ST. GEORGE — Dr. Dale Stott has a strong sense of community and the owner/coach of the Dixie Rebels semi-pro football team in southern Utah said that was something missing with the team. So he decided to make a change.
And thus the Zion Lions were born.
“I wanted to make sure the Zion Lions were a big part of the community here in St. George,” Stott said. “We have found an ally in Mayor Jon Pike and we have taken significant steps to make the Zion Lions a partner with our city.”
Perhaps one of biggest of those steps is a venue change. The Lions will play their home games at the recently-rescued Dixie Sun Bowl, starting with this Saturday’s contest against the Vegas Hawks (7 p.m. kickoff).
“It’s true the Sun Bowl is aging and needs a bit of a face lift and that’s exactly what’s happening,” Stott said. “With help from the Lion’s Club here in St. George, they are upgrading the lights, putting bench seats in, we have a new scoreboard on the way and they just put 20 thousand dollars worth of sod in there. We’ll be playing on grass and I love it.”
There will also be “portable” goal posts that can be rolled on and off the Sun Bowl field to accommodate the Zion Lions as well as other community events like the rodeo and Fourth of July celebration.
Along with the new name, logo and uniform changes, the Lions have also upped their game on the field.
“For the first time, we have made cuts,” Stott said. “We had about 85 guys try out and we cut it down to 55. With travel concerns and other issues, we’ll probably be at about 48 players during the season.”
With the cuts and the addition of some new talent, Stott said the team is leaner and more athletic. He hopes it is enough to help the team return to the Rocky Mountain Football League championship game and then win it this year.
“The new attitude is that it is a privilege to play for this team,” Stott said. “We’ve created a completely different atmosphere on the team and at practice. Guys are having fun, but they are also completely serious about what they’re doing. They’re here to win. That’s the bottom line.”
Zion plays in the uppermost division of the RMFL, the AAA, which features 15 teams from Utah, Idaho and Montana.
The Zion Lions semi-pro football team is also now a non-profit organization, which Stott said helps with fund-raising and volunteer availability.
Semi-pro football is comprised mainly of former college and high school stars who desire to come together and play full-contact football against other similar players throughout the West. The Zion Lions are made up of former Dixie State, Southern Utah, BYU and Utah State players, along with former players from various other western colleges and universities.
Last season, the Rebels made it to the championship behind quarterback Misi Tupe. He is a former college player that went from Dixie to Texas A&M, where he played safety and linebacker.
“One of the other huge differences is Misi Tupe,” Stott said. “Last year he was basically an athlete, a running back playing in the Wildcat formation. This year he’s really worked hard to become a quarterback. He’s leaner. He’s lost 30 pounds. And he knows the playbook really well. I think people are going to be surprised at what he can do this year.”
The Lions have three straight home games at the Sun Bowl to start the season. A fourth home game (Apr. 11) will be played at Pine View High’s Panther Stadium, due to a scheduling conflict at the Sun Bowl.
After one road game, the Lions return home for games in the Sun Bowl May 2 and May 9. Zion ends the season with two road games. The RMFL playoffs begin Jun. 13.
Look for a full season preview right here on STGNews Sports Thursday.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.