,” Bradley said.
One of the younger teams in the PCFL with an average age in the mid 20s, the Bears range from raw talent fresh out of high school to 43-year-old Tony Trossin, a former Canadian football star.
The team has practiced at the North Highlands Community Center and played its games at Antelope High, Mahany Regional Park in Roseville and Del Oro High.
“It’s kind of all over,” Bradley said. “ We’re working at getting somewhere next season as far as practice. Not a lot of people know about it. We’re just really trying to build with it.”
The offseason typically runs from July through October, with tryouts in November. Offseason practices are held Saturday afternoons and Wednesday nights, with practices only once a week and games every Saturday during the season.
“It’s really a lot less of a time commitment so people can spend more time working or with their family,” said Bradley, whose wife, Lindsay, is the team secretary. “If you have Saturdays off, you can be a part of this team.”
Journal Sports Editor Todd Mordhorst contributed to this report.