Nighthawks, ready for takeoff, begin training camp
Friday, August 20, 2010

After four months of planning and preparation, the Omaha Nighthawks are ready to take another big step in their development.

The new United Football League team opens its first training camp Saturday at the Kroc Center in South Omaha. The first of Saturday’s two practices begins at 8:45 a.m.

Head coach Jeff Jagodzinski has worked with some of the biggest names in the National Football League. His first Nighthawks training camp roster includes a couple of former NFL stars in quarterback Jeff Garcia and running back Ahman Green, but it’s populated more by guys still hoping to make their mark in the league.

And that excites Jagodzinski.

“I get a chance to be around men that aren’t playing for money but because they love the game,’’ he said. “I think that’s really going to show when they play.

“I think when you see our team at Rosenblatt, you’re going to see a very exciting team.’’

The Nighthawks open their season Sept. 24. They plan to move from Rosenblatt to Omaha’s new downtown stadium in 2011.

Nighthawks General Manager Rick Mueller said he expects about 65 players to suit up for Saturday’s practice. He expects that number to grow to a league-limit 70 by early next week.

Mueller was in charge of securing players for all four UFL teams during last year’s inaugural season. Now in charge of just trying to fill Omaha’s roster, Mueller said he is finding the process easier the second time around.

“There have been so many leagues that have never gotten off the ground; guys were at first a little hesitant,’’ Mueller said. “But now we have a season under our belt, and guys know we are for real. We have players that now can vouch for the league and how we do things.

“And we become all the more credible when we sign players like Jeff Garcia and Ahman Green. That could help us out on some of these guys we’re still waiting on.’’

Garcia admitted that he waited to sign with Omaha until it became evident that he had little chance of returning to the NFL. Garcia has 11 seasons of NFL experience but played just one game last season with Philadelphia before getting released.

Garcia said Omaha gives players like him an opportunity that he couldn’t afford to pass up.

“Many of us are bubble players,” he said. “For one reason or another, we’re not in the NFL. But if someone saw fit for us to be there, we would take advantage of that opportunity.

“There’s too much talent, not enough jobs. But being here, we have an opportunity to play the game and play it at a high level.’’

Garcia also said he was intrigued in becoming a part of a league that he sees possessing great potential.

“I think this is something special and could last a long time,’’ he said. “I see it getting into other cities like Omaha that don’t have professional teams but have a great thirst for football. Omaha loves its football.’’

Green, an Omaha native, has become the face of the franchise since he was the first player the Nighthawks signed. The former Nebraska star has played in the NFL with Seattle, Green Bay and Houston. He became the Packers’ all-time leading rusher last season.

Green said he had no qualms about signing on with the Nighthawks.

“After I saw what they did last season, I thought, ‘Wow, this is something that could become really big,’’’ Green said. “I don’t see this staying as a five-team league. It’s going to continue to grow, just like the NFL did.’’

Green is excited about being reunited with Jagodzinski, who was Green Bay’s offensive coordinator when Green enjoyed some of his most productive pro seasons.

“He’s a great guy, a straight shooter,” Green said. “He’s changed a little bit. I have, too. I’ve grown and changed and learned.

“I’ve seen the same in him. He’s been around and picked up things, and I know he can still teach me things as a veteran player.’’

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