Steve Reed and his family used to travel to Gwinnett County to watch indoor football.
Now they don’t have to drive as far.
The family was just one example of fans at the trade center watching the Georgia Rampage’s open mini camp practice on Saturday, which was also the “Pick Your Seat” day for season ticket holders and the final day people could take advantage of the 10 percent discount on season tickets.
Dalton’s professional indoor football franchise practiced for the first time at the trade center, a three-hour session that also included the field turf and walls surrounding the playing area. Fans in attendance saw the offense and defense go against one another without linemen for an hour and then another hour with the lines.
“Some people have filtered in and some left,” coach Mark Bramblett said, “but there’s a good bit of people watching. ... It’s good. If these people like what they saw, they’re going to talk and tell somebody.”
Said wide receiver Dallas Walker, “It was a good turnout. I didn’t really know what to expect.”
Around the halfway point, there was approximately 40 people either sitting in the seats or standing along the portable walls. Co-owner Kacee Smith said it was a “cool” experience for both the fans to watch the players and players to see the fans watching.
“(On Saturday) everyone was talking about how cool it is to see the players, not just (co-owner) Amer (Awad) and myself,” Smith said. “When we first got going a few of the (players) were saying, ‘We never have seen this many people watching before. This is pretty cool.’”
The Reed family often times watched the Georgia Force, an Arena Football League franchise in Duluth as recent as 2012. It was one of the father-son bonding experiences Steve and his son, Shawn, had together, along with the third generation of Reeds — 11-year-old Lamar, 6-year-old Christopher and 4-year-old Ariana.
“They used to love it,” Steve Reed said. “They were good. It’s a long trip down there. By the time you get down there, with gas and all, you’re hoping they’ll have something up here.”
And they are happy to have a professional team nearby.
“With gas prices going up, not everyone can drive as far to see a football game,” Steve said.
Said Shawn, “When we would go watch the ones down in Gwinnett, they would have a lot of high-scoring games.”
The team will begin training camp Feb. 16, which only can have 40 people on the roster. As of now, Smith said there are 33 people signed to the Rampage. The team is hosting a preseason game Feb. 26 against the Georgia Panthers, an outdoor team. The first game of the Ultimate Indoor Football League will be March 4 at home against the Lakeland (Fla.) Raiders, with the roster cut down to 24.
Smith said the goal for season tickets sold was 75 before the first home game. Heading into the day, it was in the twenties, and it was close to doubled by the time the session ended. There also is a VIP suite the Rampage will have for home games and are selling along with season tickets.
Calhoun resident Russell Whitfield did not have season tickets purchased but was one fan in attendance who plans to be present for at least some home games.
“I just love the game of football,” he said. “My son played. I played. It’s exciting to know football is in my own backyard now. Around four years ago Rome had the Renegades. ... There’s a few (people in Calhoun interested). Me, personally, I’m trying to let everyone I know and talk to to come out. Even though Calhoun to Dalton is 25 miles away, it’s still close enough to have a family atmosphere for a low price.”
One of the two quarterbacks at the practice, Joel Statham, is a 2002 Murray County graduate and the only person from the Whitfield-Murray counties area on the roster. Quarterback Marcus Jones, a Southeast Whitfield graduate and the Rampage’s first player signed in the offseason, and offensive lineman Steven Leonard, a Northwest Whitfield graduate, are no longer on the team.
“I didn’t expect this to be packed or anything,” said Statham, a Chatsworth native and Dalton resident. “We definitely want some interest.”
He played at Maryland from 2002 to 2005 before going to Carson Newman in 2007 and 2008. For the past four years, the 28 year old’s main football experience has been flag games.
“Joel is our best bet at quarterback right now,” Bramblett said. “He has Division I experience.”