Portland Boltz will play their home games at Hillsboro Stadium starting this spring

Minor league football is coming to Hillsboro this spring. On April 13, the Portland Boltz will kick off their inaugural season in the Professional Developmental League. by: COURTESY PHOTO: EDMUND DEVEREAUX - Former University of Oregon walk-on Zack McGinnis catches a pass against defensive back Kyley McCrae during a Portland Boltz practice.

While minor league football is certainly not the NFL, nor Division I college football, Boltz coach Aaron Fentress says that the action will be comparable to small college football.

“Our team is really good,” Fentress says. “We’re probably Division II caliber. We have guys who played at Western Oregon, we have guys who played at (Portland State), guys who played at Weber State, etc. We have receivers who are better than some of the walk-ons at Oregon and a running back who’s better than some of the walk-ons at Oregon.

“They’re guys who either didn’t have the grades to get into Division I out of high school, or guys who, after playing at lower levels, are older and have become grown men. So they’re playing differently at 28 years old than (they did at) 18 years old.”

Fentress knows what he’s talking about. He played wide receiver for Grant, graduating in 1986. He then played at Portland State for three years and finished out his collegiate career at Pacific University. He has coached semi-pro football 10 of the last 12 years and currently makes his living covering the Oregon Ducks football team for the Oregonian.

It’s good that Fentress has a day job for now, because neither he nor the players will be making any money. That will eventually change, but the thought right now is that it is better for the Boltz to establish themselves than have to fold because they spent too much money too soon.

“The difference between this league and the semi-pro league is that we have the ability to pay, whereas in semi-pro they’re supposed to remain amateurs,” Fentress says. “Our first year, it’s up to each team. We’re going to have a salary cap at some point, but what we’re doing is we’re taking a reverse approach to what most minor league teams do.”

As an example, Fentress points to the now defunct Portland Lumberjax, a professional indoor lacrosse team that operated for four seasons before folding in 2009.

“They came in and they were paying a lot of money to players and coaches. They went right into the red and a few years later they were gone,” Fentress said. “We’re going in the reverse. We’re taking players who were paying to play on semi-pro teams and telling them that they don’t have to pay a player fee.

“We’re going to pay for everything — uniforms, equipment, travel, etc. — but we’re not going to actually pay players physical cash until we get to the point where we generate revenue and sponsorship money to do so. But, no one in management — no owners, no coaches, no one — will ever get paid until players get paid.”

Part of the reason that Fentress and several of the other players from his semi-pro team, the Portland Monarchs, are making the jump to the Portland Boltz is that they wanted better competition.

“My teams in that league were pretty dominant,” Fentress says. “We won four Northwest Titles and competed for a national title. A lot of the players were getting bored with that level of competition.

“That’s one of the reasons why myself and some of the players from my old team made the jump to this league, because it’s going to be a league of higher talent. Teams should be better.”

The Boltz began practicing three weeks ago. They have already signed around 25 players, but teams are allowed to dress 45, so the Boltz are currently holding a combination of tryouts and practices.

There are four teams in the PDFL’s Northwest Division, which covers Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Utah. The Boltz will play each team twice as well as playing three non-league games.

The games will all be held on Saturdays. Five of the Boltz’ six games will be at Hillsboro Stadium, with the sixth game being played at Lincoln High School.

Adult ticket prices will be $7 for non-league games and $10 for league games. Children 12-and-under get in for free.

“It’s quality football,” Fentress says. “It’s not like it’s a bunch of (sports reporters) out there playing. It’s actual athletes that know how to play the game.

“If it’s spring time and you’re a football fan and you want to watch football, there’s essentially a college level football team who is going to be playing at Hillsboro Stadium.”

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