Semi-professional football is making its way to Meadville.

The Oil Region Rampage, a first-year member of the Heartland Football League, plays its first game at Bender Field on Saturday at 7 p.m., taking on the Pittsburgh Pride.

Admission for the game is $5.

The Rampage includes players from Meadville, Titusville, Oil City, Franklin and other surrounding communities. The games are full-contact, 11-on-11 football that follow the same rules as the NFL.

“It gives us another chance to play,” said Carlos King, a 2009 graduate of Meadville Area Senior High School and middle linebacker for the Rampage. “There’s a fee to play, a small one, $35, and that gets you your pads and your helmet. You just have to buy a mouthpiece and knee pads and you get to play football again.”

Zen Bliss is the head coach and general manager for the team. He said he recruited many of the players via advertisements in area newspapers.

“Once I got a core group of guys, the rest kind of followed suit,” he said.

Bliss admits, however, that “Some of the guys that come out aren’t really meant for this type of football. These guys are big. There are some former NFL guys in this league, some arena football players. For some guys, maybe they remember youth football, I don’t know, but this is different.”

The Rampage learned about the league’s compete level the hard way, beginning their inaugural season with lopsided losses to the Western Pennsylvania Wildcats and the Pittsburgh Cobras.

“This first year, we threw it together really quickly,” said Bliss. “The talents are starting to come out more now than in the beginning of the year. You have to weed through it to get better guys on the field.”

He added, “We improved from the first game to the second game. That’s what we’re trying to do. Like any first-year football team, you’re going to struggle. And we’re struggling. But I like to think we’re getting better players now. So we’ll just keep building from there.”

The Rampage has fixed its home base in Meadville after trying to establish itself in other nearby locales. In fact it’s first home game, was held at Corry High School.

“I think we’re going to make (our home) Meadville, because of the hospitality they’ve shown us and price fits right in our budget,” said Bliss.  

There are other Heartland Football League teams in various Western Pennsylvania towns, as well as Ohio and West Virginia.

“We’re not at our best yet,” said King. “We’re still building. This is the first year of the program, but each week we’re coming together. We’re improving.”

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