BY MIKE ECKERT
TRAVERSE CITY -- Dreams will become reality Saturday for the Traverse City Wolves.
For the franchise, years of organizing and planning will come to fruition as the team plays in its first game.
And for the players, the dream of playing football one more time will be realized as the Wolves travel to Ypsilanti for the first North American Football League game in franchise history.
"It's going to be amazing," TC West alum and defensive captain Tyler Alpers said. "I don't know. It's going to be surreal. I thought I was done, maybe I'd get into coaching. But getting out there one more time and hitting somebody, it's going to be great."
Alpers played college football at Albion College before graduating in 2003. His six-year absence from the game isn't as long as others. Quarterback Will Moran hasn't played since graduating from Onaway in 1999.
"It's phenomenal to be back in the game," Moran said. "Players look back after high school or college and think to themselves, 'I would do anything to play again.' Here we are with a second chance. I'm very excited.
"It's going to be a little challenging to soak everything back in, knowing that 10 years ago I thought would be the last time I would ever play football again. It's like a breath of fresh air trying to get back on the field right now."
Others have been around the game more recently. Will Conklin, a 2008 TC West grad, played last fall at DeAnza College in California.
"I went out to California and played junior college for a year," said Conklin, a receiver on the team. "I got hurt out there, so here I am back."
Whether their absence from the game has been long or short, the Wolves will return to the game Saturday.
"There's lot of little, small fights with the team, because we're anxious to get out and hit someone new," Conklin said. "We've been battling for so long, so it will be nice."
The skirmishes made the job of being a captain even more difficult for Alpers, who shares the leadership role with lineman Don Labadie, tight end Bryan Travis and linebacker Ryan Brown.
"We definitely early on had some problems with guys getting too physical," Alpers said. "We basically got together and said we need to make sure we get good, solid work in with no fights. It's definitely been tough, but we get that first game now and it's much needed."
As the starting quarterback, Moran has also assumed a leadership position. He won the job after Garrett Petterson suffered a season-ending injury.
"It did make me better having to battle," Moran said. "I don't know if I would consider it a tight battle, I've always kind of led the team. The other QB was talented, but I still felt like I led the race."
Moran expects the offense to be productive with speed in a spread-style format.
"We're very well-rounded on offense," he said. "We have a lot of strengths in the passing game and we spread the ball around real well. We have a phenomenal line, they're very big, very strong and very talented. And we're very effective running the ball too with a couple of great backs back there."
In Saturday's game at Willow Run High School, the TC Wolves will face another team that can put up points. In last week's win over the Tri-City Thunder, Ypsilanti won 53-0.
Like Traverse City, the Yellow Jackets are in their inaugural season. However, they already have two games under their belt and a 1-1 record after a 56-3 loss to Steel Valley in June.
"I think we're coming together well," Alpers said. "I think we're going to be a lot more disciplined than the other teams and a lot better conditioned. We're basically running it like a solid high school or college program. We only get two days a week to work, but when we do, we get after it."
"I think we will have a competitive team," Moran said. "We'll always play to the best of our ability and I'm sure that we will put up big numbers. The goals that we have are having guys in the right positions at the right times and making the plays they need to make."
One thing that may help the Wolves is getting the first game under their belts on the road.
"You're not used to the game speed," Alpers said. "We will get one under our belts and get the loose ends straightened up before we come home."
"I think it will help, so we can have a good game at home," Conklin said. "First game you make the most mistakes, so hopefully we can clean those up in the first game and be ready to go.
"I think we're all pretty ready. Some of the guys have been on the team for a year, so they're ready to play."
Conklin and Alpers are among a number of Traverse City natives who will play in their hometown when the Wolves host Chicago on July 25.
"It's a great feeling," Conklin said. "Our town is real supportive and seems like a football town. It will be nice."
And while there will be some nerves returning to the game, players like Moran say they've got them in check.
"I'm not too nervous," Moran said. "I feel we've prepared very well. I feel comfortable, I feel fortunate with the players I'm playing with. They'll all maintain their roles."