Janesville83.4°

Rock on: Age is no factor on Gladiators

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THOMAS J. MILLER
May 7, 2009

Rocking chairs aren’t part of the lives of A.J. Albrecht Sr., Kenny Phiffer and Todd Livingston.


Give these three 40-somethings an aluminum football bench any day of the week.


Albrecht, who is 46 years old, Phiffer, 43, and Livingston, 42, are active members of the Rock County Gladiators football team, which will play the Jay County Panthers in its second exhibition game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Monterey Stadium.


The obvious question is, “Why?” Even though these guys are big enough—Albrecht is listed at 6-foot-5, 325 pounds, Phiffer is listed at 6-3 and 240, while Livingston is at 6-5 and 275—there has to be other things to do on Saturdays and during Wednesday evening practices than to trade body blows with guys about half their age.


So, why?


“I have no idea,” said Livingston, who plays defensive end. “I’ve always loved playing football.”


“I still have a desire to play,” says Phiffer, who still covers the field from his linebacker position. “I’m healthy. I’m strong.


“I give the glory to God, because He keeps my mind fresh and allows me to keep good care of my body.”


“I love it,” said Albrecht, who started at right offensive tackle all of last season, and is at that spot again this season. “I love playing the game.”


Phiffer grew up in East St. Louis, Ill., and started playing semi-pro when the Gladiator franchise started in Rockford, Ill., seven years ago.


Albrecht and Livingston are Janesville Craig High School graduates.


Albrecht, who is a correctional officer for Walworth County, went to UW-Stout to play football after high school. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL in each of his knees his first two years, which ended his college career.


That was the first two of what is now 22 knee operations Albrecht has gone through.


But when Albrecht saw a Gazette article about the Gladiators holding tryouts two years ago, the competitive juices started flowing—probably bypassing both his knees.


Albrecht’s wife, Lisa, thought he might be in need of brain surgery when he mentioned that he wanted to try out for the Gladiators.


“My wife was dead set against it,” Albrecht said. “But then I took her to check out a practice.”


“I think you can do this,” she told Albrecht.


“Now she is one of our biggest supporters,” Albrecht said. “She’s involved in our board of directors, and she does the art work.”


Albrecht still hears it from friends.


“Todd Harrington will say, ‘Let me see your driver’s license,’ ” Albrecht said. “He says, ‘You still going to do this?’ ”


Livingston, who works in construction, sometimes wonders about that himself.


A member of the Big Eight Conference championship football team in 1983, Livingston played in the Janesville flag football city league until two years ago. Some of the players in that league went to the Gladiators.


“They said, ‘You’ve got to come out. You’ve got to come out,” Livingston said. “The first year, I was like, ‘Ah, I’m getting too old.’ ”


But…


“Here I am,” he said.


And he has the marks to prove it.


He suffered a cut on his left knee last season that required several stitches. He was back playing the next week.


Livingston has a nice-sized lump on his left little finger lower knuckle, and had tape on his right thumb and forefinger that resulted from an injury in last Saturday’s opening exhibition game at Monterey Stadium.


Livingston uses his twin sons, Andy and Alex, to keep moving on. Andy and Alex were both excellent wrestlers at Craig a few years ago.


“I have to show them,” Livingston said. “I’m never too old.”


Phiffer takes the same approach.


“I have a young, teenage mentality,” Phiffer says. “But I don’t do teenage stuff.”


Football matches his aggressive personality, Phiffer said.


“To me, it’s more than a hobby,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been doing ever since I was young.”


And when will it be time to turn in the helmet and pads?


“Until I feel like I can’t move anymore,” he said.


Albrecht has a more concrete plan.


“I plan to play as long as my knees hold up,” he said. “I want to play at least to I’m 50. Then I’ll play it year to year.”


Until then, keep those rocking chairs locked in the basement.



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