Players from the Arena League's Ozarks Lunkers pose for a photo next to giant light-up letters reading "Ozarks Lunkers."
The Ozarks Lunkers begin play in the Arena League’s inaugural season on June 1 against Waterloo. Home games will be played at the new Wilson Logistics Arena at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds. (Photo by Ozarks Lunkers)

To read this story, please sign in with your email address and password.

You've read all your free stories this month. Subscribe now and unlock unlimited access to our stories, exclusive subscriber content, additional newsletters, invitations to special events, and more.


A whole lot of new will be on display June 1 as the latest addition to Springfield’s professional sports scene kicks off — or more accurately throws off — its first game.

The Ozarks Lunkers begin their inaugural season in the Arena League, a unique form of indoor football on a field 50 yards in length with six players per team in action. The Lunkers will play their home games in the new Wilson Logistics Arena at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds.

The 7 p.m. opener against the Waterloo Woo is the first of an eight-game schedule for a team named after the Ozarks’ rich fishing heritage and mainly composed of former local college football players. More on the Lunkers in a bit, but first a quick look at the bigger picture of how football is becoming more a part of the local sports fabric.

College, high-school programs are growing and improving

Head coach Ryan Beard will lead the Missouri State football program into is final season in the Missouri Valley Football Conference next fall. The Bears will join Conference USA and move up to the FBS level in 2025. (Photo by Missouri State Athletics)

Football has often taken a backseat over the years to basketball or baseball in the local sports pecking order. But things are changing with the Lunkers the latest in the growing momentum for football, whether it’s the traditional outdoor style or the unique spin the Arena League brings.

Missouri State’s recent announcement that it is joining Conference USA for the 2025-26 school year was driven by a desire to elevate its football program to the Football Bowl Subdivision level. The Bears are going to have to step up their game to compete at the higher level, but after Bobby Petrino led the long-struggling program to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in the spring and fall seasons of 2021, there was a new belief that football at MSU could be relevant. 

Now the Bears enter their final season in the FCS, which is high quality but has an identity crisis. Many casual fans who haven’t thought of Missouri State as Division I in football now will do so as they play in a league with the likes of Liberty, Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech.

Over at Evangel University, the football program appears to be on the rise after the Valor had an undefeated regular season in 2023 and made it to the NAIA playoffs for the first time since 2005. Even on the high school level, football appears to be rising in quality in Springfield and surrounding communities like Republic and Nixa. 

All those years of football interest dying once basketballs start bouncing for practice in October might be a thing of the past. And now, football fans have a chance to get a summertime fix, courtesy of the Lunkers.

Lunkers aim to offer fun, affordable experience

Artist Shannon Joy stands next to the Ozarks Lunkers logo she painted on the turf at Wilson Logistics Arena in Springfield, Missouri.
Artist Shannon Joy freehand painted the Ozarks Lunkers logo on the turf at Wilson Logistics Arena. (Photo by Shannon Joy Creative)

Time will tell how successful the Lunkers and the Arena League will be, but at the least, it gives local sports fans another option during the summer months — especially when the Springfield Cardinals are out of town.

Lunkers general manager Caleb Scott, on the Hauxeda’s ”In Our Town” podcast, said the aim is to give fans of all ages a fun and affordable experience.

“The two favorite things I lead with are proximity and affordability,” Scott told “In Our Town” host Tom Carlson on the appeal of the Lunkers. “It’s closer than you’ve ever been to professional football in your life and it’s at a fraction of the price.”

Lunkers tickets

Lunkers single-game or season tickets can be purchased on Stubwire, by calling 877-990-7882, or at the door. 

General admission tickets start at $15 with VIP tickets at $50.

Adding to the fun of the franchise-opening night, Pro Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith will be on hand for the ceremonial coin toss and a boat from Bass Pro Shops will be awarded in a raffle. A pre-game tailgate, with music and food, starts at 3 p.m. outside the arena. 

