SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Sunny skies shone down on Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium this morning as the San Antonio Commanders hosted their inaugural practice. The brand new Alliance of American Football team took the field at 10 a.m. expecting an hour and a half practice.
The session lasted an extra hour.
"We were probably a little bit ambitious today," said head coach Mike Riley. "We started with a conditioning test that lasted a little longer than I thought. Practice was actually the same amount of time that I thought it would be, but I'm going to cut this afternoon back a little bit because these guys did a lot this morning."
The extended practice had no effect the team's excitement level or quality of work.
"I was totally impressed," Riley said. "They did good work and had good attention. We've got a bunch of pros here, and they're fun to work with."
"I think we made a good first impression," said running back Khiry Robinson. "We've got a lot of guys that are willing to work and are hungry for football. I feel like we've got good energy, just bouncing around. It feels good to be around people who have all either played together or have some kind of connection with each other through football."
The Commanders have the rare opportunity to build a franchise from scratch. The 85-man roster is filled with brand new players, each sporting a variety of experience levels from the college and professional ranks. It's the job of a new coaching staff, and the players themselves, to put the pieces together.
"First of all, you have to be flexible with this process," Riley explained. "I think that it's really important to not let the small stuff bog you down. These kids have been great that way, and our coaching staff has been as well. I think the biggest initial hurdle is that you don't have any history. I mean you don't have any carryover with players, or guys that last year could step out here and know everything right from the very start and grow from there. You're really starting on page one of your offensive and defensive notebook, so that's probably our biggest challenge."
"I think a fresh start like this is good for everybody," Robinson said. "We're able to erase everything that happened before, whether it was college or NFL injuries, and just have a clean slate. It was good to come back out here and put our talent on the line."
Coach Riley also made it clear that expectations are still high for this team.
"We want to have a winning team," Riley said. "We want to have a team that represents this city at the highest level. I think that San Antonio has wanted, and will embrace, a football team here. We're going to try to bring them good football, they deserve it."
A bevy of challenges await: Roster cuts, padded practices and finalizing starting lineups will all take place before the regular season even begins in early February. But for now, the Commanders are just happy to kickstart their first-ever season.
"It felt great," Riley said. "Every step that we've made from the beginning -- since Bill Polian first called me in March -- has been exciting, but this was probably the most exciting because it was actually football practice with our players here in San Antonio. It makes it all real."
"We're just ready to play and bring San Antonio some excitement," Robinson said. "I know they've been waiting to have a professional football team here for a long time, so it feels good to be a part of this first annual Alliance team, and bring some excitement to this city and state."