PARKERSBURG - Football has taken former Parkersburg Catholic all-stater and Fairmont State University graduate Luke Black to a lot of places. Now, he's on the cusp of a championship.
At 8 p.m. Saturday on their own turf, Black and his fellow Cleveland Gladiator teammates will take on the Arizona Rattlers inside Quicken Loans Arena with the winner being awarded the Jim Foster Trophy as the victor of ArenaBowl XXVII.
Arizona, which is 17-3 overall and the current two-time defending Arena Football League champions, might be playing on the road, but the Gladiators (19-1) are nearly a touchdown underdog.
Photo by John Saraya
Former Parkersburg Catholic and current Cleveland Gladiators defensive end Luke Black runs out of the tunnel before a home game in the Arena Football League in Cleveland, Ohio.
"It will be the first time in my career," Black said of playing on live television with the game set to be aired on ESPN. "It will be pretty exciting.
"Not many people can say that. Luckily, I can say that after this game. Hopefully, we just win and make it all worth it."
That task will be anything but easy as Arizona has all the experience and the city of Cleveland hasn't celebrated a major sports championship since the Cleveland Browns won the 1964 NFL Championship by dispatching Baltimore, 27-0.
"It's big for Cleveland and it's been a long time," said the defensive end Black, who was credited with a sack during the Gladiators' 56-46 American Conference Championship victory on Aug. 10 versus Orlando.
"It's just a different kind of feeling being in the championship. I knew at an early stage with this team that it was a championship caliber team. I don't know how I knew, but I just felt it with this team."
This year's journey hasn't been an easy one for Black, who ended up missing the last three regular season games due to a broken foot after Cleveland had clinched home field.
"I was suffering with a fracture in my foot and I decided to try and let that bone in my foot heal. I wanted to be back 100 percent healthy so I sat to let my foot heal," said Black, who will serve as a defensive line coach this year for the Division III Marietta College Pioneers.
"It was a tough time and I wanted to finish and play with my teammates, but I knew the playoffs is what really was going to matter."
Needless to say, Cleveland is going to be jumping on Saturday with not only the ArenaBowl taking place, but both the Indians and Browns playing baseball and football, respectively. Black, who said they are expecting a sellout at The-Q, heard Cleveland is expecting around 100,000 sports fans downtown on Saturday night.
"Defense wins championships and we've talked about having two-plus stops over Arizona," Black added. "I firmly believe to win that game, our defense is going to have to have one of our best games. Arizona has a strong receiving corps and they are a very physical team.
"I think we match them pretty well physically. I think we have an advantage playing in Cleveland, but from the first snap to the very last snap they are going to need to know what kind of physical battle they are in."