At the first day of tryouts, guys hopeful of making the team listen to head coach Fred Griggs. (Herron photo)
Ready or not, the Indoor Football League’s Duke City Gladiators kick off the 2023 season March Saturday in Prescott Valley, playing the Northern Arizona Wranglers.
The Gladiators’ next two games are in the Rio Rancho Events Center: April 1 vs. Frisco (505 Night), and April 8, vs. Tulsa (Faith Night/white-out). Their remaining six home games are May 13, vs. Tucson (Fiesta Night); May 27, vs. Northern Arizona (Military Night); June 17, vs. Arizona (Blackout Night); June 24, vs. Vegas (First Responder Night); July 8, vs. Tucson (Summer Nights); and July 15, the finale, vs. Bay Area (505 Night).
The team began workouts, with more than three-dozen hopefuls, at 5:30 a.m. on March 13, with the roster whittled down to 25 for the first game.
Meet the new coach
The team has a new head coach for 2023, but he’s no stranger to the team, which he has played for and been on the sideline as an assistant coach.
Frederick Griggs grew up with a passion for football. His drive was heavily influenced by his grandfather.
He was initially the interim head coach when then-coach Sherman Carter stepped down following the 2022 regular season, and was later named head coach.
Griggs, a native of Tallahassee, Fla., was an All-State linebacker in his high school playing days in Jacksonville, Fla.
His collegiate career as a safety and cornerback resulted in two All-American titles. He pursued his dream of playing professional football. A dream that landed him a contract with the CFL out of NAIA college William Penn.
Unfortunately for Griggs, an injury during minicamp resulted in him being released from the Calgary Stampeders. But his passion for football still remained.
He continued his professional football career by joining the arena football world, landing in the IFL for the Cedar Rapids Titans. He was a powerhouse with the Titans for two years and left after an injury. Griggs then joined the Barnstormers followed by stints with the Boston Blaze in the Canadian American League and the Bloomington Edge in the CIF.
That brief stint with the Edge led to him joining the Kansas City Phantoms, who traded him to the Duke City Gladiators.
With the Gladiators, he became a dominant force on the defense, winning defensive MVP honors during the first championship. During his second season with the Gladiators, he was named co-defensive player of the year, instrumental in helping the Gladiators achieve back-to-back championships with the CIF.
Following two years playing for the Gladiators, he became the defensive backs coach.
Griggs is a fan of the Baltimore Ravens, and a good friend of Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward, who played football and basketball at Florida State.
Football, coaching run in the blood
Griggs’s grandfather, Earl “Tank” Griggs Sr., was a former professional football player for the Buffalo Bills in the late 1950s and later for the Daytona Beach Thunderbirds.
It’s no surprise, then, that Frederick Griggs was inspired by his grandfather.
Grandpa Griggs retired as a teacher and coach from Campbell Junior High/Middle School after 32 years, touching the lives of thousands of students in the Volusia County (Fla.) Schools. At Campbell he coached basketball, football, soccer, swimming and track; he was also a certified water safety instructor and swimming instructor for the summer recreation program with the City of Daytona Beach for 28 years.
Griggs Sr. passed away in February 2009 at the age of 71.
2022 season provided some league highlights
In the IFL’s recap of the top 10 games of 2022, the Gladiators were in three of them:
No. 9.: April 23, Frisco 42, Duke City 41. Frisco, at one point down 21, scored 14 points in the final 90 seconds to win.
No. 7: Tucson 42, Duke City 41. A close game throughout, Duke City scored with 5 seconds to go to take the lead. But Tucson blocked the extra point and returned it for 2 points to win the game.
No. 4: Duke City 51, Massachusetts 43. Duke City scored 23 points in the final two minutes of the game, with 16 of those in the last five seconds.
The team was 8-8 in the regular season, then was whipped 53-14 by the six-time world champion Arizona Rattlers in the first round of the playoffs at the Footprint Center in Phoenix.