Here's how the Arena League works

The Arena League field is half the size of a normal football field — 50 yards long and 28.5 yards wide. The end zones are eight yards instead of 10. The entire field is bordered by hockey-type walls that serve as out-of-bounds.

While there are multiple arena leagues around the country, those have eight players on the field for each team. The Arena League will have six players with each eligible to catch passes. Several players likely will be used on both offense and defense.

Active rosters are capped at 15 and there are no kickers. Instead of kickoffs, the ball will be thrown to start each half or after scoring plays. Following touchdowns, teams can opt to run a play from the 5-yard line for one point or from the 10 to go for two points.

The field at Wilson Logistics Arena. The end zones are red with the words "Ozarks Lunkers" painted on them.
The new Wilson Logistics Arena will play host to Ozarks Lunkers games in The Arena League. The playing field is 50 yards with 8-yard end zones. Each team will have six players on the field at a time. (Photo by Ozarks Lunkers)

Games will consist of four 15-minute quarters, but a running clock and a 20-second play clock will make for little downtime.

Four teams will comprise the league in its first season — Springfield’s Lunkers, the Waterloo (Iowa) Woo, Duluth (Minnesota) Harbor Monsters and Kansas City Goats. The Arena League plans to expand by at least two teams in 2025.

Inaugural roster features Ozarks talent

Among the players on the Lunkers’ active roster is Matt Rush, a Hillcrest High School grad who played at Missouri State from 2015-18. Rush is listed as a quarterback, running back and defensive back. Tobias Little, who played on both of Missouri State’s FCS playoff teams under Petrino, is listed as a running back and linebacker for the Lunkers.

The head coach is Cam Bruffett, who played at Fair Grove High School and Evangel. Bruffett also is the head football coach at Parkview High School.

For local fans who are serious about football or just curious about the new game in town, the Lunkers seem worth taking a look at.

Ozarks Lunkers schedule

  • June 1 — Waterloo at Ozarks, 7:05 p.m.
  • June 15 — Duluth at Ozarks, 7:05 p.m.
  • June 23 — Ozarks at Waterloo, 7:05 p.m.
  • June 29 — Ozarks at Kansas City, 7:05 p.m.
  • July 6 — Duluth at Ozarks, 7:05 p.m.
  • July 13 — Kansas City at Ozarks, 7:05 p.m.
  • July 20 — Ozarks at Duluth, 7:05 p.m.
  • July 27 — Ozarks at Kansas City, 7:05 p.m.

Lunkers active roster

  • 0 Ell Teycer, C-DL, 5-11, 300 (Evangel) 
  • 1 Tobias Little, RB-LB, 6-1, 218 (Missouri State)
  • 2 Matt Rush, QB-RB-DB, 5-10, 185 (Missouri State)
  • 3 Kendrick Payne, WR, 6-1, 220 (Southwest Baptist)
  • 4 Chris Scruggs Jr., WR, 6-3, 195 (Southern Miss)
  • 5 Brock Carter, DB, 5-11, 195 (Missouri State)
  • 6 Jai’len Jones, DB, 6-3, 220 (Pittsburg State)
  • 8 Edward Sands, WR-DB, 6-1, 220 (Evangel) 
  • 9 Craig Travis, LB, 5-11, 220 (Missouri Valley College)
  • 10 Jackson Mitchell, TE-LB, 6-2, 240 (Central Missouri)
  • 11 Marqui Smalls, QB, 6-3, 210 (Texas A&M Commerce)
  • 12 Anthony Sherrils, DB, 6-0, 200 (Missouri)
  • 13 Ronnie Bertelsmeyer, WR, 6-0, 210 (Park Hill High School)
  • 16 Laurenz Plummer, WR, 6-3, 240 (Tabor College)
  • 18 Wren Rodriguez, WR-DB, 6-2, 175 (Eldon High School)

Lyndal Scranton

Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Missouri Sports Hall of Famer, Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton