IFL Spotlight: Duke City Gladiators

By: Oliver Nissi
Pirates Insider
September 30, 2020

One of the IFL’s newest teams, the Duke City Gladiators moved to the league in August 2019 after departing from Champions Indoor Football (CIF). They left the CIF on a high note, winning the Champions Bowl in back-to-back seasons. Originally founded in 2015, the Gladiators reign from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and have helped shape a growing football culture in the state, with help from the neighboring University of New Mexico Lobos.

The Gladiators have shown exceptional growth over the past two seasons, which makes them a great fit in the increasingly competitive IFL. After going 18-16 in their first three seasons, Duke City went 24-5 during their final two years in the CIF. In 2019, they ranked first in scoring offense and defense. They also ranked first in scoring defense in 2018.

The team’s ownership is held by Gina Prieskorn-Thomas, who purchased the Gladiators in 2017. An Albuquerque native, Prieskorn-Thomas saw sponsorships and attendance triple during her first season at the helm. Her vision is clear: to create a platform for the best indoor football. When Prieskorn-Thomas saw an opening to jump to the IFL, she knew the decision was best for the direction of her franchise. “We wanted to up our demographic. When we went on the road in the CIF, most teams did not have an accessible airport. We were also in a developmental league and wanted to up the competition. We’re supposed to be helping players get to the CFL and NFL, not hold them from starting their real lives.”

Duke City’s logo has a gladiator helmet in front of the New Mexico state flag, which is painted in the team’s colors.

Pirates Founder, President and General Manager Jawad Yatim has become fond of Prieskorn-Thomas and applauds the type of owner she has become. “Gina has been one of the most welcoming partners we have and I certainly appreciate it. She has done a phenomenal job down there in New Mexico and she takes a lot of pride in her team and product and that generally leads to a well run organization. They’re coming off a championship in their previous league, and if we have the opportunity to play them this season we know it’ll be a competitive contest. It’s a pleasure being a partner of Gina’s and look forward to seeing her do great things in this league.”

Despite the team’s success, the Gladiators parted ways with head coach Dominic Bramante after their 2019 championship season. The team then hired Cornelius “Pig” Brown to coach the 2020 season, who was coming off two seasons as an IFL head coach with the Nebraska Danger. Brown did not coach the 2020 IFL Season though, due to its cancellation, and was surprisingly not brought back for 2021.

This past July, the Gladiators announced Martino Theus would be the team’s head coach for next season. Theus brings an abundance of indoor football experience. He’s a former arena player and has also coached in multiple different indoor football leagues. Before being named head coach of the Gladiators, Theus was an assistant on the team’s coaching staff for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Theus will be aided by a coaching staff with a profusion of arena experience as well, which includes newly-promoted defensive coordinator Fred Griggs. Griggs was a defensive back for the Gladiators in 2019 and played in several different professional indoor football leagues in his career, including the IFL, where he was a teammate of Pirates Founder Jawad Yatim on the Cedar Rapids Titans.

Nate Davis, a former fifth-round NFL Draft pick, will be leading the team at quarterback. In 2019, Davis played for the CIF’s Amarillo Venom, which was Duke City’s former rival. He led the league in passing yards and passing touchdowns. His leading target will be Dello Davis, who was re-signed by the team earlier this month. Davis led the CIF in receptions in 2019 and was a top-five receiver in several other categories. On the defensive side, linebacker Jayson Serda was re-signed after leading the CIF in tackles.

The Gladiators are deeply rooted in the Albuquerque community. Look no further than their partnership with the New Mexico Autism Society, where the Gladiators have promised to provide sensory friendly spaces and sensory bags for fans at home games. Duke City takes pride in being community champions, and this summer, the Gladiators were seen at The Balloon Fiesta Drive-In handing out masks to movie watchers. The team has also partnered with the Ronald McDonald Foundation for 2020 and 2021 and is one of two professional football teams to be named a “Purple Heart Team”. The Gladiators are known to honor first responders at their games.

Duke City will be one of five teams to make their IFL debut in 2021. Their fanbase will have the option to take a car ride to away games in Texas and Arizona, where four other IFL franchises reside. New Mexico’s sole professional football team might not storm out of the gates with a third consecutive championship season, but it’s for certain this young franchise belongs at the IFL level.

The Massachusetts Pirates are members of the Indoor Football League (IFL). The Pirates play all home games at the DCU Center located at 50 Foster St. Worcester, MA. 01608. For more information on the Massachusetts Pirates please call (508) 452-MASS (6277), email contact@masspiratesfootball.com or visit http://www.masspiratesfootball.com. Single-game tickets are available online at ticketmaster.com or the DCU Center Box Office. For season, half-season, luxury, or group ticket packages please call 508-452-MASS (6277). Follow the Pirates on Facebook via Facebook.com/MAPirates, Instagram @mass.pirates, and Twitter @mass_pirates. #GetHooked #AllAboard