San Antonio Commanders training camp at a glance
Site: Benson Stadium '66' Stadium, Central Catholic High School campus
First workout: Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Last day of camp: Monday, Jan. 28
League affiliation: Alliance of American Football
First game: vs. San Diego Fleet, Saturday, Feb. 9, 7 p.m., Alamodome
Head coach: Mike Riley
General manager: Daryl Johnston
Local players in camp: Running back Aaron Green (Madison High School/TCU), defensive end Ashaad Mabry (MacArthur High School/UTSA), cornerback Darryl Morris (Wagner High School/Texas State), linebacker Marlon Smith (Wagner High School/UTSA), wide receiver Josh Stewart (College Station/UTSA), quarterback Dalton Sturm (Goliad/UTSA); wide receiver Carl Whitley (Roosevelt High School/Abilene Christian); Joseph Zema (Melbourne, Australia/Incarnate Word
Ticket information: (210) 944-0504
Team website: https://aaf.com/san-antonio-commanders
Notable: The Commanders are one of 10 teams in the AAF. The other nine teams, with the head coaches in parentheses, are the Atlanta Legends (Brad Childress), Arizona Hotshots (Rick Neuheisel), Birmingham Iron (Tim Lewis), Memphis Express (Mike Singletary), Orlando Apollos (Steve Spurrier), Salt Lake Stallions (Dennis Erickson) and San Diego Fleet (Mike Martz). The Commanders will compete in the Western Conference with Arizona, Salt Lake and San Diego . . . Each AAF team will play a 10-game regular season. The top two teams in the Eastern and Western conferences will advance to the playoffs, with the championship game scheduled for Sunday, April 28, in Las Vegas . . . All eight AAF teams will have their training camp in San Antonio. Here are the camp locations for the other seven teams: Arizona (Dragon Stadium, Southwest High School), Atlanta (Farris Stadium), Birmingham (Gustafson Stadium), Memphis (Warrior Stadium, Cornerstone Christian School), Orlando (Benson Stadium, University of the Incarnate Word), Salt Lake (Comalander Stadium), San Diego Fleet (Heroes Stadium).
SAN ANTONIO – Longtime football coach Mike Riley remembers how much he looked forward to playing in the Alamodome, which was under construction when he was head coach of the San Antonio Riders in 1991 and 1992.
The Riders, who were in the World League of American Football, played their home games at Alamo Stadium in 1991. They moved to Southwest Texas State’s Bobcat Stadium in San Marcos the next year, after the San Antonio ISD, which owns Alamo Stadium, refused to allow the sale of alcohol at Riders games.
By the time the Alamodome opened in the summer of 1993, the Riders had folded after the WLAF suspended operations.
Now head coach of the upstart San Antonio Commanders, Riley finally will get his chance to walk the sideline at the Alamodome when the city’s newest minor-league football team hosts the San Diego Fleet on Saturday, Feb. 9. The Commanders are among eight teams in the fledgling Alliance of American Football, which kicks off its first season in five weeks and will play into the spring.
“I always wanted to play in the Alamodome,” Riley said Friday. “I watched it being built as we drove through the city back in the day. We (Riders) were going to play our games in the Alamodome, so it is awesome to be able to come back and play there 25 years later. It will be a great home base for the Commanders.”
Commanders general manager Daryl Johnston, who flanked Riley during a session with the media on the eve of the team’s first day of training camp, also spoke highly of the Alamodome.
“One of the things that we’re blessed (with) here in San Antonio is the facility that we have to play our games in,” Johnston said.
Nearly 80 players are expected to take the field when the Commanders have their first workout of training camp on Saturday at Central Catholic High School’s Benson ‘66’ Stadium. AAF teams must pare their rosters to 52 players for the regular season by Sunday, Feb. 3.
The Commanders will play in the AAF’s Western Conference with the Arizona Hotshots, Salt Lake Stallions and San Diego Fleet. Each AAF team will play a 10-game regular season. The top two finishers in the Eastern and Western conferences will advance to the championship game, scheduled for Sunday, April 28, in Las Vegas.
After months of planning, hiring coaches and signing players, Riley and Johnston are ready to see things get going on the field. The Commanders reported for camp Friday and began the process of becoming a team.
“Each step of the way, it’s become a little clearer, getting started and having a real team,” Riley said. “Brand new league, all that stuff. From the very beginning to getting a chance to go to minicamp and now getting ready to start practicing with this group, it’s all become clear and real and we’re excited.”
Running back Aaron Green, a Madison High School graduate and former TCU standout, is one of eight players on the Commanders' roster with San Antonio ties. Green expressed confidence that the team will be received well by San Antonio.
"I think we're going to get a warm welcome," he said. "This is definitely a football town and even more so, a football state."
Co-founded by Charlie Ebersol, a TV and film producer and director, and veteran football executive Bill Polian, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the AAF will provide players who don’t make it to the NFL a second chance to extend their careers. While not affiliated with the NFL, the league could become a training ground for players with the potential to play in the league.
“Really, what this is, it’s going to be complementary to the NFL,” Johnston said. “There’s a big gap when the Super Bowl ends all the way to training camp. You’ve got a lot of people out there that love the game of football and there have been a lot of studies done by Charlie (Ebersol) and his group involving a lot of the aspects that are a part of the game, that just drop off after the Super Bowl.
“This is an opportunity for those fans to continue to be able to engage in the game of football throughout the spring. We are complementary. We are not in competition. We don’t really consider ourselves a developmental league. We don’t have an affiliation with the NFL at this point. We’re just complementary to the fan bases around the country to give them more opportunities for some football in the springtime.”
Riley, 65, has extensive experience as a coach at the collegiate and pro levels. He was head coach of the San Diego Chargers for three seasons (1999-2001), and was assistant head coach of the New Orleans Saints in 2002. He also has been head coach at Oregon State and Nebraska. He was assistant head coach for only six months in his third stint at Oregon State when he was hired by the Commanders in June.
“It does feel like déjà vu because we are so familiar with the city,” Riley said of his return to San Antonio. “We love the city. We love the area and very, very excited to have a football team here again.”
Johnston, 52, is no stranger to football fans after winning three Super Bowl rings with the Dallas Cowboys during a career that started in 1989 and ended 10 years later. He had been a football analyst for Fox Sports since 2013 before he took his first job as a front-office executive with the Commanders.
Working closely with Riley, Johnston has approached his new position as general manager with the same passion that was his trademark as a player.
“There’s a lot of talented players out there,” Johnston said. “But the one thing is, you’ve got to love the game of football. This is not an easy game, so it’s going to get difficult here in the next couple of days, and we want guys that love the grind, embrace the challenge. That part of the football player itself, the desire and the passion for the game, is just as important for us as the skills he has to play.
“Some of the guys are just here because they love the game of football, and they just want to keep playing. They know they’re not going to get a shot at the NFL, but they love the game and this is provided for them. Those are the types of guys that we’re looking for when we talk about the passion for the game.”